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Our Future Is Now - A Climate Change Essay by Francesca Minicozzi, '21

Francesca Minicozzi (class of 2021) is a Writing/Biology major who plans to study medicine after graduation. She wrote this essay on climate change for WR 355/Travel Writing, which she took while studying abroad in Newcastle in spring 2020. Although the coronavirus pandemic curtailed Francesca’s time abroad, her months in Newcastle prompted her to learn more about climate change. Terre Ryan Associate Professor, Writing Department

Our Future Is Now

By Francesca Minicozzi, '21 Writing and Biology Major

 “If you don’t mind me asking, how is the United States preparing for climate change?” my flat mate, Zac, asked me back in March, when we were both still in Newcastle. He and I were accustomed to asking each other about the differences between our home countries; he came from Cambridge, while I originated in Long Island, New York. This was one of our numerous conversations about issues that impact our generation, which we usually discussed while cooking dinner in our communal kitchen. In the moment of our conversation, I did not have as strong an answer for him as I would have liked. Instead, I informed him of the few changes I had witnessed within my home state of New York.

Francesca Minicozzi, '21

Zac’s response was consistent with his normal, diplomatic self. “I have been following the BBC news in terms of the climate crisis for the past few years. The U.K. has been working hard to transition to renewable energy sources. Similar to the United States, here in the United Kingdom we have converted over to solar panels too. My home does not have solar panels, but a lot of our neighbors have switched to solar energy in the past few years.”

“Our two countries are similar, yet so different,” I thought. Our conversation continued as we prepared our meals, with topics ranging from climate change to the upcoming presidential election to Britain’s exit from the European Union. However, I could not shake the fact that I knew so little about a topic so crucial to my generation.

After I abruptly returned home from the United Kingdom because of the global pandemic, my conversation with my flat mate lingered in my mind. Before the coronavirus surpassed climate change headlines, I had seen the number of internet postings regarding protests to protect the planet dramatically increase. Yet the idea of our planet becoming barren and unlivable in a not-so-distant future had previously upset me to the point where a part of me refused to deal with it. After I returned from studying abroad, I decided to educate myself on the climate crisis.

My quest for climate change knowledge required a thorough understanding of the difference between “climate change” and “global warming.” Climate change is defined as “a pattern of change affecting global or regional climate,” based on “average temperature and rainfall measurements” as well as the frequency of extreme weather events. 1   These varied temperature and weather events link back to both natural incidents and human activity. 2   Likewise, the term global warming was coined “to describe climate change caused by humans.” 3   Not only that, but global warming is most recently attributed to an increase in “global average temperature,” mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans. 4

I next questioned why the term “climate change” seemed to take over the term “global warming” in the United States. According to Frank Luntz, a leading Republican consultant, the term “global warming” functions as a rather intimidating phrase. During George W. Bush’s first presidential term, Luntz argued in favor of using the less daunting phrase “climate change” in an attempt to overcome the environmental battle amongst Democrats and Republicans. 5   Since President Bush’s term, Luntz remains just one political consultant out of many politicians who has recognized the need to address climate change. In an article from 2019, Luntz proclaimed that political parties aside, the climate crisis affects everyone. Luntz argued that politicians should steer clear of trying to communicate “the complicated science of climate change,” and instead engage voters by explaining how climate change personally impacts citizens with natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and forest fires. 6   He even suggested that a shift away from words like “sustainability” would gear Americans towards what they really want: a “cleaner, safer, healthier” environment. 7

The idea of a cleaner and heathier environment remains easier said than done. The Paris Climate Agreement, introduced in 2015, began the United Nations’ “effort to combat global climate change.” 8   This agreement marked a global initiative to “limit global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels,” while simultaneously “pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.” 9    Every country on earth has joined together in this agreement for the common purpose of saving our planet. 10   So, what could go wrong here? As much as this sounds like a compelling step in the right direction for climate change, President Donald Trump thought otherwise. In June 2017, President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement with his proclamation of climate change as a “’hoax’ perpetrated by China.” 11   President Trump continued to question the scientific facts behind climate change, remaining an advocate for the expansion of domestic fossil fuel production. 12   He reversed environmental policies implemented by former President Barack Obama to reduce fossil fuel use. 13

Trump’s actions against the Paris Agreement, however, fail to represent the beliefs of Americans as a whole. The majority of American citizens feel passionate about the fight against climate change. To demonstrate their support, some have gone as far as creating initiatives including America’s Pledge and We Are Still In. 14   Although the United States officially exited the Paris Agreement on November 4, 2020, this withdrawal may not survive permanently. 15   According to experts, our new president “could rejoin in as short as a month’s time.” 16   This offers a glimmer of hope.

The Paris Agreement declares that the United States will reduce greenhouse gas emission levels by 26 to 28 percent by the year 2025. 17   As a leader in greenhouse gas emissions, the United States needs to accept the climate crisis for the serious challenge that it presents and work together with other nations. The concept of working coherently with all nations remains rather tricky; however, I remain optimistic. I think we can learn from how other countries have adapted to the increased heating of our planet. During my recent study abroad experience in the United Kingdom, I was struck by Great Britain’s commitment to combating climate change.

Since the United Kingdom joined the Paris Agreement, the country targets a “net-zero” greenhouse gas emission for 2050. 18   This substantial alteration would mark an 80% reduction of greenhouse gases from 1990, if “clear, stable, and well-designed policies are implemented without interruption.” 19   In order to stay on top of reducing emissions, the United Kingdom tracks electricity and car emissions, “size of onshore and offshore wind farms,” amount of homes and “walls insulated, and boilers upgraded,” as well as the development of government policies, including grants for electric vehicles. 20   A strong grip on this data allows the United Kingdom to target necessary modifications that keep the country on track for 2050. In my brief semester in Newcastle, I took note of these significant changes. The city of Newcastle is small enough that many students and faculty are able to walk or bike to campus and nearby essential shops. However, when driving is unavoidable, the majority of the vehicles used are electric, and many British citizens place a strong emphasis on carpooling to further reduce emissions. The United Kingdom’s determination to severely reduce greenhouse emissions is ambitious and particularly admirable, especially as the United States struggles to shy away from its dependence on fossil fuels.

So how can we, as Americans, stand together to combat global climate change? Here are five adjustments Americans can make to their homes and daily routines that can dramatically make a difference:

  • Stay cautious of food waste. Studies demonstrate that “Americans throw away up to 40 percent of the food they buy.” 21   By being more mindful of the foods we purchase, opting for leftovers, composting wastes, and donating surplus food to those in need, we can make an individual difference that impacts the greater good. 22   
  • Insulate your home. Insulation functions as a “cost-effective and accessible” method to combat climate change. 23   Homes with modern insulation reduce energy required to heat them, leading to a reduction of emissions and an overall savings; in comparison, older homes can “lose up to 35 percent of heat through their walls.” 24   
  • Switch to LED Lighting. LED stands for “light-emitting diodes,” which use “90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and half as much as compact fluorescents.” 25   LED lights create light without producing heat, and therefore do not waste energy. Additionally, these lights have a longer duration than other bulbs, which means they offer a continuing savings. 26  
  • Choose transportation wisely. Choose to walk or bike whenever the option presents itself. If walking or biking is not an option, use an electric or hybrid vehicle which emits less harmful gases. Furthermore, reduce the number of car trips taken, and carpool with others when applicable. 
  • Finally, make your voice heard. The future of our planet remains in our hands, so we might as well use our voices to our advantage. Social media serves as a great platform for this. Moreover, using social media to share helpful hints to combat climate change within your community or to promote an upcoming protest proves beneficial in the long run. If we collectively put our voices to good use, together we can advocate for change.

As many of us are stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these suggestions are slightly easier to put into place. With numerous “stay-at-home” orders in effect, Americans have the opportunity to make significant achievements for climate change. Personally, I have taken more precautions towards the amount of food consumed within my household during this pandemic. I have been more aware of food waste, opting for leftovers when too much food remains. Additionally, I have realized how powerful my voice is as a young college student. Now is the opportunity for Americans to share how they feel about climate change. During this unprecedented time, our voice is needed now more than ever in order to make a difference.

However, on a much larger scale, the coronavirus outbreak has shed light on reducing global energy consumption. Reductions in travel, both on the roads and in the air, have triggered a drop in emission rates. In fact, the International Energy Agency predicts a 6 percent decrease in energy consumption around the globe for this year alone. 27   This drop is “equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India.” 28   Complete lockdowns have lowered the global demand for electricity and slashed CO2 emissions. However, in New York City, the shutdown has only decreased carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent. 29   This proves that a shift in personal behavior is simply not enough to “fix the carbon emission problem.” 30   Climate policies aimed to reduce fossil fuel production and promote clean technology will be crucial steppingstones to ameliorating climate change effects. Our current reduction of greenhouse gas emissions serves as “the sort of reduction we need every year until net-zero emissions are reached around 2050.” 31   From the start of the coronavirus pandemic, politicians came together for the common good of protecting humanity; this demonstrates that when necessary, global leaders are capable of putting humankind above the economy. 32

After researching statistics comparing the coronavirus to climate change, I thought back to the moment the virus reached pandemic status. I knew that a greater reason underlay all of this global turmoil. Our globe is in dire need of help, and the coronavirus reminds the world of what it means to work together. This pandemic marks a turning point in global efforts to slow down climate change. The methods we enact towards not only stopping the spread of the virus, but slowing down climate change, will ultimately depict how humanity will arise once this pandemic is suppressed. The future of our home planet lies in how we treat it right now. 

  • “Climate Change: What Do All the Terms Mean?,” BBC News (BBC, May 1, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48057733 )
  • Ibid. 
  • Kate Yoder, “Frank Luntz, the GOP's Message Master, Calls for Climate Action,” Grist (Grist, July 26, 2019), https://grist.org/article/the-gops-most-famous-messaging-strategist-calls-for-climate-action
  • Melissa Denchak, “Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know,” NRDC, April 29, 2020, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/paris-climate-agreement-everything-you-need-know)
  • “Donald J. Trump's Foreign Policy Positions,” Council on Foreign Relations (Council on Foreign Relations), accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.cfr.org/election2020/candidate-tracker/donald-j.-trump?gclid=CjwKCAjw4871BRAjEiwAbxXi21cneTRft_doA5if60euC6QCL7sr-Jwwv76IkgWaUTuyJNx9EzZzRBoCdjsQAvD_BwE#climate and energy )
  • David Doniger, “Paris Climate Agreement Explained: Does Congress Need to Sign Off?,” NRDC, December 15, 2016, https://www.nrdc.org/experts/david-doniger/paris-climate-agreement-explained-does-congress-need-sign )
  • “How the UK Is Progressing,” Committee on Climate Change, March 9, 2020, https://www.theccc.org.uk/what-is-climate-change/reducing-carbon-emissions/how-the-uk-is-progressing/)
  • Ibid.  
  • “Top 10 Ways You Can Fight Climate Change,” Green America, accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.greenamerica.org/your-green-life/10-ways-you-can-fight-climate-change )
  • Matt McGrath, “Climate Change and Coronavirus: Five Charts about the Biggest Carbon Crash,” BBC News (BBC, May 5, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/science-environment-52485712 )
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Designing a Climate Advocacy Strategy

  • Sophie Dembinski,
  • Charmian Love,
  • Beth Thoren

climate change advocate essay

Businesses must use their power and influence to push for the systemic changes required to meet climate targets.

Although the business community has made progress toward climate goals since the 2015 Paris Agreement, fewer than one-fifth of net-zero targets set by national and subnational governments and only a third of the largest public corporations with net-zero targets actually meet science-aligned criteria. Further, anti-climate lobbying has had a disastrous effect on the planet and cost years in meaningful action. Inaction is not an option. Businesses committed to being on the right side of history must advocate for policies, regulations, and laws to achieve economy-wide systemic change at the pace and scale required to achieve climate targets. Based on their cross-organizational work at three B Corps, the authors identified five critical elements for advocacy strategies that will help businesses use their power and influence to push for the system change required to meet climate targets.

“We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster,” said Inger Andersen , executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The data is clear: Global emissions are going up . Voluntary pledges to prevent new fossil fuel projects and curb devastating practices such as mass deforestation are failing to prevent the destruction of nature and rising global inequality.

  • Sophie Dembinski is Ecosia’s head of global public policy & UK where she leads on tech and climate policy for one of the world’s largest reforestation organizations and nonprofit tech companies. She is an experienced international policy and regulatory expert, has authored a number of articles and op-eds, and is a psychological therapist and leadership coach. She is an advisory board member of Stop Ecocide Foundation, an ambassador for the social mobility charity Debate Mate, and the UK coordinator for the eminent transatlantic leadership program, the Marshall Memorial Fellowship (MMF).
  • Charmian Love believes in the power of people using business as a force for good. She joined Natura &Co in the newly created role of global director of advocacy from the B Corp movement where she cofounded B Lab UK and was chair and activist in residence. Char teaches an MBA course on Regenerative and Circular Economy: How To Do Business in the Climate Emergency at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and is a member of the board of Make My Money Matter.
  • Beth Thoren is environmental action & initiatives director, EMEA for Patagonia. She joined Patagonia from her position as deputy chief executive at Client Earth , an environmental NGO with a unique approach: using the power of the law to create systemic change. Prior to ClientEarth, Beth spent four years at the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, the RSPB, as director of fundraising & communications. A passionate defender of nature, she came to the NGO sector following a sabbatical spent as a crew member of the Sea Shepherd campaign ship, confronting trawlers and whale fisheries in Antarctica.

Partner Center

Building Public and Political Will for Climate Change Action

One important means to achieve meaningful reductions in carbon emissions is government policy, yet there remains a critical lack of ‘political will’ for climate action. One important influence on government leaders is engaged citizens who demand action. 

By Anthony Leiserowitz

Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.

Strong public demand increases the likelihood that governments will prioritize climate change action.

Screen Shot 2020 06 29 at 11.51 .54 PM

Climate change threatens the life-support systems all human beings, human societies, and other species depend on. This recognition has led to the emergence of diverse new voices also demanding action.
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22 youth climate activists

Gen Z on how to save the world: young climate activists speak out

With courage and ambition, those born into the reality of global heating are leading the way in confronting it. Ahead of the crucial Cop26 conference, we talk to young activists around the world. Introduction by author Olivia Laing

W hen I was 20, I dropped out of university to live on a road protest. I was terrified by the oncoming apocalypse of climate change, and loathed the short-term, environmentally catastrophic logic that prioritised road-building over trees. The data, even in 1997, was clear: human activity was heating the globe, with increasingly devastating effects. Time was short, and a sea change in behaviour was required.

Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since then, and very little has been achieved, thanks in large part to corporate interests invested in maintaining our dependence on non-renewable resources. Far more people understand and accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and yet we seem paralysed by despair, caught in a spell of inertia, even as the most lurid of predictions – floods, fires, plagues – come to pass.

I say we, but the generation born into the reality of global heating are refusing to accept this lethal status quo. The testimonies of these teens and early twenty-somethings are humbling and often thrilling. By setting up a student bank based on recycling waste, José Adolfo Quisocala single-handedly changed child poverty and environmental pollution in his town in Peru. Though their projects vary widely, these young activists have a strikingly shared sense of what must be changed, from education and the foregrounding of indigenous voices to making people appreciate the value of nature.

As Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, an activist from Uganda, says: “We are a generation of scared people. But we are very persistent. And very united.” This is the kind of vision and ambition necessary from the delegates at COP26. The stakes could not be higher. If only our leaders had the courage of these kids. Olivia Laing

  • 1 Marinel Ubaldo, 24, Philippines
  • 2 Anjali Sharma, 17, Australia
  • 3 Aadya Joshi, 18, India/US
  • 4 Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, 24, Uganda
  • 5 Yusuf Baluch, 17, Pakistan
  • 6 Vic Barrett, 22, US
  • 7 José Adolfo Quisocala, 16, Peru
  • 8 Melati, 18, and Isabel Wijsen, 20, Bali
  • 9 Scarlett Westbrook, 17, UK
  • 10 Fionn Ferreira, 20, Ireland
  • 11 Mya-Rose Craig, 19, UK
  • 12 Iris Duquesne, 18, France
  • 13 Jakob Blasel, 21, Germany
  • 14 Disha Ravi, 22, India
  • 15 Lesein Mutunkei, 17, Kenya
  • 16 Amy and Ella Meek, 18 and 16, UK
  • 17 Noga Levy-Rapoport, 19, UK
  • 18 Jamie Margolin, 19, US
  • 19 Autumn Peltier, 17, Canada
  • 20 Grace Maddrell, 16, UK

Marinel Ubaldo, 24, Philippines

Marinel Ubaldo

It was in November 2013 that the urgency of the climate crisis became clear to Marinel Ubaldo. A typhoon had been forecast in the Philippines and it was due to hit the peaceful village in Eastern Visayas where she lived with her family. Initially, she wasn’t especially worried. “We had been living with typhoons all our lives – it was not new to us,” she remembers. Her father, a fisherman, told her to go to a nearby shelter that was on higher ground. It was the right decision: Haiyan hit the Philippines with winds up to 195mph, one of the world’s strongest ever typhoons.

Buildings that Ubaldo had thought were strong were ripped apart in seconds. More than 7,360 people were killed or went missing and at least 4 million were displaced. The disaster dramatically altered the way Ubaldo saw the planet. “It gave me a new perspective on what the future could be,” she says.

Two years later, Ubaldo won a scholarship to study social work in Tacloban , a city devastated by the typhoon, working alongside studying so that she could help her family, who had lost everything as a result of the typhoon. Increasingly, she devoted her time to fighting the climate crisis.

Ubaldo has since protested at Shell’s Manila headquarters, in front of the Wall Street Bull in New York, and helped organise the first climate youth strike in Eastern Visayas. Her proudest moment, she says, was testifying as a community witness to the Philippines Commission on Human Rights as part of their investigation into corporate responsibility for climate change. In 2019, the commission found that 47 major oil, coal, cement and mining companies could be held liable for the impact of their operations on Filipino citizens. The landmark ruling illustrated “the power of people”, says Ubaldo. “Even if you are poor, or just only one, or from a remote community, you have power. You can always call out corporations and leaders who are fuelling climate change.”

Ubaldo, who now works full time on climate issues, focuses on supporting grassroots initiatives. She co-founded the group Youth Leaders for Environmental Action Federation, is a climate justice youth adviser for Greenpeace Philippines and also works with Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, an interfaith movement that advocates for the divestment of coal.

Her work is high risk. According to Global Witness, 29 activists were killed last year in the Philippines. It is common for activists to receive threats or be subject to “red tagging” – labelled by the state as communists or terrorists. Last year, four activists and a journalist from Tacloban were arrested for possession of firearms following an illegal raid. It has been claimed that security forces had falsified evidence and Amnesty International has called for an investigation. At the time of the raid, Ubaldo received a message suggesting she too would be arrested and moved to stay with a friend as a precaution.

“The thing is,” she says, “they don’t just come for you, they come for your family, for your friends… That worries me more than my own safety.” But the threats, she says, are at least a sign that those in power are hearing your voice.“This is very personal for me. If I do not continue fighting I will feel that I am betraying the people who perished because of climatic disasters. Because they are not just numbers, they are not just climate statistics.”

Who is your climate villain? “The corporations, all of them. They are profiting from our suffering.”

Lab beef or grass fed? “I don’t eat meat but I have to remain pescatarian or my father [a fisherman] would be really angry. When I go home I love to eat paksiw fish, which is cooked in soy sauce, vinegar and a little oil with onion and garlic. Everything is just fresh, even the herbs that you put on your food – you can just get them outside of your house.”

If you had the power to make one change to combat the climate crisis, large or small, what would it be? “I would go to the community and ask them what they want and support their own grassroots climate actions. And I would let the fossil fuels stay in the ground.” Rebecca Ratcliffe

Anjali Sharma, 17, Australia

Anjali Sharma

Not many 17-year-olds have ground-breaking judicial decisions named after them, but as lead litigant in Sharma and others v Minister for the Environment, Anjali Sharma achieved that world first when Judge Bromberg ruled in May this year that the minister did have a duty of care not to harm children.

Sharma became involved in School Strike 4 Climate in 2019 after hearing about the impact climate change had on relatives who are farmers in India. “This stuff drives people to anxiety, it drives people to tears because it’s just so real for us right now,” she says.

Her hope with the legal case was to stop the extension of a coal mine in New South Wales. But last month, the expansion was approved. Sharma found out by text message between school exams. “We went to court in a completely novel legal battle and we won, and yet [Australian environment minister] Sussan Ley approved the mine. Sometimes it feels like nothing is happening,” she says.

Plenty is happening for Sharma. First, the Australian government is appealing against the duty of care ruling later this month, then she has exams. She’s also focused on her twin passions of music and netball. “At school everyone knows me as ‘that kid’. It’s completely different when I go to netball where I can be a normal teenage girl – because that’s what I am.”

If you could make one change… “I’d cut all Australian government ties with mining companies such as Origin and Santos, which have constantly procured grants for new fossil fuel exploration projects and influenced Australia’s climate policy due to their Australian political connections. Instead I’d have our climate policy influenced by our First Nations people and those on the frontlines. These are the people who have a true connection and love for the land.” Meg Keneally

Aadya Joshi, 18, India/US

Aadya Joshi

For years, twice a day Aadya Joshi walked past a scrapyard in her neighbourhood of south Mumbai on her way to and from school. Originally meant to be the garden of the local police station, it had become an overgrown, toxic eyesore with a decade’s waste festering in the heat. When she was 15, in her summer holidays, Joshi decided to do something about it.

“I walked in to the police station and was like, ‘Can I please clean your garden?’” recalls Joshi. “It took three or four weeks of me just being like, ‘Please, please, please, please, please,’ and coming back every day, rain or shine. I had to convince them that I was not going to flake halfway and leave them with more work.”

The plot of land is long and thin: about the dimensions of a cricket wicket. But, over the course of four Sundays in the summer, with help from local residents, Joshi did more than clear it. She replanted it with native Indian plants and trees. It was gruelling but rewarding work: “When I say toxic I really mean it,” says Joshi. “The first day that we cleaned up I made the mistake of not wearing gloves and I was sick for two weeks.”

The idea for native planting came from Joshi’s reading on the Miyawaki method of afforestation and the work of University of Delaware ecologist Douglas Tallamy. These both argue that planting the right trees can have a significant impact on restoring insect and animal biodiversity. The results in Mumbai were pretty well instantaneous: monkeys now hang out at the police station, and butterflies and birds have made the garden their home.

“It’s definitely difficult being a kid telling adults what to do,” says Joshi. “Not everyone is always receptive, but I think there’s a benefit with having actual science to back up what you’re saying.”

After creating the garden, Joshi developed a database of 2,000 plants indigenous to the Indian subcontinent and last year was awarded the annual Children’s Climate prize, founded by Swedish energy company Telge Energi. She also began planning larger projects, but these were curtailed first by Covid, and now because she has just started as an undergraduate on the Earth Systems Program at Stanford University. Her advice for others looking to follow in her footsteps is to start small. “If you bite off more than you can chew in the beginning, you stagnate and you lose motivation,” she says. “But something small, like your neighbourhood police station, it’s very manageable.”

Who is your climate hero? “Dr Douglas Tallamy. His book Bringing Nature Home is all about how native plants preserve biodiversity. The whole point was to take that research and put it into a local context for India.”

How do you relax? “A good book. Recently Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent by Pranay Lal and In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. It’s very depressing, but it’s very good.”

If you could make one change … “It would be to plant native everywhere.” Tim Lewis

Hilda Flavia Nakabuye

Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, 24, Uganda

“Your beds may be comfortable for now but not for long,” Hilda Flavia Nakabuye told the 2019 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen. “You will soon feel the same heat we feel every day.” As a child, Nakabuye watched heavy rains, strong winds and drought gradually devastate her grandparents’ farm. Cassava, matoke and potato gardens withered; livestock died and eventually her family was forced to sell off the land.

At Kampala University, she made the connection that their suffering was a direct result of global heating and in 2019 she founded Uganda’s Fridays for Future campaign, which now has 53,000 youth members. Nakabuye is fiercely critical of the unequal representation of countries from the global south in terms of decision-making . She is campaigning for equal participation for the Most Affected People and Areas (Mapa) at Cop26, where she says it is vital to drum into world leaders that “global emissions are [currently] expected to rise by 16% by 2030 yet we need to drop them by 50% by 2030.”

“We are a generation of scared people,” she says, “but we are very persistent. And very united.”

If you could make one change… “Haha, that sounds like a lot of power! Within one hour I would shut down all fossil fuel industries.” Sarah Donaldson

Yusuf Baluch

Yusuf Baluch, 17, Pakistan

Yusuf Baluch became an activist last year in the wake of a massive forest fire near his home town of Gwadar, southwest Pakistan, though he says the climate crisis has shadowed his life since childhood. Now he spends much of his time organising for Fridays for Future and engaging in school strikes, despite the threat of arrest from Pakistan’s military. “Giving up is not an option,” he says. “I have to fight on.”

If you could make one change… “There should be climate clubs and centres everywhere, at a local level, so people can get educated – so we can fight this together.” Killian Fox

Vic Barrett, 22, US

Vic Barrett

Vic Barrett does not speak Polish. The tattoo artist he met did not have much English. But, during some downtime at the 2018 United Nations climate change conference in Katowice, Barrett presented his arm to him along with a rough sketch of a geometric design featuring the number “370”, the “greater than” sign and two diamonds. “We still had a pretty good time,” says the 22-year-old Barrett now, laughing. “And it was a special trip and it just felt right to somehow commemorate it.”

The 370 in the tattoo refers to a measurement in parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: this was the level it was at when Barrett was born in 1999. It’s now more than 400ppm, which most scientists agree is a hazardous indicator of human-made climate change. Barrett turns serious: “The tattoo is a reminder to myself and to others that there are generations of young people who have been born into a world that we know scientifically is incapable of sustaining them,” he says. “It’s highlighting this unique experience of being a young person on the planet right now.”

Barrett’s awakening to the climate emergency came in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy tore up the east coast of North America. He was living in New York and while the damage was widespread – around 650,000 homes were destroyed; 8.5 million people were stranded without power – he noticed that the devastation was especially severe for low and middle-income people, whose homes were more likely to be built in flood-prone areas and who were less likely to have insurance. Aged 14, Barrett, who has black and indigenous Honduran heritage, began working with the nonprofit Global Kids and dived deep into “environmental racism”.

In 2015, Barrett was one of a group of 21 young people who sued the US government for violating their fifth and ninth amendment rights by encouraging the use of fossil fuels since the 1960s. Juliana v United States has now been in the courts for a quarter of Barrett’s life and the case continues to rumble on. Much of the past six years has clearly been thrilling: speaking at the UN, hanging out with Greta Thunberg, becoming a powerful voice of youth activism. But Barrett hopes that the next generation will not have to follow his path.

“I don’t really want my kids to have to sue the US federal government or to have to be environmental activists in school, to speak at the UN,” he says. “I’m sure that would be awesome for them, but I don’t want them to have to fight the way we did.”

Who is your climate hero? “ Berta Cáceres . She’s a Honduran water protector, who ended up being killed for fighting against a dam that was going to harm the indigenous people of her community.”

And your climate villain? “Hypocritical politicians. In the US now we have an administration that claims to have more progressive values, but, for example, there are still pipelines being built through indigenous-treaty territories.”

If you had the power to make one change to help solve the climate crisis what would it be? “I want to see a better version of the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) process. Right now it’s all hired negotiators from different countries and their whole job is to negotiate. I would like to see more indigenous leaders included, more black leaders included, more leaders from the global south included.”

How do you relax? “I like to go kayaking, hang out with my friends, go out to the bar sometimes, play video games. Regular kiddo stuff.” TL

José Adolfo Quisocala, 16, Peru

José Adolfo Quisocala

When he was seven, José Adolfo Quisocala created a bank for school friends in his home town of Arequipa, Peru, to save money to buy books, stationery and uniforms. Now, nine years later, the Bartselana Student Bank has 6,700 clients, all aged under 18. As well as saving, children can earn money by bringing plastic and paper to recycle at school drop-offs – the money is automatically credited to their bank accounts. Every month, the bank recycles between 15 and 16 tonnes of paper and plastic through local companies.

The idea came to Quisocala when he saw children begging at traffic lights and wondered how he could help them and their families earn and save, as well as recycle household rubbish that would otherwise become litter or go into landfill. He missed out on school to pursue his idea, but it was worth it, he says. “In my town, I was able to considerably reduce the level of child poverty, the school drop-out rate and environmental pollution.”

Quisocala also helped create the Bartselana Foundation, which converts donations of recyclable waste from local companies into funds to combat child hunger and improve education. Since the onset of the pandemic, the foundation has been making free online educational videos – explaining, for example, how to distinguish different types of plastics and paper for recycling – which it puts out via social media. “This is such important and relevant information that is not taught in school, that we had to make it public and free to watch,” says Quisocala.

Now 16, he plans to hand over the running of the bank to a new (also young) CEO in order to go to university. He intends to continue his social activism, working with the “least-favoured or forgotten groups in Latin America” and helping them profit by carrying out environmental services.

If you could make one change… “I would teach children, the young, adults and senior citizens what awaits us in the future if we continue living the way we are now. The climate plays a role in every aspect of our lives; our money, our health, agriculture, our flora and fauna. With education, people can take small steps to improve the relationship between humans and nature.” Dan Collyns

M elati, 18, and Isabel Wijsen, 20, Bali

Melati, left, and Isabel Wijsen

It was a school lesson on Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King that made sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen think about how they could change the world and in 2013, aged 10 and 12, they launched Bye Bye Plastic Bags , an initiative to stop single-use bags which is now active in 30 countries. “It organically started to grow,” explains Melati, now 20. “Young people could see a real-life example of what was possible.”

The girls’ campaign was exemplary. They started making educational booklets to explain the dangers of marine pollution and set up a pilot scheme for a plastic-free village. Next came a how-to video on making a river barrier from recycled material to prevent rubbish reaching the sea and a social enterprise scheme employing local women to make reusable bags. In 2018 they resorted to hunger strike when the governor of Bali wouldn’t meet and discuss government policy. He caved in two days later and by 2019, single-use plastic bags were banned from the island.

Now the Wijsens have launched an online learning platform called Youthopia. “It has masterclasses, workshops and mentorship. We want it to become the world’s HQ for young change-makers.” It’s hard to imagine they won’t make it happen.

If you could make one change… “ I would adapt the education system to teach about these problems and create spaces for innovation. Young people are not given the tools or the guidance to think big and create new systems.” Alice Fisher

Scarlett Westbrook, 17, UK

Scarlett Westbrook

Scarlett Westbrook is a 17-year-old with an open expression, friendly smile and plaits like bell-pulls. It would be natural to assume – had you never heard her speak – that she was an ordinary schoolgirl and not the formidable climate justice activist she is. But by the age of 10, Scarlett was already going on marches and canvassing for local elections (at the time, she was “really into” Ed Miliband’s climate policies). She has grown up in inner-city Birmingham and her encouraging parents – not in any political party themselves – would tag along with her as she knocked on doors. It must have been clear then that Scarlett was not born to be one of life’s passengers.

At 13, she distinguished herself by passing an A-level in government and politics – the youngest person ever to do so. She taught herself in seven months. Her speciality was climate and education which was what, in part, led to her later work as a member of the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN). Neither her parents nor her teachers believed Scarlett when she told them she intended to sit the A-level, so Westbrook emailed the exam board… “I kept arguing until I got my way!” (A useful talent in an activist.)

Westbrook has been one of the leading organisers of the school strikes in Birmingham and is the youngest known “regular policy writer” in parliamentary history. She won the Women of the Future Young Star award in 2020 and the Diana award this year, for humanitarian work. Scarlett is invariably modest about her achievements – not wishing to distract from what matters most to her. She now heads up Teach the Future , the impressive student-led campaign founded by her friend Joe Brindle, which aims to transform the British education system by putting the climate at its centre. It is responsible for “the first ever student bill, the English Climate Emergency Education Act ” and for holding a parliamentary reception, organised and led by Westbrook, for more than 100 MPs and Lords. (It has secured cross-party support from everyone except the DUP.) She argues that climate should be “woven like a golden thread into every single subject”. And her own thinking proves impressively joined up: she talks eloquently about climate crisis in relation to capitalism, colonialism, gender inequality and pandemics.

Teach the Future’s research shows that “only 4% of students feel they know a great deal about [the climate emergency]”. But the percentage of students who are concerned is much higher (with six in 10 said to be “extremely worried” ). Scarlett believes climate action and strong community support are the way forward, adding: “Our government could choose to act on the climate but is actively choosing not to…”

While she believes in the importance of individual action, she is keen to emphasise the shocking figures that reveal collective responsibility: “A hundred companies are responsible for 71% of [global] emissions,” she says, while “the entire continent of Africa is responsible for only 2-3% of emissions.” She points out that 70% of flights are taken by 15% of people. Listening to her, I find myself daydreaming that she could make, one day, the most amazing prime minister. But when I ask if she is planning to become a politician, she flinches. “Absolutely not. I specifically want to go into medicine. I want to be a humanitarian trauma surgeon working in natural disasters or war to help people out. With the climate crisis, that is going to be an increasingly important job.”

How do you relax? “It often feels like the weight of the future is on our shoulders so it is really important to wind down and spend time with people you care about to maintain your capacity to act, and your wellbeing.”

Solar or nuclear? “Solar!”

If you could make one change… “I would implement an international Green New Deal, which would aim not only to decarbonise the economy through a 10-year, government-led mobilisation but also to create jobs and to bridge the inequality divide through investment in the areas that need it most.” Kate Kellaway

Fionn Ferreira, 20, Ireland

Fionn Ferreira

“My two loves are exploring and inventing,” says 20-year-old Fionn Ferreira, who won the top global award at the 2019 Google Science Fair for his work on reducing plastic pollution in water. It was while kayaking around the coast of West Cork, where he grew up, that Ferreira became keenly aware of the problem – not just large plastics bobbing on the waves but microplastics pervading the water around him.

Aged 15, he designed his own spectrometer to measure the amount of microplastics in local water – the readings were so high that at first he thought the machine was broken. Then he set about finding a way to remove them. “I thought, what’s plastic made of? It’s made of crude oil. And why does crude oil float on top of water? Because the polarity is different.” By adding magnetite to oil, he discovered that he could attract the microplastics in a sample of water and remove the vast majority of them with a magnet.

Now the chemistry undergrad has created his own startup, Fionn & Co, and has received funding from Robert Downey Jr’s Footprint Coalition to build a prototype device that can filter more than 90% of microplastics from tap water. He hopes to expand the technology to work in wastewater treatment plants and even at the mouths of rivers, while letting his inventive mind fly in other directions too.

Winning awards and backing at such a young age has given Ferreira a sense that youth should not be a barrier to effecting real change. “I feel like we need more people involved in innovation and invention at a small level, because every idea has the power to make a difference,” he says.

If you could make one change… “We need to get everybody to fall in love with the environment and be really, really angry about what’s happening to it. Because only with everybody on board, doing their bit, can we create change.” KF

Mya-Rose Craig, 19, UK

Mya-Rose Craig

Mya-Rose Craig was nine days old when she first went birdwatching near her home in Bristol. “My parents and my older sister were massive birdwatchers. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love birds,” she says. She has been blogging about birds as Birdgirl since she was 11 and posting on Twitter as @BirdgirlUK since the age of 12. “That was when I started becoming passionate about environmental issues, especially climate change,” she says.

It was also around this time she started noticing something about outdoor spaces. “My mum is Bangladeshi and my sister and I are half Bangladeshi and I became aware that I never saw anyone who looked like us out in the countryside. As I looked into it, I realised this wasn’t a superficial thing, it was systemic exclusion linked to the racial make-up of conservation bodies and the costs of getting into nature, among other things. Conversations with my cousins made me aware that birding and being in the outdoors are seen by non-white people as really white hobbies.”

Craig set up Black2Nature , a non-profit organisation that campaigns for equal access to nature for all, runs nature camps and activities for people traditionally excluded from the countryside and campaigns to make the nature conservation and environmental sectors ethnically diverse. Her activism has won her a platform on television ( Springwatch , Countryfile ) and radio ( Start the Week ) and a doctorate in science from the University of Bristol.

Now 19 and studying at Cambridge University, Craig has just published We Have a Dream (Magic Cat), a book of interviews with 30 young environmental activists of colour – “people who weren’t getting the platform from the media that they deserve”.

If you could make one change…. “I’d get genuine action from our leaders, right now.” Lisa O’Kelly

Iris Desquesne.

Iris Duquesne, 18, France

Dubbed “France’s Greta Thunberg” by the French media, Iris Duquesne was 16 when she joined 15 other teenage climate activists, including Thunberg, in late 2019 to bring a landmark legal complaint to the United Nations against France, Brazil, Germany, Turkey and Argentina. Their charge – that these countries were violating their rights as children by not taking sufficient measures against climate change – resonated around the globe.

Last week the UN declared it was unable to rule on the case, saying the young people must first bring lawsuits in each of the five state’s national courts, despite tomes of case law showing that no such procedures would succeed. Speaking through her legal team at the non-profit Earthjustice, Duquesne said: “We are all very disappointed but unfortunately not surprised. We have seen governments and officials ignore the climate crisis over and over again and today was no exception. The fight for climate justice is not over, and we will keep pushing with or without the Committee’s help.”

If you could make one change…. “I’d use education worldwide to instil a real sense of climate responsibility in the next generation.” LO’K

Jakob Blasel, 21, Germany

Jakob Blasel

Jakob Blasel’s blond curls have been a regular sight at Fridays for Future protests in Germany since the then 18-year-old organised the country’s first climate strike, outside the regional parliament in Kiel in December 2018. He proved a canny organiser and passionate motivator, rallying students through WhatsApp chat groups or by spraying messages on the pavement outside their schools.

“From day one it was very important to me that Fridays for Future wasn’t just made up of kids who already cared about environmental issues,” he says. “It was about starting a movement that spoke to an entire generation.”

Three years later, Blasel is knocking on the doors of the Bundestag in Berlin: as a Green party candidate in his home constituency in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northernmost state, he gained 23,831 votes at September’s federal elections, only narrowly missing out on a parliamentary seat via the party’s list.

The eldest of three brothers, Blasel says he was vaguely aware of climate change as a child. “But it wasn’t until I was 15-16 that the climate crisis became something that caused me distress.”

In 2017 he watched a Norwegian documentary about the global textile industry. “How could it be, I asked myself, that my teenage peers and I were wearing clothes that were produced under inhumane conditions in the global south? From that, I moved on to thinking about how clothes could be produced in a way that was not just socially fairer, but also more environmentally sustainable.”

The teenager started wearing more secondhand clothes, and he convinced his parents to switch to get their electricity from renewable providers. “But there was a point where that approach reached a limit: even if I change my behaviour as a consumer, we’re still headed for an ecological and societal crisis. If I really cared about making a difference, I realised, I needed to take a political approach.”

In his campaign and on social media, Blasel describes himself as an “1.5C ultra”, claiming a term usually employed by fanatical football supporters. “Maybe that’s a little bit of a joke,” he says, “but in terms of real politics, it means I am convinced that every possible effort needs to be made to limit global warming to 1.5C.

“Now I see a lot of politicians realising that we need to have more ambitious climate targets. But they are still telling fairytales about how we will get there: that technology will magically solve climate change, that we just need to leave it up to the markets. We already have these technologies, we just need to use them. And at the moment that’s not happening to the right extent.”

Blasel says his run for the Bundestag has made him understand better why the political debate on the climate crisis has got stuck, and how it could be made to start moving again. “Being an activist means constantly pushing your own interest to the foreground, while the art of being a politician lies in reconciling different interests.”

The German Green party could hold a key role in the next government, as one of three coalition partners in a liberal-left power-sharing deal. Blasel says he’s planning to slip back into his old activist roles to remind his party of its promises while coalition talks are ongoing. “I will keep on giving my best to fight the climate crisis. Whether I do that from parliament or as an activist is almost irrelevant.”

Who is your climate hero? “Stefan Rahmstorf, the German climatologist who was one of the earliest scientists to lay bare the dramatic extent of the climate crisis.”

Solar or nuclear? “Solar. People don’t feel safe around nuclear power plants. I don’t think most people who are still evangelising about nuclear power have thought their position through.”

If you had the power to make one change to help solve the climate crisis what would it be? “The switch to renewable energy has to be the basis for every step we take to address the crisis.” Philip Oltermann

Disha Ravi, 22, India

Disha Ravi.

Disha Ravi experienced climate change growing up in rural India long before she knew what it was. “My grandparents are farmers and faced water shortages; my mother had to carry water from the common well before she left for school and none of us realised that this was the result of the climate crisis. Only when I was 18 did I understand it – and the inaction from our leaders.”

Ravi co-founded the Indian branch of Fridays for Future (FFF) in 2019 and spent two years organising workshops, local clean-ups and tree planting. She is also the family breadwinner, with her job at a vegan food company in Bengaluru, where she lives with her mother.

One campaign close to her heart was the 2020–2021 Indian farmers protest when a set of farm bills that seemed to favour corporations over farmers sparked huge outcry in India, especially over minimum prices for produce. When Greta Thunberg tweeted about the campaign in February, it was Ravi who made international headlines. She was arrested for sedition and criminal conspiracy and taken to Delhi where she was held for 10 days. Police said a social media toolkit Ravi had edited for the campaign had caused disaffection and disinformation.

Ravi is unable to discuss her ongoing legal case but her campaigning spirit is undiminished. “I have seen my own house fill with water in a landlocked city, trees cut to grow the GDP, and poison released in rivers as businesses push off responsibility. I refuse to let this continue for others.”

If you could make one change… “People in India face the climate crisis on a daily basis, but access to the latest science around the environment is still limited to elite private schools. Education will bring about awareness and the climate action we need.” AF

Lesein Mutunkei.

Lesein Mutunkei, 17, Kenya

Lesein Mutunkei was 12 when he decided that for every football goal he scored, he’d plant a tree. He realised the idea could go big – after all, “the climate crisis is a universal problem and football is a universal game”. He got his school in Nairobi signed up and started Trees for Goals as a movement. In 2019, aged 14, he went to the Kenyan Ministry of Environment and the scheme became national. This year he’s a Children’s Climate prize finalist.

If you could make one change… “I would ensure Fifa, all leagues, clubs and schools and 3.5 billion fans across the world took up Trees for Goals and use the power of football to tackle deforestation, which is the second biggest contributor to climate change.” AF

Amy and Ella Meek, 18 and 16, UK

Ella and Amy Meek

Amy and Ella Meek founded Kids Against Plastic in 2016 after finding out for the first time about the effects of plastic pollution. The sisters were being home schooled and their parents, both teachers, decided they should learn about the UN’s global goals for sustainable development. The goal that piqued their interest was number 14: Life below water. “We started seeing all these images of sea creatures tangled up in plastic,” says Amy, now 18. “It was just heartbreaking to see and really shocking.”

“Plastic pollution wasn’t so much in the news then, so we were completely unaware of how the plastic we were using and throwing away was having such a negative impact,” says Ella, 16. “We realised that a lot of other ordinary people were probably unaware of it too, so we decided to take action.”

Their campaign against plastic waste had small beginnings. “We were quite young, only 10 and 12, so we started off by litter picking. As soon as we started picking up plastic we saw how quickly it was being replaced and that was really motivating,” says Ella.

In the five years since the sisters have picked up a massive 96,685 pieces of single-use plastic. Their target is 100,000, because that is the number of sea mammals that die each year as a result of being trapped in plastic or eating it. They have also given hundreds of talks at schools and festivals, including a TEDx talk , and launched nationwide “Plastic Clever” schemes to help UK schools, restaurants, businesses, festivals and councils to reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use.

How do you both relax? “We’re just normal teenagers so if we’re not campaigning we’ll spend time together, watch TV, read books, talk to our friends.”

Lab beef or grass-fed? “We’re vegan!”

If you could make one change… “We’d make sure people with the power to take action take on board advice from young people.” LO’K

Noga Levy-Rapoport

Noga Levy-Rapoport, 19, UK

In 2019, Noga Levy-Rapoport, just 17 at the time, was instrumental in organising the massive 20 September climate strikes across the UK. This involved “months of tireless work – emails, backroom meetings, travelling from school to workplace to company HQs to persuade as many as we could to join us on the streets”. Levy-Rapoport, now a full-time student at Warwick University as well as continuing to energetically campaign, believes “the impact of that work can still be seen today”.

If you could make one change… “I’d ensure governments and global leaders put an end to the greenwashing that corporations are constantly using. Greenwashing places all responsibility for an international, terrifyingly huge crisis on us as consumers, rather than on fossil fuel companies for taking advantage of our people and planet. Corporations like BP and Shell, responsible for so much damage to our environment, know that a decarbonised world is possible, a sustainable future and equitable society is possible, but for that to exist we have to end the unregulated power they have over our energy, jobs, and livelihoods.” KF

Jamie Margolin.

Jamie Margolin, 19, US

A Colombian-American from Seattle, Margolin founded the coalition Zero Hour in 2017, which led the Youth Climate March the following July. She was one of 13 children who sued the state of Washington in 2018 for infringing their constitutional rights by “actively worsening the climate crisis”. She now studies film-making at NYU, continuing to campaign climate matters and queer rights.

If you could make one change… “I would halt all deforestation and destruction of natural places.” KF

Autumn Peltier, 17, Canada

First Nations activist Autumn Peltier.

“I was eight years old and attending a water ceremony in a First Nations community not far from mine,” says Autumn Peltier, recalling the moment that spurred her to become a clean-water advocate. “I went to the bathroom and all along the hallways there were signs that read ‘Do not drink the water’ and ‘Boil water advisory in effect’.” Quizzing her mother afterwards, she learned that the drinking water in this community, in northern Ontario, Canada, had been contaminated for 24 years.

Now, aged just 17, Peltier is chief water commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation. She first attracted attention when, at the Assembly of First Nations in 2017, she told prime minister Justin Trudeau that she was “very unhappy” with his record on water protection and oil pipeline projects.

The following year, she addressed world leaders at the UN General Assembly on the subject of water pollution. “Those platforms tell me that my message is being heard and Canada has to answer at that level,” she says. “It shows me I’m being effective for the water, the children and our rights as indigenous people of this land.”

If you could make one change… “I would encourage any new member of parliament to spend a week on the land and in a community that can’t drink water and live in the houses that need repairing. Have the ones in power experience what we are fighting for and why we do this advocacy work.” KF

Grace Maddrell.

Grace Maddrell, 16, UK

After attending a first climate school strike as barely a teenager, Grace Maddrell, at just 16, has now published Tomorrow Is Too Late (Indigo Press), a book of essays and stories by young activists from around the world illustrating why it is imperative that we act now to avert climate catastrophe.

If you could make one change…. “This crisis has been caused by colonialism, capitalism, and inequality. If we could change the attitudes that perpetuate these things, it would help build a better world.” LO’K

Join Franny Armstrong in a special livestreamed event with young activists fighting the climate emergency around the world on Wednesday 10 November 2021, 8pm GMT| 9pm CET | 12pm PST | 3pm EST Book tickets here

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Responding to the Climate Threat: Essays on Humanity’s Greatest Challenge

Responding to the Climate Threat: Essays on Humanity’s Greatest Challenge

A new book co-authored by MIT Joint Program Founding Co-Director Emeritus Henry Jacoby

From the Back Cover

This book demonstrates how robust and evolving science can be relevant to public discourse about climate policy. Fighting climate change is the ultimate societal challenge, and the difficulty is not just in the wrenching adjustments required to cut greenhouse emissions and to respond to change already under way. A second and equally important difficulty is ensuring widespread public understanding of the natural and social science. This understanding is essential for an effective risk management strategy at a planetary scale. The scientific, economic, and policy aspects of climate change are already a challenge to communicate, without factoring in the distractions and deflections from organized programs of misinformation and denial. 

Here, four scholars, each with decades of research on the climate threat, take on the task of explaining our current understanding of the climate threat and what can be done about it, in lay language―importantly, without losing critical  aspects of the natural and social science. In a series of essays, published during the 2020 presidential election, the COVID pandemic, and through the fall of 2021, they explain the essential components of the challenge, countering the forces of distrust of the science and opposition to a vigorous national response.  

Each of the essays provides an opportunity to learn about a particular aspect of climate science and policy within the complex context of current events. The overall volume is more than the sum of its individual articles. Proceeding each essay is an explanation of the context in which it was written, followed by observation of what has happened since its first publication. In addition to its discussion of topical issues in modern climate science, the book also explores science communication to a broad audience. Its authors are not only scientists – they are also teachers, using current events to teach when people are listening. For preserving Earth’s planetary life support system, science and teaching are essential. Advancing both is an unending task.

About the Authors

Gary Yohe is the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He served as convening lead author for multiple chapters and the Synthesis Report for the IPCC from 1990 through 2014 and was vice-chair of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment.

Henry Jacoby is the William F. Pounds Professor of Management, Emeritus, in the MIT Sloan School of Management and former co-director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, which is focused on the integration of the natural and social sciences and policy analysis in application to the threat of global climate change.

Richard Richels directed climate change research at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). He served as lead author for multiple chapters of the IPCC in the areas of mitigation, impacts and adaptation from 1992 through 2014. He also served on the National Assessment Synthesis Team for the first U.S. National Climate Assessment.

Ben Santer is a climate scientist and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow. He contributed to all six IPCC reports. He was the lead author of Chapter 8 of the 1995 IPCC report which concluded that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”. He is currently a Visiting Researcher at UCLA’s Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science & Engineering.

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View the book on the publisher's website  here .

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Introduction

1. root causes of climate change and climate injustices, 2. climate justice: distributional, procedural, and recognitional dimensions, 3. injustices of climate responses, 4. the pursuit of climate justice, questions for classroom discussions, acknowledgments, competing interests, climate justice in the global north : an introduction.

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Prakash Kashwan; Climate Justice in the Global North : An Introduction . Case Studies in the Environment 5 February 2021; 5 (1): 1125003. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/cse.2021.1125003

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This essay provides a broad-based and jargon-free introduction to climate justice to foster critical thinking, engaged discussions, and profound reflections. It introduces the reader to three dimensions of justice—distributional, procedural, and recognitional justice—and shows how each relates to climate justice. A unique contribution of this essay is to identify and discuss the following three blind spots in the debates on climate justice: (1) the tendency to focus heavily on post hoc effects of climate change while ignoring the root causes of climate change that also contribute to injustices; (2) assuming incorrectly that all climate action contributes to climate justice, even though some types of climate responses can produce new climate injustices; and (3) although scholars have studied the causes of climate injustices extensively, the specific pathways to climate justice remain underdeveloped. This essay concludes by showcasing a few examples of the ongoing pursuits of climate justice, led by social justice groups, local governments, and some government agencies.

Climate change is an existential threat to human civilization. The increased frequency of climate-related disasters has been responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in different parts of the world. 1 Yet climate change does not affect everyone equally; its consequences are distributed unequally between world regions, countries, and social groups within countries.

Countries that make up the Global North, or the “developed countries” (For a useful discussion of the vocabulary of developing versus developed countries, see https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/01/04/372684438/if-you-shouldnt-call-it-the-third-world-what-should-you-call-it .), have benefited significantly from the energy-intensive industrial development responsible for warming the earth’s atmosphere. However, the poorest countries pay a steep price, especially highly vulnerable small island nations (e.g., Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Papa New Guinea, Haiti, and Guinea-Bissau) contributing the least to the climate crisis. Therefore, global policy experts often describe climate justice as an international issue.

The rapidly increasing emissions from China, India, and other middle-income countries cause concern, especially for the poor, who must bear the worst consequences of deteriorating land, water, and air quality. However, the climate crisis unfolding now is a result of the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the earth’s atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, to which middle-income countries have contributed very little. According to one estimate, the United States alone has contributed nearly 35% of the total cumulative global CO 2 emissions since 1750. 2 Irrespective of where one stands on this debate, nationality and international borders are only two of several factors contributing to various types of climate injustices. Differences in income and wealth, race, gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual identities within countries also contribute significantly to climate injustices.

This essay’s primary goal is to introduce readers to climate justice questions within the Global North. Debating these questions in our backyard is vital because a focus on the poor people in the Global South detracts from a deeper understanding of inequalities and injustice at home. Equally important, a focus on the Global North allows for a better understanding of the root causes and the here-and-now nature of the currently unfolding climate crisis. The socially discriminatory effects of climate change are evident from the reportage of climate-related disasters in the United States and elsewhere, especially beginning with Hurricane Katrina [ 1 ]. Therefore, it is useful to think of climate justice as a framework to recognize and redress the unequal distribution of costs and burdens of climate change and climate responses of various types. Moreover, climate justice also requires ensuring that those affected most severely by climate change participate in brainstorming, developing, and implementing climate responses.

Attaining a substantive and deep understanding first requires recognizing three blind spots in climate justice discussions. One, even though the leading cause of climate change is related to energy-intensive lifestyles, most climate change discussions, including those on climate justice, often focus on the effects of climate change. A comprehensive explanation of climate justice requires avoiding such post hoc tendencies and centering our discussions on climate change’s root causes. Two, very often “radical” climate response is equated with climate justice, which does not hold in all circumstances. As the discussions below show, some radical climate responses may contribute to new kinds of injustices. Three, even though understanding the sources and the effects of climate injustices is necessary, such understanding does not translate easily into the specific actions needed to realize climate justice in practice. Accordingly, this essay concludes with a brief discussion of several ongoing pursuits of climate justice.

An in-depth inquiry into the historical trajectory of climate change and climate denialism of the past half century shows that the concentration of political and economic power has been a significant cause of the current climate crisis. The distribution of power influences how environmental amenities (e.g., clean air) and problems (e.g., pollution) are valued and distributed within national boundaries. The current economic system and the patterns of consumption it promotes are responsible for environmental degradation and environmental injustices [ 2 ]. For example, a select few multinational corporations control nearly all the global food business and consume 75% of the entire food sector’s energy requirements—but feed a much smaller proportion of the world’s population[ 3 ]. More broadly, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population produces almost as much GHG emissions as the bottom 90% combined [ 4 ]. The extent of income inequalities within the United States and the UK shows that these inequalities are not merely due to the differences in national economic growth, which advocates of the free market often present as a solution to poverty and underdevelopment. For instance, income growth over the last few decades has lowered the well-being of large parts of the U.S. population while supporting profligate consumption among the wealthiest [ 5 ]. Such a lopsided distribution of economic growth benefits is responsible for increased precariousness among large sections of the Global North population, the climate crisis, and the myriad climate injustices.

One manifestation of the imbalances in political and economic power is corporate climate denialism, which powerful corporations engineered to protect the status quo’s benefits. Fossil fuel multinational corporations based in the United States have known since the early 1970s that the burning of fossil fuels caused global warming and climate change. The documents made public during the ongoing lawsuits against Exxon Mobil show that instead of acting on their knowledge of global warming, major fossil fuel corporations orchestrated a campaign of climate denialism [ 6 ]. These campaigns sowed seeds of doubt among the public and allowed the federal and state governments to continue supporting the fossil fuel industry’s expansion.

Data from the Washington-based Environmental and Energy Study Institute suggest that as of the year 2019, the U.S. government awarded approximately US$20 billion per year in direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Eighty percent of these subsidies went to the natural gas and crude oil industries, while the coal industry received the remaining 20%. 3 Similarly, the European Union subsidizes the fossil fuel industry by an estimated 55 billion euros (or approximately US$65 billion) annually. These subsidies give fossil fuel corporations enormous power over governments in economically underdeveloped countries, such as Nigeria and Angola, where fossil fuel extraction occurs. Therefore, fossil fuel subsidies exacerbate international inequalities that date back to European colonization and continue to shape developmental disparities today [ 7 ].

The adverse environmental and public health impacts of fossil fuel subsidies cost the global community an estimated US$5.3 trillion in 2015 alone [ 8 ]. The costs of environmental toxicity burdens fall disproportionately on the poor and marginalized community groups who lack the political and economic power to hold the business and political actors to account. The situation is especially problematic in some of the poorest oil exporting countries, such as Angola and Nigeria. However, as the vast scholarship on environmental justice shows, the poor and racial minorities in the United States also suffer the worst consequences of environmental pollution from landfills, toxic waste dumps, and petrochemical facilities [ 9 ]. One particularly hard-hit area is a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which hosts many highly polluting petrochemical facilities. Because of the pollution caused by the petrochemical industries, residents there have such high rates of cancer that the areas is known as the “Cancer Alley” [ 10 ]. Cancer Alley has been a focal point of the U.S. environmental justice movement for over three decades [ 11 ]. However, there has been no perceptible change in the extent of environmental injustices in the Cancer Alley and other Petrochemical hubs. These toxic hot spots create dangerous new hazards in the face of the calamities linked to the climate crisis.

Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana in August 2020 with a wind speed of 150 mph, which made it the strongest Category 4 hurricane on record since 1856. A Yale University report suggested that climate change may explain the rapid intensification of Atlantic hurricanes, such as Laura, which caught the forecasters and the public off guard. 4 That results in even more severe impacts on the poor because they are least well prepared to confront these crises. These calamities are especially dangerous for communities living in areas such as Cancer Alley. Well into the second day after the deadly winds from Laura had died down, the residents of Mossville were grappling with the effects of toxic gases released from a fire that erupted during the storm in a chlorine plant owned by BioLab in Westlake, Louisiana. 5 Mossville constitutes an archetypical case of the confluence of environmental and climate injustices. Still, it is also a testimony to the deeply entrenched and ongoing effects of the history of slavery in the United States.

Mossville was founded in 1790 by formerly enslaved and free people of color, who sought refuge in a swamp to escape the oppression of segregation. They made it into a community that practiced agriculture, fishing, and hunting for generations. However, successive rounds of zoning decisions by White elected officials transformed Mossville into the “ground zero of the chemical industry boom.” 6 Industry owners forced most residents to sell off their properties. At the same time, those who stayed had no choice but to suffer the consequences of prolonged exposure to industrial pollution and toxic contamination. 7 Mossville’s struggles are not just a domestic issue either. The Lake Charles Chemical Complex responsible for devastating effects on the local environment and the health and well-being of Mossville residents is under the management of the South African Synthetic Oil Limited (SASOL). The apartheid-era South African government, hamstrung by international sanctions, established SASOL in 1950 to transform coal into fuel and chemicals using a technology developed by engineers in the Nazi-era Germany. 8 This environmentally degrading technology is no longer in use, but SASOL’s record of social and environmental impacts remains appalling.

The fossil fuel industry is also tightly coupled with the defense industry, which aids the U.S. foreign policy goal of controlling the supply of oil, rare minerals, other extractive industries, and strategic shipping lanes crucial for transportation. 9 It is common knowledge that the Bush administration’s desire to control oil supply was one of the primary motivations for the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States and the world’s single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels [ 12 ]. The so-called military-industrial complex 10 exists to influence political decisions to support state subsidies for the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries. In other words, political and administrative decisions, not some random mistakes or unavoidable trade-offs, are responsible for endangering the health of the planet and the lives of poor racial minorities in areas like Cancer Alley and communities like Mossville.

Tragically, the Black communities who suffer the most from these environmental injustices are also subject to myriad other injustices, such as the police brutalities that have catalyzed a global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Social scientists Lindsey Dillon and Julie Sze argue that the phrase “I can’t breathe,” which became a rallying cry for the BLM, points to the environmental and social conditions through which “breath is constricted or denied” [ 13 ]. The military-industrial complex is responsible, in more than one ways, for producing the “embodied insecurity of Black lives” [ 13 ]. For example, a Department of Defense program called “1033” enables local police departments to purchase “surplus” war zone equipment, including the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles. 11 The Ferguson Police Department deployed some of this military-grade equipment on the streets of Ferguson to suppress public protests against the police shooting and killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. 12 Investigations by the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit corporate and government accountability research institute, show that police foundations that support local police departments are partially funded by fossil fuel corporations such as Chevron, Shell and Wells Fargo. Their report concluded: “Many powerful companies that drive environmental injustice are also backers of the same police departments that tyrannize the very communities these corporate actors pollute” [ 14 , 15 ].

These complex links between social, environmental, and climate injustices are reminders that it may not always be useful to consider social, environmental, and climate injustices in isolation from one another. 13

“Climate justice” is commonly thought of as the unfair distribution of costs and burdens of climate change. However, two other dimensions of justice spelled out by justice theorists are equally important: procedural and recognitional justice. This section explains each of these three dimensions and their relation to pursuits of climate justice.

2.1. Distributional Effects of Climate Change

Distributional justice focuses on a fair distribution of costs and burdens of climate change and the societal responses to climate change. Vulnerability to climate change is a result of a lack of protection against risks linked to natural events. If everyone in society were equally protected, the costs and burdens related to a disaster would not fall disproportionately on some social groups. However, individuals and groups, such as racial minorities, homeless people, people with disabilities, single moms, and poor people, are more vulnerable to the effects of disasters. These vulnerabilities are a result of policies and programs that push racial minorities and other socially marginalized groups into poverty and destitution. Exclusionary zoning laws and redlining policies during the New Deal era illustrate this point well. The term “redlining” referred to the practice of drawing red lines on urban planning maps to identify African American neighborhoods as being “too risky to insure mortgages.” 14 These maps informed the actions of the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration, and Home Owners Loan Corp., thereby depriving African American towns and neighborhoods of public investments. The members of minority communities could not buy properties in some areas because the administration “reserved” these neighborhoods for affluent White families [ 16 ].

This history of urban segregation and racially prejudiced urban and suburban developments is why inner-city neighborhoods lack basic civic amenities and infrastructure that middle-class neighborhoods take for granted. These historical legacies translate into increased vulnerabilities in the context of the climate crisis. For example, an estimated 400,000 New Yorkers who live in the New York City Housing Authority’s public housing developments bore the worst effects of Hurricane Sandy in October–November 2012. The floods that occurred because of Hurricane Sandy greatly exacerbated rampant mold problems in these projects, with far-reaching health impacts for residents with respiratory illnesses [ 14 ]. The quality and affordability of housing for minorities are also among the causes of “energy poverty” or high energy burden, which is the percentage of income a person or household spends on energy [ 17 , 18 ]. Energy poverty makes it difficult to cope with the impacts of storms and floods while also leaving the energy-poor families vulnerable to the shocks related to increased energy prices that could result from a transition to renewable energy.

The problem is equally or even more severe in the predominantly African American rural areas. For instance, a 2017 report in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene found that among 55 adults surveyed in Lowndes County, Alabama, 34.5% tested positive for hookworms. The presence of this intestinal parasite is a sign of extreme poverty. Specifically, it results from an inadequate sewage system with cracked pipes of untreated waste that contaminate drinking water. In some places, this results in open pools of raw sewage, which flush human feces back into kitchen sinks and bathtubs during the rainy season [ 19 ]. Environmental and climate justice activist Catherine Flowers argues that the intensification of heavy rains and floods because of the ongoing climate crisis is overwhelming the broken sewer systems and undermining poor African Americans’ lives and livelihoods [ 20 ].

The distributive injustices of the economic system have become even more pronounced in the presence of large and increasing wealth and income inequalities. These distributional inequalities affect entire regions and local juridisctions, undermining their ability to provide civil amenities in the aftermath of a natural disaster and ensure human security. A stark reflection of these distributional consequences is that the poor and the marginalized experience the most devastating impacts of a climate disaster, that is, the loss of human lives.

2.2. Procedural Rights

Another important dimension of climate justice is procedural justice, which refers to whether and how the groups most affected by climate change have meaningful opportunities to participate in brainstorming, designing, and implementing climate responses. Historically, African Americans and other racial minorities have been under-represented in environmental and climate movements. The U.S. environmental justice movement has been calling attention to this issue for a quarter of a century, yet the problem of a lack of diversity persists. Research on 191 conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies, and 28 environmental grant-making foundations shows that racial minorities constitute 16% of staff and board members. Once recruited, members of minority communities tend to concentrate in lower ranks, trapped beneath a glass ceiling [ 21 ]. Although environmental institutions have made significant progress on gender diversity, such gains have mostly accrued to White women [ 21 ]. Such an under-representation in environmental movements leads to the exclusion of minorities from policy-making processes, which also creates the mistaken assumption that racial minorities are too poor to care about the environment or climate change. However, nationally representative surveys show that people of color, including Hispanics/Latinos, African Americans, and other non-White racial/ethnic groups, are more concerned than Whites about climate change [ 22 ]. Even so, higher levels of awareness are not sufficient to foster meaningful participation, which requires carefully designed processes that facilitate respectful engagement between members of marginalized groups and decision makers, such as city leaders [ 23 ].

The involvement of those affected most by climate change is essential for two key reasons. First, there are legal, statutory, political reasons for ensuring broad-based participation. Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development sets out three fundamental access rights: access to information, access to public participation, and access to justice as key pillars of sound environmental governance [ 24 ]. Agenda 21 has subsequently been integrated into various national, provincial, and local statutes and continues to be a source of learning for the ongoing debates about just transition [ 25 ]. The access rights are also in conformity with recognizing political and civil rights as the essence of universal rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A second reason for ensuring local participation has to do with the substantive effects of an inclusive process. Those most affected by the climate crisis are also likely to contribute the most insightful ideas about how best to address the vulnerabilities that produce climate injustices in the first place. For example, the Office of Sustainability in the city of Providence, RI, partnered with the city’s Racial and Environmental Justice Committee to make sure that the city’s climate action plan adhered to the Just Providence Framework developed previously by the city residents and leaders. 15 This process turned out to be so successful that the city’s Climate Action Plan metamorphosed into a Climate Justice Plan. Additionally, the city’s Office of Sustainability adopted a system of governance that is based on collaborating actively and routinely with community-based organizations. 16

2.3. “Recognitional” Justice

The promises of procedural justice remain unfulfilled in many cases because people from all social groups are not always recognized as legitimate actors, whose understanding of a problem and whose interests and priorities should inform the design and implementation of policies and programs [ 26 ]. On the other hand, marginalized groups are subject to mis recognition, which Nancy Fraser refers to as an institutionalized pattern of cultural values that “constitutes some social actors as less than full members of society and prevents them from participating as peers” [ 27 ]. Thus, the twin concepts of recognition and misrecognition are related to patterns of “privilege and oppression,” which manifest in the form of “cultural domination, being rendered invisible, and routine stereotyping or maligning in public representations” [ 26 ]. In a very profound way, recognition and misrecognition are the foundational questions of climate justice with wide-ranging consequences. As David Schlosberg has argued, a lack of respect and recognition often leads to a decline in a person’s or a group’s “membership and participation in the greater community, including the political and institutional order” [ 28 ]. Therefore, a lack of recognition presents a formidable barrier against addressing procedural and distributional concerns.

The following example illustrates how questions of recognition manifest in climate policy contexts. Harvey, a category 4 hurricane, struck Houston in August 2017. Maria, a category 5 hurricane, struck Puerto Rico in September. A review of public records from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and interviews with more than 50 people involved with disaster response revealed that the Trump administration’s response was far more swift in Houston than Puerto Rico, which experienced far greater destruction [ 29 ]. Many Puerto Ricans believed that this was more evidence that the president viewed them as “second-class American citizens” [ 30 ]. On numerous occasions, President Trump criticized Puerto Rico for being a “mess” and its leaders as “crazed and incompetent,” which constitutes an instance of misrecognition [ 31 ]. The Governor of Puerto Rico Tweeted, “Mr. President, once again, we are not your adversaries, we are your citizens” [ 31 ]. The Governor of Puerto Rico felt that the Trump administration did not recognize their rights as U.S. citizens, which influenced how the federal government responded to the most devastating climate-related disaster to date in the United States. Such lack of recognition or misrecognition is not new; it did not start with the Trump administration. Even though Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, the national political process treats them as subordinates. They do not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress or the Presidential elections. Unfortunately, a more detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this essay. Still, other scholars show how the environmental and climate injustices experienced by the people of Puerto Rico result from a long history of colonialism, occupation of large parts of the island’s territory by the U.S. Navy, and the neoliberal policies imposed on the island [ 32 , 33 ].

African American citizens in the United States have had very similar experiences, even though the political process does not disadvantage them formally. The dominant narratives used in media and political discourse, which often describe African American men as aggressive, angry, and prone to criminal violence, reinforce longstanding prejudices against racial minorities. Such negative constructions of social identities lead some to perceive the presence of African American men in the wilderness, or even in parks, as suspicious or threatening. A May 2020 incident involving an African American birder in New York’s Central Park illustrates the point. The birder asked a White woman jogger to leash her dog, as the law required. However, instead of following the park rules, the woman called the cops on the birder. A video recorded by the birder and circulated widely on social media showed the woman repeatedly telling the cops on the phone that “there’s an African American man threatening my life” [ 34 ]. Afterward, several other African American birders and hikers shared similar racial profiling experiences on social media with hashtags like #BirdingWhileBlack and #HikingWhileBlack. A common theme evident in each of these experiences is that many White people in the United States do not perceive or recognize Black people as birders, nature photographers, or hikers [ 35 , 36 ].

Other social groups, such as indigenous people and Latinx, are also often subject to prejudices and profiling, which contribute to the negative construction of their identities and instances of misrecognition in society and politics [ 37 ]. As Nancy Fraser argues, misrecognition and negative stereotyping can contribute to the institutionalization of prejudiced norms within public policies and programs, for example, via the zoning and redlining practices that sacrifice the interests of negatively portrayed groups. Notwithstanding the racialized histories of urban development in the United States and elsewhere, some commentators argue that the considerations of social justice will muddle the efforts to decarbonize the economy “quickly and efficiently.” 17 This argument draws on the perspective that there are significant trade-offs between climate action and climate justice.

One relevant example is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which many see as a boon for providing abundant natural gas supplies crucial to the “transition” away from the dirty fuel of coal. They argue that the relatively more climate-friendly energy available from natural gas, coupled with economic benefits that local communities gain in the short term, must be weighed against the risks of adverse public health and environmental consequences. 18 Yet, laws that protect the privacy of proprietary data hinder public access to information about the health and ecological consequences of the chemical cocktails used in fracking, even though such information is vital to the goals of public health and environmental protections. Overall, a broader systems approach suggests a significantly more extensive set of adverse consequences, including the “impacts from the decline in water quality on soil, land, and ecosystem productivity (crops/animal health); effects of fracking-related air pollution on pollinators; effects on the development of local, alternative food systems; and, fracking-related boom-bust dynamics” [ 38 ]. The range of these negative consequences raise questions about the narratives of trade-offs in fracking .

Some proponents of a speedy transition to renewable energy also cite the supposed tradeoff between efficiency and equity to argue for allowing competent energy companies to develop, install, and own industrial-scale renewable energy grids. However, this view ignores the many benefits of wide-ranging consultations and collaborations with local communities that could enhance the public acceptance and efficacy of renewable energy infrastructure [ 39 ]. Somewhat ironically, some of the most challenging trade-offs may be witnessed in communities most vulnerable to climate change, for example, indigenous communities that seek to secure their “sovereignty by the barrel” because the compulsions borne out of marginality constrain their choices for economic development. 19 Such a “take it or leave it” scenario of limited choices reflects longstanding disadvantages, which the ongoing climate crisis is likely to exacerbate. Overall, it is crucial to investigate the arguments about potential trade-offs in a nuanced way so that some parties do not weaponize these arguments [ 40 ].

Climate response has three components: mitigation, which refers to actions that help reduce emissions of GHGs; adaptation, which refers to measures that reduce vulnerability to the consequences of climate change; and resilience, which refers to the properties that enable a socioecological system to withstand the shocks of climate change. Although adaptation and resilience are closely intertwined, adaptation actions are generally thought of as responses to climate change impacts, while resilience actions are anticipatory. Each of these three types of “climate responses” has important implications for justice. Additionally, we briefly consider the importance of taking an intersectional approach to understanding climate action’s justice effects.

A central component of the efforts to mitigate climate change is to curtail carbon emissions linked to energy-intensive consumption. However, in democratic societies, one cannot merely ban or arbitrarily restrict energy-intensive activities, not least because many of these activities are a source of employment and other means of economic wellbeing for many lower-income families. The next best option is to put a price on carbon emissions, commonly referred to as “carbon tax,” which many scholars and practitioners see as one of the most effective means of climate mitigation. If we lived in a world of economic and wealth equality, a carbon tax would simply realign economic incentives without imposing excessive burdens on specific social groups. However, in the presence of massive economic and wealth inequalities, a carbon tax would affect poor and/or racial minority households very differently compared to others. Unless subsistence items, such as food, water, and energy were protected from the inflationary effects of carbon taxes, even a moderate level of the carbon tax could make these items too expensive for the poor in the United States.

In Paris, the Yellow Vest protestors cited economic inequalities and the unfairness of the gas tax that President Emmanuel Macron announced in 2019 as one of the main reasons for the protests. The protestors felt that it was unfair to ask low- and middle-income folks to “make sacrifices while rich people aren’t paying taxes anymore.” This feeling of unfairness contributed to “a sense of despair, as well as a sense of social injustice” [ 41 ]. The adverse effects of climate mitigation are not always contained within the national borders, though.

Carbon offsets projects, including some that may be funded by environmentally conscious consumers paying an airline a little extra to offset the emissions linked to their air travel, have been implicated in the dispossession and displacements of indigenous groups in different parts of the world. 20 Such projects may be less problematic when implemented within the Global North, characterized by the security of property rights and a robust rule of law. These conditions do not apply to most terrestrial carbon offset projects in Africa or Asia. Over 95% of forestlands are legally defined as public lands, even though most of these lands have been used customarily by indigenous peoples and other rural populations. Under those conditions, the financial returns linked to carbon offset projects incentivize powerful government agencies and private actors to set aside these lands for carbon offset projects, including in countries where customary land tenures are protected under the statute. The international community has developed social safeguards and other codes of conduct to regulate offset projects. However, research by the Center for International Forestry Research, the Oakland Institute, and the Rights & Resources Initiative shows that international offset projects contribute to widespread human rights violations [ 42 , 43 ].

Similarly, a large-scale switch to renewables, including electric or hybrid batteries, windmills, and solar panels, could lead to a sudden spike in demand for rare minerals, such as copper and cobalt. The mining of these minerals also often contributes to gross human rights abuses, including child labor and the degradation and depletion of natural resources, such as water, forests, and pastures crucial for local livelihoods in the Global South [ 44 ]. For these reasons, some scholars argue that industrial-scale renewable energy infrastructure can be as exploitative as the fossil fuel industry practices have been. Noticeably, this argument applies to industrial-scale renewable infrastructure. Renewable energy resources can also exist in the form of “energy commons,” which give local communities real stakes in making decisions about siting, pricing, and profit-sharing [ 45 ]. Such democratization of energy infrastructure is crucial for implementing a transition plan that suits the site-specific requirements.

Some consider climate adaptation, that is, the measures designed to deal with the climate crisis, to be synonymous with climate justice. The argument is that if the worst consequences of climate change fall on the poor and the marginalized, any interventions meant to adapt to climate change would necessarily help the poor. Yet not all climate adaptation measures are created equal. For example, coastal adaptation measures in response to sea-level rise should help sustain rather than disrupt subsistence and artisanal fishing, which are the mainstay of livelihood strategies for many coastal frontline communities. More broadly, as Dean Hardy and colleagues argue, “the land facing inundation is racialized land…that has been appropriated, settled, cultivated, and distributed through a long history of deeply racialized projects” [ 46 ]. They argue that sea-level rise adaptation planning must recognize the reality of such “racial coastal formations” and must commit to “resist the reproduction of and reinvestments in racial inequality in responses to climate change” [ 46 ].

The failure to address racial inequalities means that many urban climate adaptation interventions, such as public transit systems, public parks, and improved civic amenities, may increase property prices or rentals, which makes some areas unaffordable to their current residents. These changes lead to urban gentrification, which refers to the changes in a neighborhood’s composition because of changes in property values. It is called climate gentrification when such changes are related to climate change [ 47 ]. The framework of climate gentrification helps illuminate the social determinants of vulnerability. For example, as the rising sea levels and frequent flooding threaten expensive properties on Miami’s famed beaches, wealthy people invest in properties inland. The flux of new investments and new wealthy residents makes the previously low-income neighborhoods too costly to afford for low-income groups [ 48 ]. As human geographer Jesse Ribot has argued, “vulnerability does not fall from the sky” [ 49 ]. Considering that socioeconomic deprivations contribute to climate change-related vulnerabilities, any efforts to address climate injustice must address such disadvantages.

The discussions above demonstrate that climate injustices are not just about the “climate system” or “global warming” but are rooted firmly in the unequal patterns of vulnerabilities shaped by the distribution of social and political power and economic inequalities. Climate change’s social consequences manifest in outcomes related to urban development patterns, energy prices, urban transportation, food production, and food markets. By implication, the pursuit of climate justice also requires addressing these various sectors of the economy and society. The following are some examples of how local governments, civic groups, academic institutions, and social movements seek to pursue climate justice.

The fossil-fuel divestment movement popularized by 350.org has grown to secure commitments to divest more than US$14 trillion worth of investments made by more than 1,230 institutions, including religious institutions, pension funds, university endowments, and large charitable foundations. College students from several universities in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere have made significant contributions to the global fossil fuel divestment movement’s ongoing success [ 50 ]. The decline of the fossil fuel industry, including the state-owned oil corporations in some of the largest oil producing countries, will undoubtedly lower environmental pollution and contribute to environmental and climate justice. Another example from the energy sector is the 2019 Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Tour, which focused on building a collective grassroots vision for an egalitarian energy future in the communities impacted by the New Deal era projects of the Tennessee Valley Authority. 21 This tour served as a good reminder of why we need to pay attention to the historical legacies of unequal development and socioeconomic marginalization. Transformative reforms in state-level energy policies and programs are other crucial elements necessary for fostering an inclusive clean energy action. The Washington-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance scores and ranks states on their energy policies, specifically their devolution and inclusiveness [ 51 ]. Such rankings create useful resources for grassroots actors and could help foster healthy competition among states.

Climate justice interventions related to urban areas include the Miami City Commission’s resolution directing the city managers to research urban gentrification and ways of stabilizing property tax rates in lower income areas located further inland [ 52 ]. City governments can act to institutionalize other means of fostering a healthy urban ecosystem. In 2019, the Boston City Council voted unanimously to enact a Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) for a more equitable food purchasing system at public institutions. Seven other cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cincinnati, have also adopted GFPP policies [ 53 ]. These initiatives help urban populations cut down on their reliance on imported food items that leave a significant carbon footprint. In doing so, they also undercut the stronghold of industrial agriculture, which is a large consumer of fossil fuels and one of the major causes of global climate change [ 54 ]. Equally important, food ordinances can help improve the profitability of urban and peri-urban agro-ecological farming, which is associated with multiple social, economic, environmental, and climate-related benefits [ 55 ]. More broadly, instead of privatizing urban infrastructure or having monopolistic state control, reimagining the city as a “commons” gives urban residents a collective stake in a city’s resources [ 56 ]. Democratizing urban governance—that is, allowing urban residents a meaningful say in the conduct of the ongoing affairs in a city—is an important prerequisite for incorporating concerns of ecology and environment into our urban imaginations.

La Via Campesina , a transnational social movement, promotes agroecology and food sovereignty by engaging with all relevant actors, including the United Nations at the global level and peasant federations at the subnational level. They have been instrumental in the successful enactment of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. La Via Campesina engages with 182 organizations representing an estimated 200 million farmers from 81 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Another example of a grassroots network that has made a global impact is the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), founded in 1990 in Bemidji, MN, to address environmental and economic justice issues. IEN has also been one of the key actors in the global climate justice movement, mainly via its participation in the annual United Nations Climate Change meetings. The IEN has recently launched a People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy: Protect, Repair, Invest and Transform to put indigenous sovereignty and values at the front and center of collective efforts toward a sustainable future [ 57 ].

These are some examples of interventions from various actors and agencies invested in the pursuits of climate justice. Each of the examples cited above addresses a specific policy and programmatic area relevant to the daily lives of the people at the frontlines of climate change. However, the energy-intensive luxury consumption in the Global North and in some sections of the Global South that contribute significantly to the climate crisis does not receive adequate attention from policy makers. Our collective efforts to address climate change are unlikely to succeed if we fail to reduce consumption, especially the consumption of goods and services linked to “luxury emissions,” such as privately owned planes. The average carbon footprint of the wealthiest 1% of people globally could be 175 times that of the poorest 10% [ 58 ]. On the other hand, large sections of populations in the global South are still grappling with the provision of necessities such as nutritious food, safe drinking water, and a reliable supply of clean energy. Hundreds of millions also lack access to amenities such as sanitation systems, schools, and hospitals, as reflected in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The emissions related to these activities are called “survival emissions” [ 59 ]. Some climate policy discussions tend to obfuscate these distinctions using the language of “human footprint” and “population problem” [ 60 ]. Such framings create a false equivalence between luxury consumption and survival emissions, while accounting for these distinctions provides policy guidance for climate policies that can be both just and efficient.

As the discussion on fossil fuel subsidies demonstrates, the patterns of consumption and deprivation are products of political and economic structures. National policies and the actions of powerful state and non-state corporate actors have severe consequences for what happens at the local level. Any high-level reforms would not necessarily translate into a realization of climate justice without social and political mobilization at the grassroots level. For over three decades, environmental and social justice movements have struggled to bring these issues to the public agenda both in the United States and globally. Advocates of climate justice would benefit from building on the insights and lessons from these movements [ 61 ]. Additionally, transformative reforms in the economy and society, executed via the federal or state-level agencies, are also equally important. We must seek to address the limits of liberal state, which are responsible for the entrenchment of racial capitalism and the climate crisis [ 62 ]. Climate justice calls for wide-ranging reforms and concerted actions in the cultural, social, economic, and political spheres.

What separates climate action advocacy from climate justice advocacy?

Is it too much to expect climate justice advocates to also address questions of social injustices of race, gender, and sexual identity, among others?

In your assessment, are links between the military-industrial complex, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the outcomes of environmental and climate justice that this essay suggest a bit “over the top”? Why or why not?

Do the simultaneous pursuits of climate response and climate justice necessarily entail trade-offs? What factors must be considered in assessing the extent of a trade-off in any given situation?

How does the consideration of a plurality of values to define human well-being affect our assessment of trade-offs in climate action/climate justice debates?

How could we reorient our food systems to promote socially just climate responses?

What role can municipal governments play in promoting climate justice?

Are the arguments about “city as a commons” or “energy commons” part of utopian thinking that cannot be translated into pragmatic policy reforms?

What roles do consumers and citizens play in advancing the goals of climate justice?

Could you think of examples of policies and programs not discussed above that might also contribute to climate justice? For each example, please explain the specific contribution to climate justice.

The author acknowledges the generous and insightful comments by Sikina Jinnah on the first two drafts and comments by Betty Hanson on the penultimate draft. The original impetus for this pedagogical note came from a new course I developed at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. I am thankful to the students who took the class in spring 2019, who engaged vigorously with the note and contributed to its expansion to its present form.

The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

An additional 250,000 deaths a year are attributed to climate change, though that number continues to be contested by others who argue that the global death toll related to the ongoing climate crisis is likely to be much higher. https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/16/health/climate-change-health-emergency-study/index.html .

https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/4/24/18512804/climate-change-united-states-china-emissions .

https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-fossil-fuel-subsidies-a-closer-look-at-tax-breaks-and-societal-costs .

https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/08/climate-change-is-causing-more-rapid-intensification-of-atlantic-hurricanes/ .

https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/08/28/hurricane-laura-chemicals-pollution/ .

https://www.sierraclub.org/change/2016/09/climate-justice-and-climate-apartheid .

The author owes the knowledge of these international connections to the screening of the documentary Mossville: When Great Trees Fall as part of Scalawag’s “Breathing While Black” virtual event on June 25, 2020. See https://www.scalawagmagazine.org/about/ ; and http://www.mossvilleproject.com/ .

https://slate.com/business/2006/10/the-nazi-germany-apartheid-south-africa-invention-that-could-make-oil-obsolete.html .

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/09/26/10-ways-climate-crisis-and-militarism-are-intertwined .

https://www.britannica.com/topic/military-industrial-complex .

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/08/13/ferguson-police-michael-brown-militarization-column/14006383/ .

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/08/the-pentagon-gave-the-ferguson-police-department-military-grade-weapons/376033/ .

https://mn350.org/2020/06/black-lives-matter-there-is-no-climate-justice-without-racial-justice/ .

https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america .

https://grist.org/article/providence-shows-other-cities-how-environmental-justice-is-done/ .

Anon. 2019. The City of Providence’s Climate Justice Plan.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/want-a-green-new-deal-heres-a-better-one/2019/02/24/2d7e491c-36d2-11e9-af5b-b51b7ff322e9_story.html .

https://www.aeaweb.org/research/fracking-shale-local-impact-net .

https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/sovereignty-by-the-barrel-tribe-takes-control-of-oil-production-4F796kUAo0S2GrEx3TfGbw .

https://redd-monitor.org/2016/10/19/five-responses-to-the-aviation-industrys-carbon-offsetting-scam/ .

The tour was co-organized by Appalachian Voices, Science for the People, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), Working Films, and a group of community members and organizers in the greater Knoxville area. http://appvoices.org/2019/11/26/re-envisioning-public-power-in-the-tennessee-valley/ .

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Lessons from the Advocacy Coalition Framework for climate change policy and politics

  • Kayla M. Gabehart   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-5719-231X 1 ,
  • Aerang Nam 1 &
  • Christopher M. Weible 1  

Climate Action volume  1 , Article number:  13 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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The world faces grand challenges that threaten our socio-economical, ecological, and political systems. Inequities, insurrections, invasions, and illiberal democracies represent a sample of the population of problems facing life as we know it. Paramount among these problems lie climate change, caused principally by human activity of burning fossil fuels. This paper offers a perspective on climate change from a “lens” in the social sciences. By analyzing applications ( n = 67 ) of the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) to climate change, we aim to examine patterns across these applications of the ACF, particularly concerning the characteristics of coalitions, how they behave, change policy, and learn. We conclude that future studies should examine how coalitions and beliefs can better address wicked problems in an increasingly global and interconnected world. We propose the prioritization of studying non-democratic governance arrangements and underrepresented locations of study, pairing the ACF with other theories and frameworks to address complex questions, and prioritizing normative dynamics of climate change politics.

Introduction

The world faces grand challenges that threaten socio-economical, ecological, and political systems. Inequities, insurrections, invasions, and illiberal democracies represent a sample of the population of problems facing life as we know it. Paramount among these problems lie climate change, caused principally by human activity of burning fossil fuels. A problem of global and historic proportions, climate change affects all life on Earth, and the ways we — as societies — think about, talk about, and act will shape the future on this planet. Of course, climate change does not exist independently of us. We relate to this problem. We understand the impacts of this problem through our personal and professional lived experiences. We might assign social or economic values to any nonliving and living entity affected by climate change. We might use the natural and physical sciences to understand the severity of climate change’s effects, link together explanations of its causes, and project its trajectories. Similarly, we might use the social sciences to understand better the dilemmas inhibiting or enabling collective responses.

This paper examines the political contestation over climate change through the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) (Jenkins-Smith et al. 2018 ; Sabatier 1988 ). The ACF is a robust and well-tested framework that enlightens our understanding of climate change debates and policymaking by bringing attention to how individuals form coalitions and engage in various political strategies to learn and influence policy. We use the ACF as a social science “lens,” or a way of understanding an issue through standardized assumptions in approaching complexity that leads to collective gains in knowledge and maybe inform how to act. This is a critical perspective for understanding climate change policy, as coalitions comprise the political forces that drive policy change or stasis sub-nationally, nationally, and internationally.

The ACF emerged from political science to describe and explain contentious public policy choices, meaning the waxing and waning of political discord and dissensus over government actions and inactions. With more than thirty years of research under its theoretical umbrella, researchers have used the ACF to describe and explain how people, organizations, and governments coordinate their behavior into coalitions of allies by common beliefs and values to influence the course of society through public policy decisions. With allies come opponents, and the ACF specializes in producing knowledge about the nature of interactions between friends and foes when public policies are under dispute. Additionally, the Framework emphasizes the propensity for people and their associated coalitions to learn and adapt to signals in their environment, particularly scientific and technical information that might be produced and distributed by their allies or opponents.

The number of applications where researchers have used the ACF to understand contentious coalitional politics and policy issues counts in the hundreds worldwide (Jang et al. 2016 ; Li and Weible 2019 ; Nohrstedt and Olofsson 2016 ; Pierce et al. 2017 ; Weible 2008 ; Osei-Kojo et al. 2022 ). However, a meta-review that examines the applications of the ACF to climate change specifically has never been attempted. Because of the coalitional nature of climate change politics, this paper aims to examine what we can learn about the successes and failures of these coalitions, and how we might learn from them. The ACF is particularly well-suited to do this, considering its emphasis on coalitions and coalitional politics, as well as the variety of applications in this sample that represent a diversity of articles across various disciplines, different countries, and different governmental contexts. This paper draws insights from the ACF’s research reservoir to help understand climate change and how coalitional politics either drive or inhibit policy to address climate change in a meaningful and comprehensive way. We begin with a brief synopsis of the ACF. We then review all ACF applications to climate change to date ( n = 67 ) and synthesize the lessons learned from this research. We conclude by laying out an agenda for future research and some general strategies for addressing climate change from an ACF perspective.

Overview of the Advocacy Coalition Framework

To help convey the lessons from ACF applications and their applicability to climate change, particularly concerning the behavior of coalitions, we introduce the basic tenets of the “Framework.” Footnote 1 Any framework is a collection of ontological concepts related to various theoretical interactions, often called “hypotheses,” “principles,” “expectations,” and so on. Researchers adopt these concepts to help learn and communicate about an issue within a particular scope, as described by the types of questions typically asked and answered under the Framework (Lakatos 1978 ; Lauden 1978 ). All frameworks emerge initially from empirical observations and, over time, as evidence and insights accumulate, are updated. Sometimes this happens through refutation and confirmation of hypotheses or better-contextualized understandings of behaviors. Of course, the threat of a framework is the imposition of a conceptual lens on the context by overly distorting interpretations and shackling any emergent or contextualized insights. Thus, a framework is best applied as a complementary aid to understanding, not as a sole source. Ideally, frameworks should complement other scientific approaches, reflexively from the researcher, or both.

The ACF extends the gaze beyond traditional government institutions (e.g., a parliament or legislature, courts, executive offices, bureaucracies) to include the whirlpool of entities of the formal and informal groups and organizations who seek influence on public policies (Griffith 1939 ), and eventually coalesce into coalitions. These entities might include government officials (both elected and administrative), informal collections of active citizens, formally registered nonprofits, large multinational corporations, universities, think tanks, and news sources. The ACF calls those entities actively engaged in policy issues “policy actors.” Ultimately, this involves fundamental questions of how people and associated groups relate to governments and vice versa, as might be found, for example, in corporatist or pluralist arguments (see McFarland 2004 ; Schmitter 1974 ). By examining the interactions among formal and informal groups or organizations within and outside of government, the ACF broadens our perspective beyond the electoral system found in democracies that often consume the attention in political science. Instead of focusing on such electoral systems, it focuses on subsets called a “policy subsystem” that deals with particular issues, such as climate change. Policy subsystems exist at national and subnational scales, especially in federally structured governments, overlap with other policy subsystems, and evolve and change over time as problem definitions shift and new ideas and people emerge.

The ACF assumes these entities (people and organizations) will form alliances (called “advocacy coalitions”) based on shared values and beliefs and realize those values and beliefs in society, often through public policy. The ACF models these in a belief system wherein the most important for forming and maintaining coalitions are “policy core beliefs,” a collection of general values and beliefs about causes, problem severity, policy preferences, and more. Resistant to change, policy core beliefs are the glue that binds coalitions together. Examples of policy core beliefs include belief in the severity and anthropomorphic causes of climate change, valuing the welfare of those affected, preferences over mitigation and adaptation policies, and more. Unlike political parties, advocacy coalitions are rarely formal entities (Weible and Ingold 2018 ). Their networks vary from deliberate coordination of political activities to implicit alliances where allies settle into roles and niches that complement each other. For instance, some coalition “members” might deploy outsider tactics by organizing protests and shaping public discourse, while others might deploy insider tactics by working with governments to design regulations.

Many social science theories begin from a positive pole of human nature with baseline assumptions of existing cooperation, trust, and willingness to communicate in collaborative settings, simplistic portrayals of people who quickly access and process information and knowledge without biases. The ACF begins from the opposite and negative pole. In more adversarial settings, it assumes that people respond to threats by viewing their allies as angels and opponents as devils, processing information through value-based biases, and an unwillingness to compromise (Gronow et al. 2022 ; Sabatier et al. 1987 ). Thus, advocacy coalitions tend to show stability over time (Markard et al. 2015 ; Sotirov et al. 2021 ; Szarka 2010 ; Winkel et al. 2011 ; Weible et al. 2020 ), “learning” from information tends to reinforce positions than change them (Weible et al. 2022 ), and policy change is inhibited by intransigent political conflict (Elgin 2015a , b ).

It is not that people cannot reach collective decisions; instead, nontrivial barriers obstruct the expression of what might be deemed a more virtuous side of human nature. Change under the ACF can be rare. Policy change is most likely to occur, from an ACF perspective, through changing circumstances in the policy subsystem exploited by one or more advocacy coalitions. Coalitions might exploit events or shocks happening outside or inside a policy subsystem (e.g., Nohrstedt and Weible 2010 ). Alternately, opposing coalitions might choose to negotiate, particularly when they have exhausted all other options and are dissatisfied with the status quo. Learning too might lead to changes in policy, especially during moments of intermediate intensities of conflict and when the decision-making setting is based on fair and transparent rules of information exchange.

The ACF posits testable hypotheses (see Jenkins-Smith et al. 2018 ). Instead of listing each of them with elaborations, we synthesize them in the following vignette:

In high conflict situations, policy actors will coordinate their political behaviors among allies in advocacy coalitions to influence public policy while their opponents will do the same. Coalesced by their policy core beliefs and showing stability over time, these advocacy coalitions engage in debates and argumentations, with most learning occurring among individuals within the same advocacy coalition. However, this usually leads to more reinforcement than a change in their beliefs. In contrast, learning rarely occurs between coalitions, possibly leading to changes in beliefs. Some policy actors, particularly policy brokers, might facilitate cross-coalition learning and the possibility of agreement on policies. Given the friction in policymaking, advocacy coalitions need to exploit opportunities through events internal and external to the policy subsystem, the rare situations of cross-coalition learning, and sometimes negotiated agreements to achieve their policy goals.

Not all applications of the ACF test and explore this entire vignette. Oftentimes, an application might focus on forming advocacy coalitions or exploring the factors preceding an instance of policy change. However, a population of applications offers a means to assess more of this vignette to learn through refutation and confirmation, better incorporate in the vignette what has been missed, and articulate what we know, including the level of confidence and gaps in knowledge. Using the ACF, we aim to determine what this framework has taught us about coalitions and how coalitional politics operate in climate change policy in policy domains and locations across the globe.

Methods and materials

This analysis is based on sixty-seven empirical applications of the ACF to climate change across the globe. Only peer-reviewed journal articles were included in this sample, excluding doctoral dissertations, book chapters, and policy reports and analyses (see also Pierce et al. 2017 ; Weible et al. 2009 ).

Our sampled articles specifically examine applications of the ACF to climate change policy at the subnational, national, and/or international level and, in some cases, in a comparative context. While these articles may address policy realms including energy, forestry, water, etc., they are included in the sample as the coalitions in those sub-areas impact climate change policy.

Articles were collected between October and December 2021. A search was first conducted using the library database with the following search parameters: (1) the search terms “Advocacy Coalition Framework” and “climate change,” “climate,” or “global warming” in the abstract or the keywords; (2) English-language only publications; and (3) limited to peer-reviewed journal articles. No additional filters were included. This initial search yielded a sample of forty-six articles. We then searched Google Scholar with the same search terms, though because Google Scholar has fewer search delimiting options, these search terms returned articles with the keywords anywhere in the text of the article. By manually combing through several hundred additional articles and excluding those obtained through the library database and those that did not fit our established criteria, the Google Scholar search yielded an additional twenty-one articles, for a total sample of sixty-seven empirical applications. Footnote 2

We used the library database, our institution’s research repository, in the first stage as it facilitated the filtering out of work that did not accurately reflect our search criteria. However, by conducting a further search through an unfiltered Google Scholar search, we are confident that we have included all relevant articles that the library database search may have excluded.

We included only peer-reviewed articles for the following reasons: to maintain consistency with similar studies (Pierce et al. 2017 ); to avoid the possibility of duplication of similar ideas from the other non-peer-reviewed formats, such as dissertations or conference papers; and practically, to increase the ease of systematic analysis from numerous climate change studies by facilitating document sharing and limiting document length.

To analyze applications, we adapted a codebook to facilitate comparison (see the Table 2 in Appendix ). The codebook was created based on previous codebooks used for systemic review of ACF applications (Jang et al. 2016 ; Li and Weible 2019 ; Pierce et al. 2017 ; Weible et al. 2009 ). We added the category “Type of Response” (mitigation, adaptation, transition, or general response) to capture the type of response employed by pro-climate coalitions to combat climate change and climate change-related issues. Footnote 3 To ensure reliability, coding was done in small batches across the authors, shared, and examined for consistency. Our analysis drew on the constant comparison method (Glaser 1969 ). The main points and key arguments were summarized, articles were then read thoroughly to discern the details and methodology that yielded the key lessons, and, finally, synthesized findings were reported below in the “ Discussion: analyzing coalitions and coalitional politics from the ACF applications about climate change ” section.

Results: summarizing the ACF applications on climate change

We summarize the results of the sixty-seven ACF applications in three sections: a summary of ACF applications, a summary of ACF theoretical components and approaches, and a summary of how climate change is addressed across the articles.

Summary of ACF applications

The summary of the applications is reflected in Fig. 1 . There is a substantial uptick in applications of the ACF to climate change beginning around 2010–2011. From 2000, the publication year of the first climate change application, to 2009, only five applications were published, a mean of 0.5 articles per year. This is compared to sixty-two applications published between 2010 and 2021, a mean of 5.2 articles per year. This uptick potentially indicates increased concern in the social sciences regarding environmental issues and, perhaps more likely, the usefulness of the ACF to study and address these issues.

figure 1

Summary of Advocacy Coalition Framework applications ( n=67 ) to climate change

The data that indicate both author and study locations are heavily skewed towards Europe and North America. The applications represent thirty-three studies in Europe and eighteen in North America, with fifty papers by authors representing institutions in Europe and twenty-two in North America. Applications in Asia represent the next largest number of author and study locations at eight and eleven, respectively, though Asia, Africa, Australia, and South/Central America are underrepresented. Since we only reviewed articles published in English, this phenomenon may be of language origin.

The sample includes three articles where climate change is studied as a global problem, reflecting its transboundary nature. These geographic gaps in the research represent potential for future research. Namely, more work is necessary in Asia, Africa, and South/Central America, as a larger proportion of the world’s most vulnerable populations live on these continents and will be most acutely impacted by climate change.

The majority of the applications were published in policy, political science, or environmental science journals ( n=43 ). The remaining twenty-four applications represent journals across a range of disciplines, including public administration and management ( n=5 ), sustainability ( n=5 ), energy ( n=7 ), ecology ( n=3 ), sociology ( n=1 ), and technology ( n=1 ). The remaining two applications were published in interdisciplinary journals. Thus, despite its foundations and roots in policy process research, the ACF demonstrates portability, indicating its usefulness in studying complex questions about climate change across disciplines.

Figure 1 shows a sharp increase in applications of the ACF to climate change after 2010. However, few applications occur in Asia, Africa, Australia, and South/Central America. The use of the ACF to analyze climate change as a global problem rarely happens. The ACF also shows portability outside its home disciplines, political science, and related public administration and management fields.

Summary of ACF theoretical components and theoretical approaches

While the depth of the utilization of the ACF varies across the applications, the sample of articles explores three primary theoretical components of the ACF as described in the aforementioned vignette: advocacy coalitions and beliefs, policy change, or policy-oriented learning. Table 1 summarizes the breakdown of theoretical components.

Across the applications, fifty-six (61% of theoretical components) address either coalitions and beliefs or both, over twice the frequency of use of the other two theoretical components. Twenty-four applications address either policy change (26%), and twelve address policy learning (13%). Thus, in terms of applications to climate change, the ACF is most often used to analyze coalitions and their beliefs. This suggests that while the ACF includes several other well-tested assumptions and hypotheses, its emphasis on coalitions and their beliefs resonates the most across social science disciplines regarding using the ACF as a tool. It also indicates the importance of coalitions in climate change policy.

The applications represent a variety of theoretical approaches to applying the ACF. Forty-three articles explicitly utilize the ACF without much modification as the theoretical lens, and six of those also add adaptations or additions. Twenty-four articles combine the ACF with other frameworks and theories. These include, for example, transition studies (Akerboom et al. 2020 ; Haukkala 2018 ), comparative politics (Aamodt 2018 ; Aamodt And Stensdal 2017 ), resource dependency theory (Elgin 2015a , b ), stakeholder analysis (Koivisto 2014 ), actor-centered institutionalism (Hughes and Meckling 2017 ), and institutional path dependency (Gralepois et al. 2016 ), among others. Additionally, one article adapted the ACF using elements of social justice theory (Malloy and Ashcraft 2020 ), indicating the need to explore further the normative elements of coalitions, namely emotions and values beyond just beliefs. This, combined with other theories, suggests the flexibility of the ACF in terms of being utilized in conjunction with other theories to answer complex questions that perhaps move past one aspect of climate change policymaking. Such flexibility and portability make the ACF particularly useful in studying actor-focus, coalitional politics.

Summary of how climate change is studied

The applications vary in how they approach climate change in terms of the subsystem topic of focus, the scale of the study, the type of response (mitigation, adaptation, energy transition, or undefined/general response), and methodology, as shown in Fig. 2 .

figure 2

While the primary focus of all sixty-seven articles is larger climate change policy, thirty-nine articles explore this via a topical issue focus (see Fig. 2 a), including forests and water ( n=8 ); wind and solar ( n=4 ); electricity and heating ( n=3 ); carbon capture and emission trading ( n=4 ); biofuels, fossil fuels, and nuclear phase-out ( n=5 ); energy and environmental policy ( n=9 ); and other topics including agriculture, risk management and mitigation, and air pollution ( n=6 ). This finding emphasizes the interconnected nature of climate change as a problem, as its consequences impact various realms of national policymaking, a range of ecological systems, and an array of energy domains.

The scale of these climate change studies varies, from a subnational to international focus (see Fig. 2 b). The majority of articles ( n=41 ) explore climate change on a national scale. Eighteen explore issues at the subnational level and twelve at the international level. Fourteen articles take a comparative approach, primarily at the national level, though two articles compare subnational and multinational issues. This is notable as the ACF is most often used to analyze national or subnational issues. However, its wide use to address climate change implicates the global nature of climate change as a policy issue and suggests the ACF is well-suited to address coalitions that coalesce around policy problems at this level.

The articles’ topical foci other than climate change policy specifically have a national or subnational scale of focus (Fig. 2 b). The vast majority explore issues in countries with federalist systems where power is distributed vertically from federal down to local governments, perhaps indicating that there are equally interesting scenarios related to other environmental issues, that examining national-level climate policy is difficult, or that climate policy is less-developed at the national level in federal arrangements, as is the case in the USA, for example. The exception to this trend is articles exploring the Netherlands or the Scandinavian countries, which do not have federal systems but represent articles in this subsample that explore topical foci outside climate change policy ( n=14 ).

The types of responses to climate change vary across the sample. While nineteen articles did not explicitly identify the type of climate change response explored in the study, the remaining forty-eight explicitly explore one or more types of responses: mitigation ( n=33 ), adaptation ( n=17 ), or energy transition ( n=21 ). However, the definitions of mitigation and adaptation, and to a lesser degree transition, vary across articles and are open to the author’s interpretation of the particular policy or issue they are exploring. This suggests that definitions and goals regarding the consequences of climate change, whether they be mitigating or adapting, are unclear. This may have implications for policy clarity.

The majority of these ACF applications to climate change utilize qualitative ( n=40 ) or mixed methods ( n=19 ), though there are a few quantitative applications ( n=8 ) (see Kammerman and Angst 2021 ). Data sources include documents and reports, news media, surveys, interviews, and researcher observations, among others. More quantitative studies would help expand our knowledge of coalitions and coalitional behavior.

Discussion: analyzing coalitions and coalitional politics through  ACF applications to climate change

A deeper analysis of ACF applications to climate change provides a wealth of knowledge regarding coalitions in climate change policy. These key lessons and takeaways are explored in depth by posing four questions: (1) What are the characteristics of advocacy coalitions involved in climate change? (2) How do coalitions behave? (3) How effective have coalitions been in achieving policy change? And (4) To what extent—if at all—are coalitions learning and adapting? This analysis also largely confirms what the ACF has found across various contexts and applications in that coalitions tend to fight over time to achieve policy dominance for their position. The section concludes with possible directions for future research.

What are the characteristics of advocacy coalitions involved in climate change?

The structure of coalitions is crucial in understanding how policy actors coalesce around climate change as a policy issue, pursue policy solutions, and interact with allies and opponents. Regardless of subsystem and governing system, most applications identified two advocacy coalitions. These coalitions tended to represent either a pro-climate position in favor of mitigation or adaptation policies or an anti-climate position in opposition to climate-conscious policies.

Depending on the topical foci explored, these coalitions differed in their specific policy preferences and structure. In other words, pro- and anti-climate coalitions manifest in a panoply of coalitional descriptions. Highlights include:

Pro- and anti-coal phase-out coalitions in the Netherlands (Akerboom et al. 2020 )

Pro-oil status-quo coalition and anti-oil challenging coalitions in Norway (Bang and Lahn 2020 )

Fossil fuel and sustainability coalitions in the Dutch electricity sector (Dekker and van Est 2020 )

Economy first and pro-environment coalitions in the energy debate in Victoria Australia and in Sweden (Edmonds 2020 ; Newell 2018)

A status-quo economic coalition and energy security coalition in Hawaii (Edmonds 2020 )

Pro-economy and pro-ecology coalitions in Swiss climate policy (Ingold 2011 ; Ingold and Fischer 2014 ; Ingold and Gschwend 2014 )

The descriptions reflect the choice of the researcher to concentrate their study on a part of the complexity of climate-related issues and the diversity of political forces that have mobilized around climate change issues in different parts of the world. It, thus, lends evidence of the rippling effects of climate change politics in any governing system, from electricity to energy security (Dekker and van Est 2020 ; Edmonds 2020 ; Lindberg and Kammermann 2021 ; Rietig 2016 ; Roßegger and Ramin 2012 ).

The pro-climate conscious coalition often included environmentalists, environmental and climate non-governmental organizations, research institutes, pro-climate politicians and bureaucrats and green parties, academia, non-profits, and environmentally friendly business (Aamodt 2018 ; Aamodt and Stensdal 2017 ; Edmonds 2020 ; Elgin 2015a , b ; Higa et al. 2020 ; Stensdal 2014 ; Weiss et al. 2017 ).

The anti-climate coalition was generally composed of pro-business/industry and pro-economic growth groups that emphasized the negative economic impacts of policies to deal with climate change (Aamodt and Stensdal 2017 ; Bulkeley 2000 ; Edmonds 2020 ; Higa et al. 2020 ; Ingold 2011 ; Ingold and Fischer 2014 ; Ingold and Gschwend 2014 ; Ingold and Varone 2012 ; Kukkonen et al. 2017 ; Kukkonen et al. 2018 ; Markard et al. 2015 ; Niederberger 2005 ; Rietig 2016 ; Roßegger and Ramin 2012 ; Ruysschaert and Hufty 2020 ; Winkel et al. 2011 ; Ydersbond 2018 ). These groups often represented the status quo, opposed to transitioning away from fossil fuels (Akerboom et al. 2020 ; Babon et al. 2014 ; Bang and Lahn 2020 ; Gottschamer and Zhang 2020 ; Hudson 2019 ; Pollak et al. 2011 ; Wagner and Ylä-Anttila 2018 ).

While business and industry typically sided with the anti-climate coalition, this was not always the case in countries with more advanced transitions to renewables where business and industry benefitted from furthering climate-friendly development, as is the case in several European Union countries (Dekker and van Est 2020 ; Lindberg and Kammermann 2021 ; Patt, val Vliet, Lilliestam, and Pfenninger 2019 ; Szarka 2010 ). Additionally, green business was often identified as a member of the pro-climate conscious coalition in studies with a subnational focus (Elgin and Weible 2013 ; Knox-Hayes 2012 ). Differing from other coalitions, Edmonds ( 2020 ) presents a particularly unique case in Hawaii in which the status-quo coalition is being challenged by an energy security coalition led by the public utility interested in diversifying the composition of the island’s energy grid.

When researchers identify more than two coalitions, they often identified an independent or adaptation coalition consisting of government affiliates or scientists (Gronow et al. 2019 ; Gronow and Ylä-Anttila 2016 ; Kukkonen et al. 2017 ; Niederberger 2005 ; Ulmanen et al. 2015 ). Governments siding with either the pro- or anti-climate coalition vary across applications. However, legitimation of a coalition via government action and/or legislation improves the success of coalitions in terms of their hegemony in the climate change policy space (Francesch-Huidobro and Mai 2012 ; Karapin 2012 ; Li 2012 ; Kwon and Hanlon 2016 ; Lovell 2007 ; Pollak et al. 2011 ; Roßegger and Ramin 2012 ).

Some applications indicated that government support for pro-climate conscious coalitions is critical to promote their acceptance by the general public; the push for centralization is critical to achieving legitimation, then decentralization is necessary to promote subnational implementation (Haukkala 2018 ; Mann and Gennaio 2010 ; Milhorance et al. 2021 ; Niederberger 2005 ; Stensdal 2014 ;). Government support for anti-climate conscious coalitions has the potential to severely hinder pro-climate coalition progress, particularly when business and industry are affiliated with the anti-climate coalition (Gronow and Ylä-Anttila 2016 ; Ylä-Anttila et al. 2020 ). Evidence from Indonesia and Vietnam indicates that governmental actors may also be more influential than other actors at influencing belief change (Gronow et al. 2021 ).

How do coalitions behave?

The ACF expects advocacy coalitions, given their value-based origins, will show stability over time, an argument confirmed across many settings and studies (Weible et al. 2020 ). When looking at coalition behavior across the applications, in many cases, coalitions and their policy core beliefs remain stable over time (Markard et al. 2015 ; Sotirov et al. 2021 ; Szarka 2010 ; Winkel et al. 2011 ). Additionally, congruence on policy core beliefs appears to sustain coalitions and bind together actors with shared beliefs, sometimes for decades (Ingold 2011 ; Ruysschaert and Hufty 2020 ). From a different perspective, inter-coalition instability characterized by policy core belief incoherence compromises coalitions, even with dense network ties (Gronow et al. 2019 ).

In conjunction with coherent policy core beliefs, broad collaboration among allies also appears to be important in maintaining stable coalitions (Howe et al. 2021 ; Ingold and Fischer 2014 ). Interacting with allies, consensus building, advanced information management, and cooperation structures facilitated effective collaboration and broadening coalitions (Gronow and Ylä-Anttila 2016 ; Gronow et al. 2019 ; Ingold and Fischer 2014 ; Satoh and Gronow 2021 ). Policy brokers can also play a significant role in mediating beliefs and facilitating collaboration, as can organizational resources and influence (Gronow and Ylä-Anttila 2016 ; Ylä-Anttila et al. 2020 ). On the other hand, in terms of interacting with opponents, Elgin ( 2015a , b ) suggests a roughly equal number of interactions with both allies and opponents, though extreme beliefs present a barrier to interactions and any potential coordination or cooperation. However, across the articles, interactions with opponents are understudied. Moving forward, a study of cross-coalitional dynamics is important for understanding the factors that prevent collaboration and for examining directions for overcoming group cleavages.

How effective have coalitions been in achieving policy change?

Regarding coalition effectiveness and policy change, broad coalitions appear to be more effective when taking advantage of a critical juncture, policy window, or opportunity structure (Aamodt 2018 ; Aamodt and Stensdal 2017 ; Edmonds 2020 ; Setiadi and Lo 2016 ; Wellstead, Davidson, and Stedman 2006 ; Ydersbond 2018 ). In terms of operationalizing such effectiveness, Ruysschaert and Hufty ( 2020 ) identify four criteria that indicate effective coalitions; they “1) sustain an action for over a decade; 2) learn from own past failures marked by the evolution of their policy core beliefs; 3) take an advantage over economic power by acting strategically and timely when changes occurred; and 4) closely monitor and disseminate knowledge and learning, helping the coalition to change its behavior and act strategically” (p. 1). Opportunity windows can take the form of existing environmental movements (Aamodt and Stensdal 2017 ), changing of government, and new scientific information (Aamodt and Stensdal 2017 ; Stensdal 2014 ). This confirms expectations that events, broadly defined, do not lead to policy change by themselves; they require a coalition to exploit them, and even when this happens, policy change remains difficult and infrequent due to the difficulties associated with implementing sweeping political change, particularly in the face of path-dependent economic interests.

Both internal (von Malmborg 2021 ) and external shocks can catalyze these opportunities, though stable coalitions are more resistant to external shock (Knox-Hayes 2012 ; Markard et al. 2015 ). For example, Markard et al. ( 2015 ) show that while coalitions in Switzerland currently remain stable after debate surrounding energy sources and the country’s energy transition was sparked following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, belief heterogeneity in support of the transition to clean, non-nuclear energy has solidified among the public. This leaves a window open for the pro-ecology coalition to solidify their position in the face of widespread public uncertainty around nuclear energy and a desire to transition to clean and safe energy sources. Similarly, public protest can also create policy windows and legitimate coalitions (Lintz and Leibenath 2020 ). The role of public pressure, however, necessitates more exploration in the context of climate change and the ACF, particularly in regard to the conditions that facilitate effective public protest, and how those protests intersect with coalitional politics.

Recent research by Gottschamer and Zhang ( 2020 ) on the renewable electricity transition in California indicates that when two stable and strong coalitions compete for dominance in a policy space, such competition drives policy instability and volatility, where policy decisions are inconsistent as are “policy enactment and lifespan” (p. 1). In this scenario, the fossil-fuel lobby is generally successful at repealing renewable incentives, but electricity capacity issues are simultaneously driving the uptake of renewables. The authors acknowledge the novelty of this finding and identify it as an area for future research.

Research also indicates that policy change can be catalyzed by interested policy brokers when they have a reasonable amount of political power and influence and can feasibly mediate across coalitions (Faling and Biesbroek 2019 ; Higa et al. 2020 ; Ingold 2011 ; Ingold and Varone 2012 ; Ylä-Anttila et al. 2020 ). For example, in Swiss Climate policy, policy change in stalemate situations is only possible when mediated by a policy broker (Ingold 2011 ; Ingold and Varone 2012 ).

To what extent—if at all—are coalitions learning and adapting?

Across the applications, coalitions appear to be undergoing a moderate amount of learning, as identified by the authors of the sample articles, though for the most part, coalitions often remain stable and, to some degree, stagnant if policy learning is not catalyzed by, for example, network connection, cooperation, and information sharing (Bulkeley 2000 ; Gronow et al. 2021 ; Pattison 2018 ; Ylä-Anttila et al. 2020 ). Consensus building, changes in public opinion, and scientific and expert knowledge are the most common drivers of policy learning in this sample. Consensus building across opposing coalitions can also help to change belief systems (Szarka 2010 ; von Malmborg 2021 ). As discussed above, shifts in public opinion can also force learning and belief change (Bang and Lahn 2020 ). Additionally, scientific knowledge and analytically traceable issue discussion in a professionalized forum can also facilitate belief change (Stensdal 2014 ; Ulmanen et al. 2015 ).

While science, as often depicted as an objective and politically neutral form of knowledge, can play an impartial and independent role (Hansen 2013 ; Ingold and Gschwend 2014 ; Niederberger 2005 ; Swarnakar, Rajshri, and Broadbent 2021 ), these applications echo the broader observations of science politicization (Ingold and Gschwend 2014 ; Kukkonen et al. 2017 ; Litfin 2000 ; Niederberger 2005 ; Rietig 2016 ). Scientist and science-based experts (along with their associated scientific, technical, and expert-sourced information and knowledge) serve and interact with anti- and pro-climate change coalitions. Given the importance of science as a source of legitimacy in making government decisions (e.g., the discourse “based on science”), it becomes the raw materials in contributing content found in debates, argumentations, and acts of persuasion in circles of allies within a coalition, in back-and-forth debates between coalitions, and in seeking influence in shaping shifts in attention, problem perceptions, and policy preferences among the public and in forming the choices and non-choices of governments. Indeed, research on environmental issues under the ACF documents how scientists become more central within a coalition network the higher the conflict, showing both the need for scientific information in political debates and how that same scientific information might wrap policy conflict in a façade of scientific and technical uncertainty and disagreement when the foundations of such policy conflicts source to value-based disagreements (Sabatier and Zafonte 2001 ; Weible et al. 2010 ).

In climate change issues, scientists and experts sometimes assume the role of strategic policymakers, though their role is largely impacted by subsystem politics (Ingold and Gschwend 2014 ). Coalitions tend to fit science into their particular beliefs and selectively incorporate that which fits their beliefs and agendas (Hansen 2013 ; Litfin 2000 ). In other words, this suggests a link between the standpoints found in scientific disciplines and policy actor beliefs, so environmentalists might align with ecologists while pro-business affiliates might align with economists (Barke and Jenkins-Smith 1993 ; Weible and Moore 2010 ).

Science and expert knowledge can function as an informal (Hansen 2013 ) or formal component of a coalition. Science, like government, can also be a driver for climate change policy in some contexts, as was the case in China and Brazil, where scientific knowledge regarding climate change pushed the government to transition rapidly towards more sustainable environmental policies and practices (Aamodt 2018 ; Aamodt and Stensdal 2017 ; Stensdal 2014 ). In many contexts, science-driven climate change policy also incorporates expert actors across sectors and local, national, and international decision-making levels (Ingold and Fischer 2014 ). Though we lack controls and measures across these political systems, the evidence reinforces expectations that the constructive, instrumental, and destructive use of science depends on the political system being collaborative, adversarial, or authoritative (Jenkins-Smith 1990 ; Weible 2008 ).

While the literature supports consensus building, changes in public opinion, and scientific and expert knowledge as drivers of policy learning, the processes and mechanisms that drive learning remain poorly understood. Additionally, as suggested by Gronow et al. ( 2021 ), future research should prioritize analyzing whether mature policy subsystems and their associated coalitions are more resistant to policy learning than nascent ones. Additionally, research should also prioritize whether interdependencies regarding climate change and its associated issues across scales (i.e., subnational, national, international) are forcing policy change, as Litfin ( 2000 ) asserts, “the twin phenomena of economic globalization and the internationalization of environmental affairs are blurring the distinction between some policy subsystems and the international arena. Thus advocacy coalitions should be understood as operating increasingly along ‘the domestic-foreign frontier’” (p. 236).

Summary: coalitions and climate change

In sum, the applications of ACF on climate change essentially confirm the vignette laid out in the summary of the framework but with nuances. First, we tend to find competing coalitions (usually two) that form around shared values and beliefs and remain stable over time. These coalitions consist of a plurality of policy actors inside and outside government. Second, we confirm the ACF’s pathways to policy change involving coalitions capitalizing on the circumstances and overcoming change resistance. Third, we see learning and science furled into politics, leading to belief reinforcement across coalitions as scientific knowledge is politicized and used piecemeal to support the positions of various coalitions.

The nuances of climate change emerge in the diversity of coalitions and the elevated importance of science and experts in these politics (compared to, for example, issues anchored more to morality issues). Climate change also mobilizes coalitions across a broad range of subsystem issues, from forests and water to nuclear phase-outs to energy systems, and in forums across scales from the subnational to global.

This paper aimed to examine climate change through the research guided by the ACF in order to specifically examine how coalitions and coalitional politics succeed or fail regarding climate change policy. Using sixty-seven applications of the ACF to climate change, we analyzed how climate change as a contentious policy issue has catalyzed coalition formation and how these coalitions behave, spur policy change, and learn and adapt. Through a close examination of these applications, both through our bibliometric and coalition and coalitional politics analyses, we examined what we know, what we can reasonably study more deeply, and lessons for moving forward. Moving forward, we recommend focusing on the following three areas in future research agendas: the prioritization of understudied contexts such as non-democratic governance arrangements and underrepresented locations of study, the combination of the ACF with other theories and frameworks to address complex questions, and the prioritization of the study of normative dynamics of climate change politics.

An agenda for future research

First, while our bibliometric analysis of our applications of the ACF to climate change reveals a great deal about how coalitions form, the actors that comprise coalitions, their beliefs, how they behave, and whether or not they learn, there remains a wealth of unexplored and underexplored directions for future research. More applications are needed in underrepresented areas, notably Africa, Asia, South and Central America, and non-democratic contexts, as the ACF does not assume a democratic governance system (Aamodt and Stensdal 2017 ). Future studies could also examine how governmental arrangements impact coalitions and their effectiveness, as most current literature is focused on democratic governance systems. More applications are needed that specifically explore the role of science, how coalitions communicate with opponents, the role of public pressure, and the “domestic-foreign frontier” (Litfin 2000 ). Longitudinal studies provide a viable lens through which to study coalition adaptation and the mechanisms that drive policy learning, particularly in regard to policy learning that results in cross-coalitional cooperation and/or policy change.

Second, applications of the ACF to climate change should continue to supplement it with other theories and frameworks to fill particular theoretical needs, particularly transition studies, comparative environmental studies, and political process studies. Our bibliometric analysis indicated that this happens frequently across social science disciplines in studies that employ the ACF. For studying climate change, these additional frames of inquiry appear to supplement the explanatory power of the ACF in a meaningful way. Climate change is a complex, transboundary problem, and thus, research questions are inherently nuanced and may necessitate pulling from various corners of social science for frameworks and theories that can adequately be utilized together to address such questions.

Finally, ACF applications to climate change should prioritize the study of more normative dynamics. Namely, none of the applications addresses the role of emotions in coalition building or their impact on policy, though recent scholarship highlights the role of emotions in policy and politics (Durnová 2018 ; Durnová 2019 ; Durnová 2022 ; Pierce 2021 ). While understudied empirically, emotions undergird all of our decisions, both individually and collectively, and contribute to belief formation. One article in the sample (Malloy and Ashcraft 2020 ) combined the ACF with social justice theory to examine and integrate just climate adaptation that considers and includes the voices and needs of the most vulnerable, whom climate change will impact most acutely (see Heikkila and Jones  2022 ). These and other normative questions are necessary to explore to understand belief formation, belief change, and belief reinforcement to continue pushing both the ACF and what we know about climate change forward.

What can the ACF teach us about climate change?

We end this paper with recommendations on how the ACF can inform how society responds to climate change. First, we need to recognize our tendency to oversubscribe to the angelic side of humanity and undersubscribe to the wicked side of humanity. Of course, people are capable of altruism, cooperation, and trust in some circumstances. Yet, when values are in dispute, we tend to exhibit polarization, coalitional politics, political uses of information, and belief reinforcement. Thus, in the face of pressing climate-related consequences, rather than moving toward grand political action, global inaction instead leaves the impacts of climate change to compound as it worsens.

Second, starting from the more wicked side of humanity, we realize that more information might not lead to change but exacerbate differences. We are better off focusing on our underlying differences in values, realizing how those values are furled into identities. The strategy then becomes less about adding more information to the debate, but more about establishing a path towards the aforementioned situation where people have the trust, cooperation, shared understanding, and institutional setting to discuss differences. We will never remove advocacy coalitions from our politics, nor should we remove the deliberative dynamics that accompany coalitions, but we can minimize their tendencies to inhibit collective action. This also requires investing in our broader political environment, including addressing threats to democracies; extreme economic inequities; and racial, ethnic, and other forms of discrimination. It also involves nurturing leaders as brokers, co-production of knowledge, and establishing settings conducive to learning and negotiations (Jenkins-Smith et al. 2018 ; Torfing et al. 2021 ).

Third, we must also recognize the increasing interconnectedness of humanity and its wicked problems across geographic scales of inquiry. The most insidious problems of society—climate change, poverty, income disparity—are increasingly global problems. Even subnational issues in these areas can have ripple effects in a globalized, international arena. Appropriately addressing these global issues will require us to examine our own beliefs, coalitions, and behavior towards our opponents and analyze and internalize how we can restructure these to acknowledge the macro-level nature of these wicked problems. In other words, the ACF’s focus on a policy subsystem mostly neglects the impacts of climate change across other societal issues. We need to broaden our lens by examining the interconnected parts that comprise the climate change issue. This might require analysis of climate change, not just the associated and regularly studied environmental issues (as shown in Fig. 2 a) but also associated and rarely studied socio, cultural, and economic issues.

The ACF and its applications to climate change demonstrate that coalitions can indeed learn, change, and collaborate across belief cleavages. Particularly in the European context, lessons abound regarding pro-climate conscious coalitions successfully achieving dominance, mobilizing public support for climate-friendly behavior, and implementing successful energy transitions. While it is difficult, pro-climate policy change is possible across government arrangements and types. For example, China has demonstrated the possibilities of coalitions harnessing scientific knowledge to drive climate-conscious behavior in non-democratic contexts. California and Hawaii in the USA present subnational success stories in a federalist system. We should prioritize these lessons in dealing with climate change, advising policymakers, and creating and implementing policy. We should analyze what works and what does not and how coalitions can spearhead innovative, inclusive solutions in developing countries and areas where climate change will most acutely impact the most vulnerable of the world.

Moreover, the ACF also presents important lessons outside of public policy regarding how individuals and groups of individuals that coalesce around a particular set of beliefs treat each other within coalitions, how they treat their allies, and how they treat their opponents. Beyond studying policy and politics, the ACF allows us to understand human and group interactions, how we treat one another when deeply held beliefs are at stake, and the consequences therein. The ACF could feasibly be adapted to examine such human interaction across a range of social sciences, most notably, sociology, psychology, and economics, in the context of the research questions and methods of those particular disciplines. The flexibility and portability of the ACF allow for such use in various disciplines. Thus, whether in policy studies or in the human interactions that drive many decisions inside and outside of policy, wicked problems require complex, nuanced solutions, and the ACF seems to be well-suited to help us discern how coalitions can achieve these solutions.

Availability of data and materials

The codebook is included in the Table 2 in Appendix .

This synopsis of the ACF is based on more detailed accounts, see Jenkins-Smith et al. ( 2018 ).

While we did meet many of the PRISMA criteria (Page et al. 2021 ), we did not specifically use the PRISMA approach, as we relied on an established method used in similar studies (e.g., Pierce et al. 2017 ; Weible et al. 2009 , Li and Weible 2020). Though we did not perform a meta-analysis, we have clear and replicable criteria to include or exclude articles in our population and to develop our codebook .

The code form is available upon request from the authors.

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What is climate justice and what can we do achieve it, recap and reflections from unicef's climate justice roundtable.

7 minute read

Young people have historically led the charge against environmental, social and racial injustice. However, in the last several years, they have mobilized like never before on the issue of climate justice. Spurred on by the speeches and marches of Greta Thunberg, millions of children and young people globally voiced their concerns and demanded that their governments take action on climate change. Their voices have demonstrated the urgency they are feeling that time is running out and that they, as the younger generation, will suffer the consequences of climate change more greatly than their parents and grandparents.

According to the World Bank, by the time many of the teenage climate activists of today are in their late 20s, climate change could force an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty. In addition, by 2050, the International Food Policy Research institute estimates a 20% increase in malnourished children compared to what we would see without climate change.

In order to better understand the youth perspective of climate justice, UNICEF gathered a small group of experts and activists for a roundtable discussion about the following questions:

  • What do we know about climate justice? What does it mean to children and young people? What are they asking for?
  • What are the elements needed and what are the gaps and barriers to achieving climate justice for and with children and young people? How does it relate to racial and social justice?
  • How can UNICEF and others support and help bridge these gaps, including knowledge gaps and translate it to effective policy?

 What do we mean by climate justice?

Linking human rights with development and climate action.

Development cannot be delinked from climate action and vice versa. Throughout, a human rights base approach is necessary. For example, with the rapid pace of urbanization, a rights-based approach is crucial for addressing water, sanitation and health, challenges which are exacerbated by climate change in the formalizing of informal settlements.

Having a people-centered approach to climate action

This entails ensuring representation, inclusion, and protection of the rights of those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Solutions must promote equity, assure access to basic resources, and ensure that young people can live, learn, play and work in healthy and clean environments.

Understanding that not everyone has contributed to climate change in the same way

While everyone must do their part to address climate change, the burden should not be borne by those that have contributed the least. The world’s richest 10% are responsible for 50% of GHG emissions and the poorest 50% are only responsible for 10% despite population and energy consumption increasing.

Combatting social injustice, gender injustice, economic injustice, intergenerational injustice and environmental injustice

The intersectionality of these challenges must be acknowledged in order to address them holistically. For example, some climate projects inadvertently create climate injustices when local communities are displaced for a conservation or renewable energy initiative.

Requires a systems transformation

The climate crisis is the result of a system which prioritizes profit over sustainability. As such, solutions will require a transformative systems lens and approach. Approaches that address the unequal burdens in certain communities and which realigns the economy with natural systems. The new green learning agenda proposes such an approach for an education system that develops and nurtures sustainable mindsets, as well as green skills in order to achieve this transformation.

Climate justice protest

What do young people want?

Participation – a seat at the table.

Representation is crucial for getting concerns heard and addressed. Youth and civil society need to be given a seat at the decision-making table so that those asking for climate justice can influence decisions around climate policies and programming, including climate finance flows. Unfortunately, decision making processes are currently dominated by northern and corporate interests. Youth representation, when included, is perceived by young people to be tokenistic and used as a public relations exercise, and young people’s voices are not considered and taken into account when decisions are made. While representation at official conferences is important, climate talks are not the only forums to influence decisions and processes related to climate (in)action. Other avenues for participation may be even more powerful, for example, influencing international trade agreements. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has far more legally binding power over countries than the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), as they affect and potentially often prevent the right of countries to pursue low carbon development, through their trade agreements.

Decent jobs and sustainable livelihoods

Marginalized and poor communities are disproportionately exposed to and affected by climate change impacts, but often face structural barriers to participating in the fight for climate justice. When people are unable to meet their basic needs for income, food and other necessities, it is difficult to get involved in climate action. Therefore, it is important to focus on education, livelihood and employment opportunities while working with marginalized and poor communities and these need to be tackled at the policy level.

"It is well acknowledged that across the globe, people who have the least role in causing the climate crisis are bearing the brunt of it, and unfortunately, climate justice is not talked about enough." Eric Njuguna, Youth Climate Justice Organizer

What do young people need?

Capacity and skills building: supporting skills development and addressing structural constraints are key to empowering children and youth to claim their seat at the table.

Support can include sharing knowledge and resources including information that donors/programming entities develop, so that grantees can succeed in their own initiatives. Knowledge exchange and knowledge transfer are important and accessibility of information for everyone is key. In addition, it is important to highlight the work of climate justice organizations, especially young organizations, to support their fundraising efforts and track history. In order for their seat at the table to be effective, children and youth need to be supported to develop skills, knowledge and competencies to have the ability to meaningfully advocate for and provide solutions on climate justice. Support can be provided through capacity and skills building (technical competencies, as well as soft skills) and by addressing structural barriers to participation (job creation, meeting of basic livelihood needs). In addition, young people can be supported to use and challenge national laws in the countries where they live and work. There has been a marked increase in climate litigation over the last 10 years and this trend is set to increase over the next few years.

Financing: Consistent and reliable financing for operational and programmatic expenses are instrumental for allowing young climate activists to achieve their vision.

Supporting youth is an investment that achieves more than short-term results. In the long run, it is investment in leadership and action on initiatives for climate equity and justice. Consistent and reliable funding is indispensable for supporting the climate justice movement, and for allowing young climate justice organizations to build their organizational and leadership capacities. To this end, longer-term operational funding which provides ongoing financial backing and security for climate justice activists, groups and their organizations needs to increase.

Young people also need support to gain knowledge on how to apply for funding and benefit from the available climate funding sources. Obtaining funding is a highly competitive process, and crucial to the ability to develop initiatives for climate justice activism. Young people often lack the know-how on developing successful grant application.

Partnerships: Non-monetary forms of support are equally important for helping climate justice action to flourish

Donors and programming entities can do more than just provide or enable the transfer of money. They can facilitate connections, networking opportunities, provide spaces to meet, share lessons and experiences, and discuss ideas, so that youth and their organizations can accumulate expertise and establish partnerships to develop and successfully implement their projects and plans. Programming entities should also respect the expertise and lived experiences of the youth grantees and see them as equal partners. Funders should support and trust the vision and ideas of the youth activists and their understanding of the policy landscape. This trust means allowing grantees to work in the way they judge best for developing their ideas and initiatives.

What can UNICEF and others do?

Acknowledge children and young people’s quest for climate justice; support their meaningful participation and facilitate partnership opportunities.

Utilizing a climate justice approach for UNICEF would include integrating children’s perspective and rights into actions, recognizing children as the most vulnerable group in the face of climate change, and reducing their vulnerability to the climate crisis. It would mean supporting full participation of young people and children to seek equity across and contribute to decisions on climate policies. UNICEF and others’ youth engagements strategies should include youth participants who represent marginalized and most vulnerable communities affected by the climate crisis. Additionally, facilitating networking opportunities and capacity building workshops to share knowledge and opportunities for collaboration.

Support and facilitate access to funding for youth-led climate justice action

UNICEF as a programming entity could act as an intermediary between donors and grantees to minimize inequalities. They can lessen constraints to funding and absorb some of the burden that comes with managing funds. UNICEF could play an important role in lessening the burden of accountability for grantees to donors, by providing support in monitoring and evaluation. In addition, UNICEF could support youth in developing effective, bankable proposals as well as including them in funding decision-making processes.

Support children and youth as they confront climate change impacts and climate (in)justice

Effort should be made to prevent children’s health, well-being and rights from being impacted by climate (in)actions that create injustices. While there is consensus and acknowledgment on how not addressing climate change impacts on children’s rights, there is less attention paid to how some activities meant to alleviate climate change, can create injustices. For example, particular issues of concern around unjust climate actions include renewable energy projects which impact on indigenous people’s land rights, use of child labor in mining minerals (e.g. cobalt) for renewable batteries, etc. A reflection of the toll that the climate change crisis is causing, eco-anxiety (a chronic fear that climate destruction is inevitable) is becoming more common among youth and is an issue worth focusing on. As part of its mental health work, UNICEF could explore ways to navigate this anxiety among children and youth.

More to explore

Guiding principles for children on the move.

Recommendations for safeguarding the rights and well-being of children regardless of their location or migration status amid climate change

Prospects for Children in 2022: A Global Outlook

As we enter a third year of the pandemic, what can be done to improve children’s fortunes?

Protecting Children in Cyberconflicts

Rapid analysis | How does cyberconflict affect children? And what can be done to safeguard their rights, security and wellbeing?

Trends in Digital Personalized Learning

Landscape review | Taking stock of personalized learning solutions in low and middle-income countries

climate change advocate essay

News from the Columbia Climate School

From the field climate week nyc, why climate change is an environmental justice issue.

climate change advocate essay

September 21-27 is Climate Week in New York City. Join us for a series of online events and blog posts covering the climate crisis and pointing us towards action.

people walking through flood waters

Hurricane Katrina 2005 ( Photo: News Muse )

While COVID-19 has killed 200,000 Americans so far, communities of color have borne disproportionately greater impacts of the pandemic. Black, Indigenous and LatinX Americans are at least three times more likely to die of COVID than whites. In 23 states, there were 3.5 times more cases among American Indian and Alaskan Native communities than in white communities. Many of the reasons these communities of color are falling victim to the pandemic are the same reasons why they are hardest hit by the impacts of climate change.

How communities of color are affected by climate change

Climate change is a threat to everyone’s physical health, mental health, air, water, food and shelter, but some groups—socially and economically disadvantaged ones—face the greatest risks. This is because of where they live, their health, income, language barriers, and limited access to resources. In the U.S., these more vulnerable communities are largely the communities of color, immigrants, low-income communities and people for whom English is not their native language. As time goes on, they will suffer the worst impacts of climate change, unless we recognize that fighting climate change and environmental justice are inextricably linked.

The U.S. is facing warming temperatures and more intense and frequent heat waves as the climate changes. Higher temperatures lead to more deaths and illness, hospital and emergency room visits, and birth defects. Extreme heat can cause heat cramps, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, hyperthermia, and dehydration.

patient in hospital bed

A heat stroke patient in the ER ( Photo: Janine Rivera )

Disadvantaged communities have higher rates of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Heat stress can exacerbate heart disease and diabetes, and warming temperatures result in more pollen and smog, which can worsen asthma and COPD. Heat waves also affect birth outcomes. A study of the impact of California heat waves from 1999 to 2011 on infants found that mortality rates were highest for Black infants. Moreover, disadvantaged communities often lack access to good medical care and health insurance.

African Americans are three times more likely than whites to live in old, crowded or inferior housing; residents of homes with poor insulation and no air conditioning are particularly susceptible to the effects of increased heat. In addition, low-income areas in cities have been found to be five to 12 degrees hotter than higher income neighborhoods because they have fewer trees and parks, and more asphalt that retains heat.

Extreme weather events

While climate change cannot be definitively linked to any particular extreme weather event, incidents of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, heavy downpours, winter storms, floods and hurricanes have increased and climate change is expected to make them more frequent and intense.

Extreme weather events can cause injury, illness, and death. Changes in precipitation patterns and warming water temperatures enable bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxic algae to flourish; heavy rains and flooding can pollute drinking water and increase water contamination, potentially causing gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhea and damaging livers and kidneys.

buildings destroyed by hurricane katrina

Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage. Photo: FEMA/Mark Wolfe

Extreme weather events also disrupt electrical power, water systems and transportation, as well as the communication networks needed to access emergency services and health care. Disadvantaged communities are particularly at risk because subpar housing with old infrastructure may be more vulnerable to power outages, water issues and damage. Residents of these communities may lack adequate health care, medicines, health insurance, and access to public health warnings in a language they can understand. In addition, they may not have access to transportation to escape the impacts of extreme weather, or home insurance and other resources to relocate or rebuild after a disaster. Communities of color are also less likely to receive adequate protection against disasters or a prompt response in case of emergencies. In addition to physical hardships, the stress and anxiety of dealing with these impacts of extreme weather can end up exacerbating mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress and suicide.

Poor air quality

While climate change does not cause poor air quality , burning fossil fuels does; and climate change can worsen air quality. Heat waves cause air masses to remain stagnant and prevent air pollution from moving away. Warmer temperatures lead to the creation of more smog, particularly during summer. And wildfires, fueled by heat waves and drought, produce smoke that contains toxic pollutants.

Living with polluted air can lead to heart and lung diseases, aggravate allergies and asthma and cause premature death. People who live in urban areas with air pollution, or who have medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma or COPD, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution.

child in hospital bed

Air pollution exacerbates asthma.  Photo: Dani

Black people are three times more likely to die from air pollution than white people. This is in part because they are 70 percent more likely to live in counties that are in violation of federal air pollution standards. A University of Minnesota study found that, on average, people of color are exposed to 38 percent higher levels of nitrogen dioxide outdoor air pollution than white people. One reason for the high COVID-19 death rate among African Americans is that cumulative exposure to air pollution leads to a significant increase in the COVID death rate, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

More people of color live in places that are polluted with toxic waste, which can lead to illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma. These pre-existing conditions put people at higher risk for the more severe effects of COVID-19.

The fact that disadvantaged communities are in some of the most polluted environments in the U.S. is no coincidence. Communities of color are often chosen as sites for landfills, chemical plants, bus terminals and other dirty businesses because corporations know it’s harder for these residents to object. They usually lack the connections to lawmakers who could protect them and can’t afford to hire technical or legal help to put up a fight. They may not understand how they will be impacted, perhaps because the information is not in their native language. A 1987 report showed that race was the single most important factor in determining where to locate a toxic waste facility in the U.S. It found that “Communities with the greatest number of commercial hazardous waste facilities had the highest composition of racial and ethnic residents.”

For example, while Blacks make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, 68 percent live within 30 miles of a coal plant. LatinX people are 17 percent of the population, but 39 percent of them live near coal plants. A new report found that about 2,000 official and potential highly contaminated Superfund sites are at risk of flooding due to sea level rise; the areas around these sites are mainly communities of color and low-income communities.

The link between climate change and environmental justice

Mary Annaïse Heglar , a climate justice essayist and former writer-in-residence at the Earth Institute, asserts that climate change is actually the product of racism. “It started with conquest, genocides, slavery, and colonialism,” she wrote . “That is the moment when White men’s relationship with living things became extractive and disharmonious. Everything was for the taking; everything was for sale. The fossil fuel industry was literally built on the backs and over the graves of Indigenous people around the globe, as they were forced off their land and either slaughtered or subjugated — from the Arab world to Africa, from Asia to the Americas. Again, it was no accident.”

redlining map

Redlining map, 1936

The harmful impacts of climate change are linked to historical neglect and racism. When Black people migrated North from the South in the early 20th century, many did not have jobs or money; consequently they were forced to live in substandard housing. Jim Crow laws in the South reinforced racial segregation, prohibiting Blacks from moving into white neighborhoods. In the 1930s through the 1960s, the federal government’s “redlining” policy denied federally backed mortgages and credit to minority neighborhoods. As a result, African Americans had limited access to better homes and all the advantages that went with them—a healthy environment, better schools and healthcare, and more food options.

Prime examples of environmental injustice

Poor sanitation in the U.S.

Catherine Flowers,  founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and a senior fellow for the Center for Earth Ethics , which is affiliated with the Earth Institute, is from Lowndes County, Alabama. As a child growing up in a poor, mostly Black rural area with less than 10,000 residents, she used an outhouse before her family installed indoor plumbing. After leaving to get an education, Flowers returned to Alabama in 2002 and still saw extreme disparities in rural wastewater treatment. She visited many homes with sewage backing up into their homes or pooling in their yards, as many residents couldn’t afford onsite wastewater treatment. She is still advocating for proper sanitation in Lowndes. As a result of her work, Baylor College’s National School of Tropical Medicine conducted a peer-reviewed study which showed that over 30 percent of Lowndes County residents had hookworm and other tropical parasites due to poor sanitation.

”We’re also seeing that there is a relationship between [wastewater and] COVID infections,” added Flowers. “We don’t know exactly what it is yet—but you can actually measure wastewater to determine the level of infections in the community before people start showing up with the illness.” In Lowndes, one of every 18 residents has COVID-19; it is one of the highest infection rates in the U.S.

Today, Flowers works at the intersection between climate change and wastewater throughout the U.S. “The more we see sea level rise, the more we’re going to have wastewater problems,” she said. Her new book, Waste, One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret , due out in November, shows how proper sanitation is essential as climate change will likely bring sewage to more backyards everywhere, not just in poor communities.

Cancer Alley

An 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, hosts the densest concentration of petrochemical companies in the U.S. There have been so many cases of cancer and death in the area that it became known as “Cancer Alley.”

industries next to communities

Cancer Alley ( Photo: Gines A. Sanchez )

Most of these petrochemical plants are situated near towns that are largely poor and Black. There are 30 large plants within 10 miles of mostly Black St. Gabriel, with 13 within three miles. St. James Parish, whose population is roughly half Black and half white, has over 30 petrochemical plants, but the majority are located in the district that is 80 percent Black.

These plants not only emit greenhouse gases that are exacerbating climate change, but the particulate matter they expel can contain hundreds of different chemicals. Chronic exposure to this air pollution can lead to heart and respiratory illnesses and diabetes. As such, it is no surprise that St. James Parish is among the 20 U.S. counties with the highest per-capita death rates from COVID-19.

Despite efforts of the residents to fight back, seven new petrochemical plants have been approved since 2015; five more are awaiting approval.

Hurricane Katrina

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm, caused extensive destruction in New Orleans and its environs. More than half of the 1,200 people who died were Black and 80 percent of the homes that were destroyed belonged to Black residents. The mostly Black neighborhoods of New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward were hit hardest by Katrina because while the levees in white areas had been shored up after earlier hurricanes, these poorer neighborhoods had received less government funding for flood protection. After the hurricane, when initial plans for rebuilding were in process, white neighborhoods again got priority, even if they had experienced less flooding. Eventually federal funds were directed toward the rebuilding of parts of the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East and the strengthening of their levees.

In 2014, the city of Flint, MI, whose population is 56.6 percent Black, decided to draw its drinking water from the polluted Flint River in order to save money until a new pipeline from Lake Huron could be built. Previously the city had brought in treated drinking water from Detroit. Because the river had been used by industry as an illegal waste dump for many years, the water was corrosive, but officials failed to treat it. As a result, the water leached lead from the city’s aging pipelines. Officials claimed the water was safe, but more than 40 percent of the homes had elevated lead levels. As almost 100,000 residents — including 9,000 children — drank lead-laced water, lead levels in the children’s blood doubled and tripled in some neighborhoods, putting them at high risk for neurological damage.

mother and child with sign about water

Flint, MI ( Photo: Susan Melkisethian )

In October, 2015, the city began importing water from Detroit again. An ongoing project to replace lead service pipes is expected to be complete by the end of November. And just recently, Flint victims were awarded a settlement of $600 million, with 80 percent of it designated for the affected children.

Steps to achieve environmental justice

As the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Catherine Flowers works to implement the best practices to reduce environmental injustice. Here are some key strategies she prescribes.

  • Acknowledge the damage and try to repair it.
  • Clean up sites where environmental damage has been done.
  • Create an equitable system for decision-making so there is not an undue burden placed on disadvantaged communities. “Lobbyists that represent these [polluting] companies shouldn’t have more influence than the people who live in the area that are impacted by it,” said Flowers. “We need to make sure that the people that live in the community are sitting at the table when decisions are being made about what’s located in their community.”
  • Call out the officials who are making decisions that are not in the best interest of the people they represent.
  • Vote to put in place representatives that listen to their constituents rather than the people and companies that donate to them.
  • Provide climate training to help people become more engaged. For example, the Climate Reality Project (Flowers sits on its board of directors) trains everyday people to fight for solutions and change in their communities.
  • Partner with universities to conduct peer-reviewed studies of health impacts to help validate and draw attention to the experiences of disadvantaged communities.
  • Build cleaner and greener. “We cannot discount the impact this could have on communities around the world,” said Flowers. “If we don’t pollute and we have a Green New Deal to build better, cleaner, and greener, then we won’t have these environmental justice issues.”

Related Posts

climate change advocate essay

Injustice of any kind? It really does not matter. Unless people change their idea of materialism madness and understand the fact that they are threatened, we will get nowhere. When was the last time humans have done much of anything out of compassion if it would alter their own lifestyles?

Anon

I wonder if governments (particularly of modernized nations like America, the UK and China) have purposely chosen to ignore the issue of climate change? I agree that most of it falls on things like industrial shipping, transportation and processing, but governemnt incentivization is another issue with climate justice as a whole.

climate change advocate essay

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NPR's Climate Week: A Search For Solutions

The communities experimenting with how to be more resilient to a changing climate.

The NPR Network

climate change advocate essay

Volunteers clean trash from a salt marsh in Massachusetts. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

Volunteers clean trash from a salt marsh in Massachusetts.

Climate change can often feel like an overwhelming and insurmountable challenge, but many communities across the nation are already working to adapt and become more resilient: Some are getting creative with water conservation, finding new sources of energy to power their communities, and even recycling poop.

Climate change is here. And this week, NPR is doing something new. We're dedicating an entire week to focus on the search for climate solutions , with stories across our network.

Here are just a few of the ways communities across the country are adapting to be more resilient to the demands of a changing climate.

Recycling waste

climate change advocate essay

To help conserve usage of the taxed resources like the Colorado River (pictured here), engineers are recycling raw sewage into safe drinking water. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

To help conserve usage of the taxed resources like the Colorado River (pictured here), engineers are recycling raw sewage into safe drinking water.

Inspired by the purification process water goes through in nature, engineers are recycling raw sewage into potable water that's safe to drink. As KUNC's Alex Hager explains , in the Western U.S., there's more demand for water than there is supply, particularly in the Colorado River basin. [ via KUNC ]

Earlier this year, in an effort to adapt to a hotter and drier future , Boise, Idaho, tested five different technologies to scrub industrial wastewater of chemicals and pollutants so it can be reused. [ via Boise State Public Radio ]

In St. George, Utah, the city's water reclamation plant is preparing to use treated and reclaimed water for irrigation and save more of the city's current water supplies for drinking or culinary use. [ via KUER ]

climate change advocate essay

Cows chomp away on cornstalks on a farm in Iowa. A study recently suggested that a variety of seaweed could help cows produce less methane. Stefani Reynolds /AFP via Getty Images hide caption

Cows chomp away on cornstalks on a farm in Iowa. A study recently suggested that a variety of seaweed could help cows produce less methane.

Strategies to minimize greenhouse gas emissions

Climate solutions are necessary. So we're dedicating a week to highlight them

Climate solutions are necessary. So we're dedicating a week to highlight them

Efforts in Maine aim to turn low-quality byproducts of the lumber industry into wood-fiber insulation, locking carbon in the walls of new construction. [ via Maine Public ]

Methane is also a significant driver of global climate change, and in the U.S., cows are the second largest source of it — more specifically, they burp it as they're digesting fiber. But scientists at the University of New Hampshire have found that adding certain types of seaweed to the cows' diet seems to help them belch less methane. [ via WBUR ]

Doctors at Seattle Children's Hospital say they've managed to tame one of the hospital's biggest environmental impacts : The gases used to sedate patients.

A puff of nitrous oxide traps 310 times more heat in the atmosphere than the same amount of carbon dioxide, the main pollutant responsible for overheating the world. The anesthetic desflurane traps 2,540 times more heat than carbon dioxide.

Anesthesiologists at Seattle Children's report cutting the impact of their anesthetic gases on the climate by 87% in the past five years. [ via KUOW ]

Seattle Children's Dr. Elizabeth Hansen is launching a national network of children's hospitals that will show clinicians the climate impact of their work as a tool to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Similar efforts at Massachusetts General Hospital are a key step in Mass General's pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050. As WBUR's Martha Bebinger explains :

Nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists were already getting monthly performance reports that showed how well they avoided low blood pressures during surgery and postoperative nausea. Now, they also see two climate assessments: The global warming footprint of the gases they choose and whether they are reducing the flow, or amount of gas used. [ via WBUR ]

climate change advocate essay

A man walks at the Thassalia marine geothermal plant. A New England energy utility is building a networked geothermal system to heat and cool 37 buildings. Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

A man walks at the Thassalia marine geothermal plant. A New England energy utility is building a networked geothermal system to heat and cool 37 buildings.

Renewable energy

Health care has a massive carbon footprint. These doctors are trying to change that

Health care has a massive carbon footprint. These doctors are trying to change that

The next breakthrough in renewable energy might be poop : New scientific techniques pioneered at Brigham Young University point to the potential of converting animal and human waste into energy that can be used to replace natural gas from fossil fuels. [via KUER ]

In Washington state, what started as a joint effort between farmers and the Tulalip Tribes to keep manure runoff from nearby waterways is now not only capturing methane and producing valuable renewable energy, but may soon be producing hydrogen from cow poop. [ via KNKX ]

As more efforts to confront climate change include the use of hydrogen, Colorado has adopted the country's first standards for clean hydrogen . As Colorado Public Radio's Sam Brasch explains, without these guardrails, environmental groups worry that hydrogen technologies could draw power from gas and coal plants, resulting in a rise in climate-warming emissions, not a reduction. [ via CPR ]

Colorado's largest gas and power company is already planning to experiment with mixing hydrogen into its natural gas system as part of its climate strategy. [ via CPR ]

Hawaii has mandated a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2045 , and it was the first state to set such a goal. According to Chief Energy Officer Scott Glenn, the island of "Kauaʻi is already 100% renewable during the day, [and] 70% renewable overall," while neighboring Oʻahu has more power available to the grid through rooftop solar than through any one power plant. [ via Hawai'i Public Radio ]

A California program has used cap-and-trade money to pay for climate action at the neighborhood level , purchasing eclectic buses, planting hundreds of trees, building affordable all-electric housing and installing rooftop solar. LAist's Erin Stone explains who can qualify . [ via LAist ]

Meanwhile, New England's largest energy utility is building a "networked geothermal system" that uses water-filled pipes to heat and cool 37 buildings. As WBUR's Miriam Wasser explains, "because the New England electric grid is mostly powered by fossil fuels, there is still some carbon pollution associated with it. Over time, though, as the region shifts to more renewable electricity sources, those emission savings will be even larger." [ via WBUR ]

New Hampshire is one of the latest states to experiment with different ways to increase renewable energy use at the local level by turning to community power programs. These programs control at a local level where they buy power for their community and can choose more renewable sources as a result . [ via NHPR ]

Engineering solutions

Last year, one of the hottest neighborhoods in Los Angeles painted 10 square blocks with "cool paint" designed to reflect solar radiation, instead of absorbing it. As LAist's Erin Stone found out , the special acrylic-based coating does a better job preventing the area just above the surface from getting hot, compared with the asphalt-based coatings the city has traditionally used. [ via LAist ]

In Massachusetts, which has lost roughly 41% of its salt marshes since 1777, restoration ecologists are using ribbed mussels to help restore the valuable coastal wetlands that protect homes and roads from storm surge, filter water and serve as habitat for birds and baby lobsters. The little mussels — or "habitat engineers" — could be key to stabilizing unhealthy salt marshes that are further threatened by sea level rise. [ via WBUR ]

Last fall, the Swinomish Tribe built the first modern clam garden in the U.S ., a type of environmental engineering that captures sediment and expands the habitat for butter and littleneck clams. As KUOW's John Ryan explains, while the ecological benefits might take years to materialize, the human benefits have already begun. [ via KUOW ]

NPR's Emily Alfin Johnson produced this piece and NPR's Amy Morgan edited this piece, which includes reporting from member station newsrooms across the country.

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climate change advocate essay

Climate change: yes, your individual action does make a difference

climate change advocate essay

PhD Researcher in Environmental Leadership, Cardiff University

Disclosure statement

Steve Westlake does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Cardiff University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.

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What can we do in the face of the climate emergency ? Many say we should drive less, fly less, eat less meat. But others argue that personal actions like this are a pointless drop in the ocean when set against the huge systemic changes that are required to prevent devastating global warming .

It’s a debate that has been raging for decades. Clearly, in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions, a single person’s contribution is basically irrelevant (much like a single vote in an election). But my research, first in my masters and now as part of my PhD, has found that doing something bold like giving up flying can have a wider knock-on effect by influencing others and shifting what’s viewed as “normal”.

In a survey I conducted, half of the respondents who knew someone who has given up flying because of climate change said they fly less because of this example. That alone seemed pretty impressive to me. Furthermore, around three quarters said it had changed their attitudes towards flying and climate change in some way. These effects were increased if a high-profile person had given up flying, such as an academic or someone in the public eye. In this case, around two thirds said they fly less because of this person, and only 7% said it has not affected their attitudes.

I wondered if these impressionable people were already behaving like squeaky-clean environmentalists, but the figures suggested not. The survey respondents fly considerably more than average, meaning they have plenty of potential to fly less because of someone else’s example.

climate change advocate essay

To explore people’s reasoning, I interviewed some of those who had been influenced by a “non-flyer”. They explained that the bold and unusual position to give up flying had: conveyed the seriousness of climate change and flying’s contribution to it; crystallised the link between values and actions; and even reduced feelings of isolation that flying less was a valid and sensible response to climate change. They said that “commitment” and “expertise” were the most influential qualities of the person who had stopped flying.

Letting fly

It’s not all a bed of roses, of course. Flying represents freedom, fun and progress. It boosts the economy and can provide precious travel opportunities. So suggesting that everyone should fly less, which may seem the implicit message of someone who gives up flying because of climate change, can lead to arguments and confrontation. One person for example said that my gently worded survey was “fascist and misinformed”. You don’t get that when you ask about washing-up liquid.

My research also probed ideas of inconsistency and hypocrisy. In short, people hate it . If Barack Obama takes a private jet and has a 14-vehicle entourage to get to a climate change conference, or a celebrity weeps for the climate while rocking a huge carbon footprint , it doesn’t go down well. And if future laws are introduced to reduce flying because of climate change, it looks essential that politicians will have to visibly reduce their flying habits, too. Other research has shown that calls for emissions reductions from climate scientists are much more credible if they themselves walk the talk .

That people are influenced by others is hardly a shocking result. Psychology researchers have spent decades amassing evidence about the powerful effects of social influence , while cultural evolution theory suggests we may have evolved to follow the example of those in prestigious positions because it helped us survive . Pick up any book on leadership in an airport shopping mall and it will likely trumpet the importance of leading by example.

Which raises the question: if our political and business leaders are serious about climate change, shouldn’t they be very visibly reducing their own carbon footprints to set an example to the rest of us? This is now the focus of my research.

But why me?

climate change advocate essay

Weaving an invisible thread through all of the above is the thorny issue of fairness and inequality. The wealthiest 10% of the global population are responsible for 50% of emissions , and plenty of that will be due to flying. In the UK, around 15% of people take 70% of the flights, while half of the population don’t fly at all in any one year. As emissions from aviation become an ever increasing slice of the total (currently around 9% in the UK, 2% globally) this inequality will become harder for everyone to ignore.

In the mean time, the debate about personal vs. collective action will continue. My research supports the arguments that this is a false dichotomy : individual action is part of the collective. So, while you won’t save the world on your own, you might be part of the solution.

climate change advocate essay

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How you can help fight climate change in ways that really matter

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  • Talk about climate change with your friends and family members. "Each one teach one," said climate activist and business owner, Jerome Ringo. "I call them kitchen conversations," he said.
  • "The most important thing that individuals can do is vote, and vote on the climate," Michael E. Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, told CNBC.
  • "Do anything — anything at all," Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University said. "Students, study. Teachers, teach. Writers, write. Entrepreneurs, invent, build, ship! Whatever it is you do best, consider how climate change figures into it, and do that."

Hurricane Ida made landfall over Port Fourchon, Louisiana, as a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 miles per hour on Sunday, leaving more than one million Louisiana utility customers are without power . The entire resort city of South Lake Tahoe was ordered to evacuate on Monday. More than 20 people were killed as flash floods in New York and New Jersey caused massive flooding.

Those who are living through one of these crises made worse by anthropogenic climate change , are likely consumed with survival — evacuating, cleaning out debris, rebuilding. On the other side of immediate safety concerns, however, is often a new resolve to combat the common factor in these disasters: Climate change. But the size of the problem can make meaningful action seem impossible.

Can a single person do anything to meaningfully contribute to climate change relief efforts? Most certainly, say climate change experts. Here are a few simple things you can do right now:

Talk about climate change with family and friends

Talk about climate change with the people in your life.

"Every great social justice movement started on the community level," Jasmine Sanders, executive director of Our Climate , a Washington DC-based youth advocacy organization, told CNBC. That can mean "sitting down with your family to have a conversation about climate change at the dinner table," she said.

So, too, said Jerome Ringo, the co-founder and chairman of climate innovation company Zoetic Global , former leader at the National Wildlife Federation, and global ambassador for the countdown Climate Clock . "Each one teach one," Ringo told CNBC. When you learn about climate change, pass that information on to your neighbor so they too are able to have a conversation with another person.

"I call them kitchen conversations where people begin to sit and talk," Ringo said. A casual conversation could lead to a group coming together and deciding to call their elected representatives or starting a neighborhood recycling program, he said.

Know the climate policies of your elected officials

Take the time to educate yourself about the climate-related stances of elected officials, Adrienne L. Hollis , climate justice and health scientist, told CNBC.

"Really become familiar with legislation around climate change, for example the executive orders from President Biden, and pieces of legislation that are proposed by various members of Congress," Hollis said. She focuses on issues of health, environmental justice and climate at her namesake Hollis Environmental Consulting and was previously at the Union of Concerned Scientists . "There are so many opportunities for the public to have input," Hollis said.

If this feels overwhelming to try on your own, join groups that are working on legislative issues already, she said. "People need to know about all of the tools that are available to them, and from that — what tools are needed and missing," she said. "Get involved locally, regionally and at the federal level."

And keep current on developments. "Knowledge and awareness are power," Sanders said. "Stay in the know of how climate change is impacting each of us by reading news on a daily basis and then use your superpower to affect change!"

Degrowth: Is it time to live better with less?

Vote for climate-conscious leaders

"The most important thing that individuals can do is vote, and vote on the climate," Michael E. Mann , professor of atmospheric science at Penn State and director of the Penn State  Earth System Science Center , told CNBC.

"What we really need is systematic change and policies that will rapidly decarbonize our economy, such as subsidies for renewable energy, carbon pricing, and blocking of new fossil fuel infrastructure. As individuals we can't do these things," said Mann, who is also the author of " The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet ."

Voting is the advice of Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University , too. Specifically, Wagner calls on individuals to "vote well." You may think that your vote doesn't really count, given that you're one voice among millions, but Wagner addresses that in an essay he wrote with the late Martin Weitzman .

"Get up and vote; it's the right thing to do. And don't just vote for the sake of voting. Vote as an informed citizen.  Vote well," Wagner and Weitzman write . " Vote for a cause larger than yourself. Vote for those who promise more than just to further their own agenda (or yours!). Vote for those who seek to look out for society at large."

Advocate for a price on carbon

"To have the most impact on fighting climate change, we need each and every individual to advocate for national and international policies that place a price and cap on carbon emissions," Jane Gilbert , the first ever Chief Heat Officer of Miami , told CNBC. 

The maverick tech billionaire Elon Musk said he supports the idea of a price on carbon , too. "My top recommendation, honestly, would be just add a carbon tax," Musk told  Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience  podcast in February. "The economy works great. Prices and money are just information. ... If the price is wrong, the economy doesn't do the right thing."

Musk said high concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere and environment are, economically speaking, an "unpriced externality." An externality happens when some consequence of production is not properly reflected in the market. In this case, it is a negative externality.

Those externalities have serious consequences. "Currently, the most vulnerable in our country and world are already paying the price of continuing business as usual," Gilbert said. "It's time to place that cost on the fuels itself and take away the land leasing and other subsidies to the fossil fuel industry," Gilbert said.

If a price on carbon were to be implemented, the money raised should be used to "address the inequities of short term price increases as we transition to a clean energy economy and to assist communities in adapting to and recovering from the impacts of climate change," Gilbert said. 

Cut your personal consumption

"Plant-based eating is a really positive climate influence," Elin Kelsey, author of " Hope Matters ," told CNBC in a phone conversation in August.

Around the globe, livestock are responsible for 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations . Cattle are the worst offenders, responsible for 65% of the emissions caused by all livestock.

"Whether you're a flexitarian or vegetarian or vegan, or pescatarian, whatever it is — just eating more plants is is a great direction to be going," Kelsey told CNBC.

Taking responsibility for our own carbon footprint can also mean traveling less said Chris Funk, director of the Climate Hazards Center at UC Santa Barbara and author of the new book, "Drought, Flood, Fire: How Climate Change Contributes to Catastrophes ."

"According to the EPA, transportation and electricity generation are the two biggest sources of U.S. emissions . Driving less, driving fuel-efficient vehicles, and flying less are straightforward ways that everyone can make a difference," Funk said 

Start a decarbonization plan at home, said Wagner . His own home greening journey was detailed by New York Magazine , and included everything from new insulation to adding a heat pump on the roof and rewiring the house to support it — and it cost over $100,000. But not every project needs to be so extensive.

"Many households can easily switch to an affordable renewable-oriented electricity plan, and improved insulation and windows make our homes climate-smart while saving us money," Funk said.

As with voting, Wagner provides a rebuke for the statisticians who are ready to provide proof their individual behavior doesn't matter. "Reducing your own carbon footprint to zero is a noble gesture, but it's less than a drop in the bucket. Quite literally: the standard U.S. bucket holds about 300,000 drops; but you are one in over 300,000,000 as an American, and you are one in seven billion as a human being," Wagner and Weitzman write .

"So why go green at all? Because it's the right thing to do. It's also how we learn the values that we have to apply on a much larger scale to tackle climate change," they write.

Also, your behaviors have an impact on those around you. "Recycle. Bike to work. Eat less meat. Maybe go all the way and turn vegetarian. Teach your kids to do the same, and to turn off the water while brushing their teeth. It's good for you. It's good for those around you. It's the right thing to do."

Identify your personal passion or talent and use it

"Do anything — anything at all," Wagner told CNBC. "That begins with talking about climate change. It also means doing what you do best. Students, study. Teachers, teach. Writers, write. Entrepreneurs, invent, build, ship! Whatever it is you do best, consider how climate change figures into it, and do that."

With a bit of research, you are likely to find a community of like-minded individuals, said Kelsey.

"What are you passionate about? What are you particularly great at....what do you do even if nobody wants you to do it, because you love it so much?" Kelsey told CNBC. "Finding out what really drives you, and recognizing that and then using that voice is the most effective thing to do. ... This individualization and recognizing our own emotional landscape, our own passions, that's where we do the most good, because those are the things we'll continue to do."

What it will take for the U.S. to build a 100% renewable electric grid

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Essay 05: Taking the fight to climate change – on time and on budget

Climate change isn’t just a scientific problem or a political challenge – it’s also a management issue. And there’s a lot project management can do to address the threats it poses.

climate change advocate essay

“ It is hard to find any evidence of an SPA for climate change, at either national or international levels

December 2015 saw virtually all the world’s nations sign an agreement, now ratified as legally binding, to limit the rise in the Earth’s ambient temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and preferably to just 1.5°C. Positive though this was, there was almost nothing on how countries planned to achieve this target, nor was there any requirement to monitor and report progress in achieving this goal.

Roughly 25% of OECD countries’ GDPs is delivered by projects. Developed in the US defence-aerospace sectors in the 1950s and 1960s, project management was initially largely sheltered from environmental issues. Over the years, however, there have been many examples of projects being knocked off course by environmental issues. In the 1990s, sustainability became mainstream practice. Now the focus is shifting to the more existential crisis of climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculates there is only a 50% chance of hitting the 2°C rise by 2030. To achieve this, everyone will have to cut CO2 emissions: six to four billion tonnes for developed countries – essentially halving their emissions; 15 to eight billion tonnes for developed countries. And of course things do not suddenly stabilise at 2030; we shall have to continue monitoring emission rates and, in fact, tighten targets further, to zero and into negative emissions. How can project management help in this? We can begin with the management of the overall effort, at national and international levels.

First, it can bring greater focus and drive through the creation of a ‘Single Point of Accountability’ (SPA). This is the place where all actions relevant to achieving a project’s objectives are focused. It is hard to find any evidence of an SPA for climate change, at either national or international levels.

A second fundamental support practice in project management is a PMO – a project or programme management office. At a minimum, this is the function that keeps information on the progress of projects being worked on, but it also acts as the keeper of best practices in the enterprise. Here, too, there is hardly anyone who has such a function for addressing climate change. The possibility exists, surely, for a pre-formed PMO to be prepared at the UN level down to help countries get started.

Climate change actions can be divided between those aimed at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, such as replacing ‘dirty’ power generation plants such as coal, with clean ones such as gas or renewables, and those addressed at adapting facilities to the consequences of climate change, such as flood management. Much, maybe the majority, of mitigation projects addressing carbon emissions are doing so on a business-as-usual basis – such as developing electric vehicles – possibly boosted by ‘change projects’ that focus additionally on behaviour and people skills.

At the other end of the mitigation spectrum, project management has a role in big R&D projects, particularly in the energy sector, notably carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear fusion. Many are investing a lot of hope in CCS, but there are technical, commercial and managerial issues, and so far CCS is not commercially viable. Hopes for fusion rest on a giant global project in France, Iter, which is late and over budget. We are still decades away from operational fusion.

Nuclear fission is really an adaptation technology. It is dirtier than fusion but is seen by most as a core response for meeting climate change goals. Yet the technological challenges are enormous: it is very, very expensive and, managerially, of world-class difficulty. The tortured negotiations between Électricité de France and the UK Government to build Hinkley Point C is proof of how complex the issues are.

Currently, we don’t have a plan for addressing climate change in the UK. We do have the National Adaptation Programme and a National Infrastructure Delivery Plan, but they are weak – little more than lists of risks and responsibilities. There is not the energy and drive needed to address the urgent challenges of climate change.

Project Management can, and is, contributing significantly in responding to climate change effectively. In doing so, it is revealing several areas of new development and promise in the discipline. That’s fortunate because climate change isn’t just a scientific problem or political challenge – it’s also a management issue. Project management integrates the work of other disciplines to deliver managed change effectively. And that’s what we need right now.

Professor Peter Morris was Head of the School of Construction & Project Management until August 2012. He is well-known as a leading authority on project management.

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6 ways ordinary people can prevent climate change, according to researchers and advocates

Image: The Wider Image: Journey to Antarctica: seals, penguins and glacial beauty

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a leading international body on climate change researchers, released an alarming report . The study found that countries around the world have just 12 years to reduce global warming before it reaches catastrophic levels.

Now that we know time may be running out, the question is: What can we do about it?

Understand how climate change will impact you

If current global temperatures rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the report suggests, the warming atmosphere will create more extreme weather patterns across the U.S., according to Ben Strauss, chief scientist of Climate Central, an organization that reports on climate change. He says people across the country can expect hotter summers and milder winters, which will have a direct impact on food crops and the survival of wildlife.

“It’s getting hotter, so we can expect many more days above 90 degrees or 95 degrees, depending on where you live,” says Strauss.

In the West, continued wildfires will have a direct impact on air quality and human health, according to Strauss. In the Southwest, he says droughts will lead to water scarcity, while the East and Midwest will experience more torrential rainstorms. Strauss says people in eastern coastal areas, especially in low-lying communities, will see more flooding due to heavier and longer-lasting hurricanes, which will have an impact on the value of their homes. In the Northeast, he says, warmer weather will bring more tick and mosquito-born illnesses . The region will see fewer snowstorms, but the storms will become more intense due to increased moisture in the air.

One thing will surely impact people equally across the country, according to the scientist: intensifying summer heat. “Many more days that are danger days in terms of human health and that are ‘black flag’ days — you get to a certain combination of heat and humidity,” Strauss says.

What can we do?

Focus on solutions, according to Crystal Chissell , a vice president for Project Drawdown, a coalition of researchers and scientists who are working on climate change solutions.

Chissell says reports of impending doom tend to cause ordinary people to feel hopeless and to shut down .

“We will get a lot further toward solving the problem if we focus on solutions rather than continuing to highlight the problem,” Chissell says.

Project Drawdown recently put together a report highlighting 30 behavioral solutions ordinary people can take to combat climate change. The top three include wasting less food , adopting a plant-rich diet and consuming less energy and water.

climate change advocate essay

Get Involved How to be an activist for causes you believe in

6 things you can do to combat climate change, according to advocacy groups, 1) waste less food.

Methane from agricultural actives, waste management, and energy use is the second largest cause of climate change behind fossil fuels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Reducing food waste is the number-one thing consumers can do to significantly lessen their climate impact, according to the Project Drawdown report.

“Food that is disposed of and spoiled creates methane, and that’s why it has an impact on greenhouse gases, because methane is such a strong greenhouse gas,” Chissell says. “And that’s why reducing food waste has such a large impact.”

Food waste occurs when we don’t buy produce because it has blemishes or is misshapen, when we discard food because it is a day past the expiration date, or because we simply never get around to eating it, she says.

2) Eat less factory-farmed red meat

Factory farms feed cows grains, which cause them to release methane into the air through their gases, says Chissell.

“It’s not actually natural to their digestive system so it creates more methane,” Chissell explains.

Chissell says adopting a plant-rich diet , and eating more meat from organic farms where animals are fed natural diets, can help reduce methane. “It’s not even necessary to be a vegan or a vegetarian,” she says, “it’s just reducing the amount of meat that we consume and eating plant-based [foods].”

3) Consume less energy and water

“It’s absolutely imperative to also reduce energy usage,” says Chissell. “For instance, switching to LED light bulbs — that has a very large impact, as does any measure that can reduce household water use.”

There are a number of actions you can take to reduce water consumption, according to Chissell, including purchasing low-flow shower heads and sink faucets, taking shorter showers and washing full loads of laundry.

4) Call and meet with your representatives

Constituents who do the extra legwork of calling and meeting with their representatives have a huge influence, according to Flannery Winchester, communications coordinator at Citizens' Climate Lobby, a non-partisan advocacy organization that focuses on national policies that address climate change.

“If they’re not communicating with the people who are elected to represent them, then those people are not going to be prioritizing those issues,” Winchester says.

Many people believe their elected officials won’t be swayed by their concerns, says Winchester. But when people actively lobby their representatives, she says, change does happen.

For example, Winchester says voters influenced both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to come together to create the the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group focused on climate change solutions.

“Things really are moving,” says Winchester, “and it’s because people are taking the time to talk to their members of Congress.”

5) Open a dialogue and find common ground

While there is major consensus among scientists that climate change is happening, some people may still doubt it’s real, or see climate change policies as “job killers,” according to Winchester.

How people talk to others about climate change is important to solving the problem, Winchester says. She says it’s imperative to avoid arguing about climate change as if it is a partisan issue.

“Really listen, ask open-ended questions and focus on finding common ground ,” Winchester advises. For instance, if someone fears climate change policy will hurt coal industry jobs, re-focus the conversation on how climate change policies can create jobs, she says.

“Focusing on the common ground is the main thing that’s going to make it possible for you to introduce new information into the conversation, because they don’t feel like you’re fighting with them,” Winchester says.

6) Volunteer

A big way to be a part of the solution is to join a nonprofit organization where you live that focuses on helping the environment. Many of these organizations have membership opportunities in states and congressional districts across the country.

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Essay on Climate Change: Check Samples in 100, 250 Words

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climate change advocate essay

Writing an essay on climate change is crucial to raise awareness and advocate for action. The world is facing environmental challenges, so in a situation like this such essay topics can serve as s platform to discuss the causes, effects, and solutions to this pressing issue. They offer an opportunity to engage readers in understanding the urgency of mitigating climate change for the sake of our planet’s future.

Must Read: Essay On Environment  

This Blog Includes:

What is climate change, what are the causes of climate change, what are the effects of climate change, how to fight climate change, essay on climate change in 100 words, climate change sample essay 250 words.

Climate change is the significant variation of average weather conditions becoming, for example, warmer, wetter, or drier—over several decades or longer. It may be natural or anthropogenic. However, in recent times, it’s been in the top headlines due to escalations caused by human interference.

Obama at the First Session of COP21 rightly quoted “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”.Identifying the causes of climate change is the first step to take in our fight against climate change. Below stated are some of the causes of climate change:

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Mainly from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy and transportation.
  • Deforestation: The cutting down of trees reduces the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.
  • Industrial Processes: Certain manufacturing activities release potent greenhouse gases.
  • Agriculture: Livestock and rice cultivation emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Climate change poses a huge risk to almost all life forms on Earth. The effects of climate change are listed below:

  • Global Warming: Increased temperatures due to trapped heat from greenhouse gases.
  • Melting Ice and Rising Sea Levels: Ice caps and glaciers melt, causing oceans to rise.
  • Extreme Weather Events: More frequent and severe hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires.
  • Ocean Acidification: Oceans absorb excess CO2, leading to more acidic waters harming marine life.
  • Disrupted Ecosystems: Shifting climate patterns disrupt habitats and threaten biodiversity.
  • Food and Water Scarcity: Altered weather affects crop yields and strains water resources.
  • Human Health Risks: Heat-related illnesses and the spread of diseases.
  • Economic Impact: Damage to infrastructure and increased disaster-related costs.
  • Migration and Conflict: Climate-induced displacement and resource competition.

‘Climate change is a terrible problem, and it absolutely needs to be solved. It deserves to be a huge priority,’ says Bill Gates. The below points highlight key actions to combat climate change effectively.

  • Energy Efficiency: Improve energy efficiency in all sectors.
  • Protect Forests: Stop deforestation and promote reforestation.
  • Sustainable Agriculture: Adopt eco-friendly farming practices.
  • Advocacy: Raise awareness and advocate for climate-friendly policies.
  • Innovation: Invest in green technologies and research.
  • Government Policies: Enforce climate-friendly regulations and targets.
  • Corporate Responsibility: Encourage sustainable business practices.
  • Individual Action: Reduce personal carbon footprint and inspire others.

Climate change refers to long-term alterations in Earth’s climate patterns, primarily driven by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation, which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat, leading to global warming. The consequences of climate change are widespread and devastating. Rising temperatures cause polar ice caps to melt, contributing to sea level rise and threatening coastal communities. Extreme weather events, like hurricanes and wildfires, become more frequent and severe, endangering lives and livelihoods. Additionally, shifts in weather patterns can disrupt agriculture, leading to food shortages. To combat climate change, global cooperation, renewable energy adoption, and sustainable practices are crucial for a more sustainable future.

Must Read: Essay On Global Warming

Climate change represents a pressing global challenge that demands immediate attention and concerted efforts. Human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, have significantly increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This results in a greenhouse effect, trapping heat and leading to a rise in global temperatures, commonly referred to as global warming.

The consequences of climate change are far-reaching and profound. Rising sea levels threaten coastal communities, displacing millions and endangering vital infrastructure. Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires, have become more frequent and severe, causing devastating economic and human losses. Disrupted ecosystems affect biodiversity and the availability of vital resources, from clean water to agricultural yields.

Moreover, climate change has serious implications for food and water security. Changing weather patterns disrupt traditional farming practices and strain freshwater resources, potentially leading to conflicts over access to essential commodities.

Addressing climate change necessitates a multifaceted approach. First, countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through the transition to renewable energy sources, increased energy efficiency, and reforestation efforts. International cooperation is crucial to set emission reduction targets and hold nations accountable for meeting them.

In conclusion, climate change is a global crisis with profound and immediate consequences. Urgent action is needed to mitigate its impacts and secure a sustainable future for our planet. By reducing emissions and implementing adaptation strategies, we can protect vulnerable communities, preserve ecosystems, and ensure a livable planet for future generations. The time to act is now.

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in Earth’s climate patterns, primarily driven by human activities like burning fossil fuels and deforestation.

Five key causes of climate change include excessive greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, notably burning fossil fuels and deforestation. 

We hope this blog gave you an idea about how to write and present an essay on climate change that puts forth your opinions. The skill of writing an essay comes in handy when appearing for standardized language tests. Thinking of taking one soon? Leverage Edu provides the best online test prep for the same via Leverage Live . Register today to know more!

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Outcomes from COP28: What next to accelerate climate action?

We arrived at this year’s COP28 amid growing evidence that the world has not been transitioning sufficiently fast to meet the 1.5˚C target agreed in Paris. Our research had convinced us that a successful net-zero transition would require achieving not just one objective but four interdependent ones: emissions reduction, affordability, reliability, and industrial competitiveness.

Now, with COP28 concluded, we leave Dubai with a strong sense that progress toward decarbonization is indeed happening—but, to have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5˚C, more ambition is needed, as well a focus on converting pledges to measurable action. According to an estimate by the International Energy Agency , full delivery of the energy-related pledges made at COP28 would result in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2030 being about four metric gigatons (Gt) less than would be expected without them (with further potential from non-energy pledges and from other initiatives such as the coal transition credits mentioned below). However, the IEA also estimates that reductions totaling 22 Gt will be needed to limit warming to 1.5˚C.

Negotiations at COP28 concluded with the “UAE Consensus”. One notable element of which was the agreement on a global “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly, and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.” This is the first time that fossil fuels have been collectively mentioned in a COP agreement, although there was a commitment to “phase down unabated coal power” at COP26.

As with other COP outcomes, the agreement is non-binding, and the mechanisms for implementing this commitment will be critical. However, including this language in the COP agreement is expected to trigger initiatives and actions at future COPs, and intended to spur “real-world” action by companies and other stakeholders. Methane provides one example of how this can work: at COP26, countries signed the Global Methane Pledge and committed to reducing methane by 2030. At COP28, there were significant moves to translate this pledge into real action and company-level commitments, as described below. In addition, COP28 negotiations resulted in an agreement to implement a Loss and Damage Fund, which will direct funding toward countries most vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather events, including droughts, flooding, and rising seas. Eighteen countries have now committed to the fund, with $792 million pledged .

While the official negotiations were under way, COP28 also saw climate actions taken across all elements of the transition, including a major contribution by the private sector. Still, much more needs to be done to ensure that the transition will accelerate and be executed in a way that considers the socioeconomic effects of different pathways. In hundreds of conversations in Dubai, executives discussed collaborative actions they can take to accelerate climate action and growth.

Here, we summarize ten COP28 takeaways for leaders. Through bold action, they can accelerate progress—so that it can be measured in months not decades.

Takeaways for leaders

Net zero remains an organizing principle for private-sector leaders, who almost universally recognize the need to accelerate action.

Judging by both attendance at COP28 and new decarbonization commitments from sectors including oil and gas and agriculture, the imperative to reduce emissions is increasingly understood. More than 80,000 delegates attended from nearly every country, including more than 160 heads of state and more than 700 CEOs, making it the largest such gathering to date. This year, for the first time, COP included the Business & Philanthropy Climate Forum, which convened more than 1,200 private-sector and philanthropic leaders to drive climate action. Meanwhile, the new Giving to Amplify Earth Action (GAEA) initiative aims to use the tools of philanthropy to increase corporate and public action on climate and nature. Discussions at COP centred on strategies to accelerate climate action and growth, with a move away from new long-term commitments and pledges and toward taking action and accelerating the rate of change.

The world will need to run two energy systems in parallel, rapidly scaling up the new zero/low carbon one …

Leaders committed to tripling renewables by 2030, doubling energy-efficiency improvement rates, and establishing new standards to unlock global trade in hydrogen. Furthermore, countries that currently account for two-thirds of global nuclear energy production committed to tripling nuclear capacity by 2050. These commitments would require an unprecedented scale-up of capacity: annual additions of renewables of about 1,000 gigawatts (versus the current 440) and a quadrupling of current annual nuclear capacity additions. Hyperscaling climate technologies (including enablers such as long duration energy storage and low-emission or zero-emission turbines) and renewables deployment will be essential to building out the new energy system. Several actions could speed the process and remove bottlenecks , including faster permitting, new incentives, and increased accessibility to common resources such as land, materials, and labor.

… while also decarbonizing the existing energy system.

In addition to scaling renewables, an important step is to reduce Scope 1 & 2 emissions (emissions from production, not use) from fossil fuel operations as far as possible. Estimates suggest that such emissions of methane from oil and gas operations could be reduced by 35 percent at nearly no net cost. At COP, 50 companies that together account for more than 40 percent of global oil and gas production signed the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter. The signatories committed to net-zero operations by 2050 across Scope 1 & 2 emissions, near-zero methane in upstream operations by 2030, zero routine flaring by 2030, and increased transparency in emissions reporting.

Methane is a critical focus of emission reduction efforts. The next step is to convert this to measurable action.

At this year’s COP, methane emerged as a major theme, with countries including the United States and the European Union committing to address their own methane emissions and the World Bank committing to launch at least 15 country-level methane programs. Methane is a super polluter and the second-largest driver of global warming, with 84 times more warming potential than CO2 over a 20-year period. Our research shows that five industries accounting for 98 percent of methane emissions—agriculture, oil and gas, coal mining, solid-waste management, and wastewater management— could reduce these emissions by 20 percent by 2030 and 46 percent by 2050, largely with established abatement technologies and at a reasonable cost.

Widespread acknowledgement of the need to cut methane emissions by 2030 has led to new commitments to reduce methane emissions across the oil and gas, food, and waste sectors. Methane emissions from oil and gas operations contribute around 10 percent to global emissions of all GHGs, and the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter mentioned above commits companies to reaching near-zero methane by 2030. With full industry participation, this initiative would eliminate about two GtCO2e emissions by 2030. Alongside this company-led initiative, the United States unveiled new regulations to cut oil and gas methane emissions by 80 percent by 2030. There was also some progress on reducing agricultural methane, with six large food companies with $200 billion in annual sales launching the Dairy Methane Action Alliance . This commits them to disclose methane from dairy production and launch a public action plan by 2024.

The finance system is integrating net zero with new financing commitments and mechanisms. However, a $41 trillion funding gap remains .

COP28 saw more than $80 billion in climate finance commitments from countries, development banks, private sources, and philanthropists. This level of financing is below what is needed, but there are real opportunities for this committed investment to spur additional financing for the transition, including through new finance channels. There were pivots at COP28 towards scaling blended-finance structures (including the UAE-financed private investment vehicle Alterra , among several others), which can help unlock investments that may not previously have been attractive to private capital. The aim is for such structures to “crowd in” private capital to climate finance and thereby reduce reliance on multilateral development banks.

Several agreements were reached in other areas at COP28. These included the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund; a joint framework aimed at ensuring the integrity of voluntary carbon markets; and new coal transition credits. Coal-Fired Power Plants (CFPPs) are responsible for 27 percent of CO2 emissions from fuel consumption, and the new coal “transition credit” launched by Coal to Clean Credit Initiative (CCCI) to incentivize the early retirement of CFPPs and the transition to clean energy in emerging economies.

The critical technologies for net-zero are available. The challenge now is to accelerate deployment, including by building new green businesses.

Ninety percent of CO 2 abatement required for net-zero targets could be achieved using already proven climate technologies. In the last decade, deployment of these technologies has accelerated significantly, often outpacing expectations: for example, solar and wind power now account for more than 10 percent of electricity generation and over 80 percent of new electricity-generating capacity. But more acceleration is still needed, both for renewables and for the range of other climate technologies, which are largely interdependent. Each critical technology must grow at more than 20 percent annually over the next decade, rapidly reaching commercial maturity as well as technological readiness.

At COP28, several announcements aimed to build on this momentum. For example, 39 countries endorsed the UAE Hydrogen Declaration of Intent, agreeing to implement a global hydrogen certification standard. Some 30 leaders in shipping also signed a joint commitment to enable the use of renewable hydrogen-derived shipping fuel this decade to meet shipping emissions targets. To accelerate further, stakeholders will need to address a range of system-level challenges to full-scale deployment. These could be tackled by creating at-scale supply chains and support infrastructure; embracing effective capital reallocation and financing structures; and addressing bottlenecks in permitting, land, materials, and labor. For example, the supply of metals required by climate technology is likely to increase fivefold over the next decade, while labor in energy sectors may need to quadruple by 2030. Scaling up will require increased access to these resources across technology types.

Heavy-emissions sectors are deploying capital and accelerating their path to decarbonization.

Heavy-emissions sectors—energy, transport, and industry—are innovating, investing, and collaborating in new ways to reduce emissions and move toward net zero, but more needs to be done. Given that these industries currently consume an estimated 78 percent of global energy demand, decarbonizing them is essential to achieving a system-wide transition away from fossil fuels. The Industrial Transition Accelerator aims to scale implementation and delivery of decarbonization in the steel, aluminum, cement, transportation, and energy sectors, while government and business made multiple pledges aiming to make near-zero building the norm by 2030, such as the Buildings Breakthrough , the Cement & Concrete Breakthrough , and the Green Public Procurement Pledge .

Action on climate alone is insufficient without also addressing nature and other planetary boundaries.

McKinsey research has shown that “planetary boundaries” are at breaking point , exceeded in four of nine vital dimensions. There were some steps in the right direction at COP28, which supported the “30x30” target of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework agreed in 2022. However, significantly more is required, and this area is likely to come under increasing scrutiny as we move towards COP30 in the Amazon.

At COP28, countries and businesses worked to unlock funding for nature, improve conservation, expand nature-based solutions, and secure the co-benefits of inclusive investment in nature. Nature has risen up the agenda with a recognition that preserving and restoring natural capital is inseparable from climate actions, given the natural world’s role as a carbon sink that can absorb emissions and excess heat. More than 30 companies committed to 100 percent Sustainable Ocean Management by 2030. This initiative establishes a funding vehicle to finance ocean plans and will contribute to the Ocean and Coral Reef Breakthroughs. Our research suggests that, while carbon remains the main focus, global companies are paying more attention to nature and natural capital, with increasing numbers making commitments to take action or setting specific targets across a number of dimensions, including water, biodiversity, and chemicals and plastics. About one in five of the Fortune Global 500 companies now tracks three or more dimensions of nature in their reporting.

Adaptation is now a critical ingredient in climate action, with countries and companies starting to take real action on health, water, food, and nature.

Climate change is already having serious impacts on lives and livelihoods around the world, and its effects are expected to become more severe in coming years. COP28 saw significant agreements on nature, health, food, and water systems, and further negotiations on adaptation are expected to be a focus at COP29 in Baku.

Among the highlights: more than 130 prime ministers and presidents from countries accounting for 75 percent of food-based GHG emissions signed a Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action , for the first time committing to adapting and transforming their food systems as part of climate action and setting relevant targets in their national plans for 2025. In the first action of its kind at a COP, 123 countries signed the UAE Climate and Health Declaration to “place health at the heart of climate action” and support the development of climate-resilient, sustainable, and equitable health systems. Finally, for water, more than 30 countries signed up to the Freshwater Challenge , a commitment to set targets to preserve freshwater ecosystems and include them in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). Next steps on adaptation can be grouped into four categories: a climate risk management mindset; technological and behavioral adaptation levers; economic and societal adjustments; and governance, institutional support, and commitment.

There are actions which leaders could take to accelerate progress and create value in the transition.

  • Companies and industries can accelerate decarbonization of existing assets and value chains for economically viable results—starting today. Companies that already have zero-carbon products can leverage supply and demand gaps in nascent markets and build their business case by factoring green premiums into cost calculations and fueling additional growth. While decarbonization still requires significant investment and leads to additional cost for many industries, we increasingly see examples where companies that are reducing their costs as well as their emissions can gain market share, enabling them to finance decarbonization initiatives. This can be achieved by leveraging new technologies or systematically identifying net present value positive measures.
  • Incumbents, investors, and start-ups can power up climate technologies and hyperscale new green businesses, creating innovations that make the transition more affordable. Surging demand for zero-carbon technologies, materials, and services create opportunities for companies to build new green businesses. Our research shows that by 2030 demand for green technologies could generate up to $12 trillion in yearly revenues . But the maturity levels of climate technologies vary. Sector players can turn to obvious, commercially ready technologies, ranging from heat pumps to battery electric vehicles. But they could also identify and focus on a new wave of maturing technologies, which will require rapid and steep cost reductions to scale.
  • The financial sector can play a major role in helping to facilitate and deploy the significant capital investment which new climate technologies require. Three types of funds in particular will be needed: green-transition funds that invest in innovations to transform incumbents in hard-to-abate sectors; industrial venture capital willing to take technology risks in order to scale; and infrastructure growth funds. Our research suggests that, contingent on a supportive environment, private financial institutions could facilitate as much as $3.5 trillion of annual financing between 2022 and 2050. Commercial banks could provide $2 trillion to $2.6 trillion a year, while asset managers, private equity, and venture capital funds could add $950 billion to $1.5 trillion. The task for all financial actors is to harness this opportunity while navigating significant strategic and operational demands in the context of evolving operating environments.
  • Take action to ensure the transition to net zero is equitable and inclusive. Dialogue amongst climate leaders underscored the need to rigorously assess the socio-economic implications of the transition. Tools are emerging to measure the implications of the net-zero transition. For example, an emerging climate-transition impact framework that we have developed in concert with more than 60 organizations examines more than 50 metrics across five dimensions: affordable energy access; investment requirement; jobs impact; growth and competitiveness; and lived environment and health. This approach allows decision makers to compare the potential socioeconomic effects of different climate action pathways and helps to quantify and de-mystify the dialogue on an inclusive transition.
  • Early movers can explore how to create value in the nature and biodiversity transition. Nature-positive is becoming the new net zero. In the agriculture sector, for example, leaders can start the nature-positive journey today by focusing on powerful levers such as regenerative agriculture, agroforestry, water-efficiency, and manure management techniques.
  • Create new forms of collaboration between and across sectors. One such form of partnership brings together public and private sectors and philanthropic organizations to tackle large-scale climate and nature challenges that individual actors would struggle to address. More than 50 such collaborations have emerged in recent years. Their objectives range widely, from changing the dynamics of land degradation in Latin America and the Caribbean to improving the air quality in London. For all their successes, these examples bring to light significant challenges in defining and executing such partnerships—but also suggest paths forward.

About McKinsey Sustainability

Sustainability is a mission-critical priority for McKinsey and we have been helping our clients decarbonize, build climate resilience, and address sustainability challenges for more than a decade. McKinsey Sustainability is the firm’s client-service platform with that aims to help all industry sectors reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and the world reach the goals aligned with the Paris agreement. We aspire to become the largest private sector catalyst for decarbonization and partner with companies from all parts of the global economy, including high emitters, to help them innovate, reduce emissions, and transition to sustainable growth models. In the past two years, we have invested more than $400 million toward our $1 billion commitment by 2025 to help our clients tackle the climate crisis. We do this by leveraging our thought leadership, innovative tools and solutions, leading expertise, and vibrant ecosystem of collaborators to lead a wave of innovation and economic growth that safeguards our planet and advances sustainability. www.mckinsey.com/sustainability

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Guest Essay

Don’t Flee the American Southwest Just Yet

A black and white photo of a U-Haul truck stopped on the side of the road in a desert. A person’s legs are poking out of the open door of the truck.

By Tom Zoellner

Mr. Zoellner is a journalist and a fifth-generation Arizonan.

This summer, when the temperature hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit or above in Phoenix for 31 straight days , many were fretting about the Southwest’s prospects in the age of climate change. A writer for The Atlantic asked , “When Will the Southwest Become Unlivable?” Bloomberg wondered , “How Long Can We Keep Living in Hotboxes Like Phoenix?”

The foregone conclusion seemed to be that the region was heading for a crash — destined to become an overpopulated, unlivable dead zone, plagued by ranch foreclosures , unemployment, water wars and heat deaths.

As a writer who has studied the Southwest’s history and spoken to some of its top environmental experts this year, I see its future differently — not as a hellscape but as an opportunity for centuries of climate ingenuity and adaptation to be put to good use. For generations, the people who were determined to come here have found ways to cope and even thrive.

The Hohokam people dug extensive networks of canals along the Salt River, while the science-minded Hopi up north grew corn in the arid lowlands. A later generation of Americans built a chain of megadams on the Colorado and other rivers to create a dependable supply of water for households and crops. My great-great-grandmother used to dip bedsheets into a canal and hang them on the sides of the porch of her Phoenix boardinghouse to create a primitive cooling system for sleeping outside in the hottest months.

While our era of shrinking water resources and rising temperatures will undoubtedly test Southwestern states, the question is not when will this region become unlivable. It is: Are we willing to make certain adjustments to live on a new hotter and drier frontier?

The biggest vulnerability may lie in what has traditionally been the biggest strength for the Southwest, at least in economic terms. The low-service and low-tax philosophy of state and local governments, combined with an abundance of former cowboy ranges, made places like Arizona and Nevada a haven for those who couldn’t afford homes in California and Hawaii. Fortune 500 homebuilders stamped out tens of thousands of identical houses with tile roofs faster than Liberty ships in wartime, and the booming exurbs with loose zoning gave the Phoenix metro area a geographical footprint more than twice the size of Kuwait.

But even before July’s heat dome settled over Phoenix, Arizona was being forced to reconsider its pedal-to-metal economic model that has kept the state growing for the past seven decades, after state officials said they would limit building permits for new housing in some areas because of groundwater shortages.

It’s not just groundwater that’s stressed: Consistent lack of snowpack in the Rocky Mountains has thinned out the Colorado River’s flow, upon which 40 million people in seven states depend . After calling on states to make major cuts in their water use, the Interior Department recently agreed to pay jurisdictions in Nevada, California and Arizona a total of $1.2 billion to use less river water in the next three years. A majority of the reduction will come from farmers raising cattle food like alfalfa and hay, the biggest water gobblers of the Southwest.

And as the water crisis grows more dire, the federal and state governments are likely to have to pay off more farmers to have enough water left over to sustain the Southwest’s cities. “There’s no way you can have 400 farmers in the Imperial Valley taking all the water away from Phoenix and the L.A. basin,” according to Brad Udall, a climate research scientist at Colorado State University. As water resource managers like to say, the Southwest’s cities could disappear tomorrow and there would still be a water shortage, thanks to the thirsty farms and hungry cows. One way or another, desert agriculture must shrink and adapt to what remains.

But there’s reason for hope. Take Arizona, a state that’s often seen as the epicenter of the crisis because of its steep population growth and the fact that many of the same Arizona counties attracting new residents at a record pace are also the most water starved , experiencing severe droughts far out of proportion to the rest of the country. In spite of this, many environmental experts in Arizona are relatively sanguine about its future because of all the progress it’s made over the last 50 years to conserve its water supply.

Because of a reduction in farmland acreage and better household conservation, Arizona now uses 3 percent less water than it did in 1957, despite having a population that’s mushroomed more than 555 percent since then. Paradoxically enough, the steady march of master-planned communities to the horizon — an Arizona cliché — provides big hydrological savings because of the conversion of water-guzzling farmland into more parsimonious suburban uses, Sarah Porter, the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, told me.

We now use treated wastewater on golf courses and parks. Phoenix is already building a facility to turn wastewater into high-quality drinking water by 2030. And Southwestern cities have an exceptionally simple solution for curbing residential water use: Charge more for it in the summers. After Phoenix started using this powerful incentive, the number of homes with front or back lawns went down from nearly 80 percent in the 1970s to about 10 percent today, according to Kathryn Sorensen, a former Water Services director for the city. “That’s a wholesale cultural change,” she said.

In some crucial ways, Arizona will actually be better able to adapt to climate change than many coastal areas of the country. For instance, the cost of building sea walls for U.S. coastal regions will be at least $400 billion , according to the Center for Climate Integrity, while squeezing water out of a desert landscape is relatively cheap in comparison. The only necessary ingredient is political willpower. Public agencies will capture and bank more stormwater in the ground for aquifer recharge, for example, and they can require residents to cover their backyard swimming pools to cut down on evaporation.

The historic adaptability of the Southwest can be applied in multiple other ways. Cities can reduce the heat-island effect by planting more street trees and even small forests that capture carbon. They can mandate reflective coatings on roofs and asphalt, encourage low-flow showers and toilets and discourage residential lawns, as Las Vegas has done. Tougher zoning codes on the county level can stem the runaway growth of what firefighters call suicide subdivisions built on the edge of drying forests vulnerable to wildfire.

States and cities must also invest in more emergency cooling shelters to protect the homeless and the residents of mobile home parks on the worst days. “There’s many ways we can adjust to a changing climate,” Peter Schlosser, the director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at Arizona State University, told me. “It doesn’t mean we have to leave the area.”

I think the Southwest will retain its essential characteristic as a tough frontier. Those who want to enjoy it will adapt accordingly, just as they did in previous centuries.

Tom Zoellner is a journalist and the author of “Rim to River: Looking Into the Heart of Arizona.”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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Biden’s hydrogen tax credit unveiled as administration tries to jump start industry

FILE - Hydrogen storage tanks are visible at the Iberdrola green hydrogen plant in Puertollano, central Spain, March 28, 2023. The Biden administration on Friday, Dec. 22, released its highly anticipated proposal for how the U.S. plans to dole out tax credits to hydrogen producers. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

FILE - Hydrogen storage tanks are visible at the Iberdrola green hydrogen plant in Puertollano, central Spain, March 28, 2023. The Biden administration on Friday, Dec. 22, released its highly anticipated proposal for how the U.S. plans to dole out tax credits to hydrogen producers. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration released its highly anticipated proposal for doling out billions of dollars in tax credits to hydrogen producers Friday, in a massive effort to build out an industry that some hope can be a cleaner alternative to fossil fueled power.

The U.S. credit is the most generous in the world for hydrogen production, Jesse Jenkins, a professor at Princeton University who has analyzed the U.S. climate law, said last week.

The proposal — which is part of Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act passed last year — outlines a tiered system to determine which hydrogen producers get the most credits, with cleaner energy projects receiving more, and smaller, but still meaningful credits going to those that use fossil fuel to produce hydrogen.

Administration officials estimate the hydrogen production credits will deliver $140 billion in revenue and 700,000 jobs by 2030 — and will help the U.S. produce 50 million metric tons of hydrogen by 2050.

A man climbs out from the icy sea to the pier, in southern Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024. Finland and Sweden have recorded this winter’s cold records on Tuesday as a temperatures plummeted to over minus 40 degrees as a result of a cold spell prevailing in the Nordic region. (Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva via AP)

“That’s equivalent to the amount of energy currently used by every bus, every plane, every train and every ship in the US combined,” Energy Deputy Secretary David M. Turk said on a Thursday call with reporters to preview the proposal.

That may be a useful metric for comparison, but it’s a long way from reality. Buses, planes, trains and ships run on liquid fuels for which a delivery infrastructure exists, and no such system exists to deliver cleanly-made hydrogen to the places where it could most help address climate change. Those include steel, cement and plastics factories.

Hydrogen is being developed around the world as an energy source for sectors of the economy like that which emit massive greenhouse gases, yet are difficult to electrify, such as long-haul transportation and industrial manufacturing. It can be made by splitting water with solar, wind, nuclear or geothermal electricity yielding little if any planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Most hydrogen today is not made this way and does contribute to climate change because it is made from natural gas. About 10 million metric tons of hydrogen is currently produced in the United States each year, primarily for petroleum refining and ammonia production.

As part of the administration’s proposal, firms that produce cleaner hydrogen and meet prevailing wage and registered apprenticeship requirements stand to qualify for a large incentive at $3 per kilogram of hydrogen. Firms that produce hydrogen using fossil fuels get less.

The credit ranges from $.60 to $3 per kilo, depending on whole lifecycle emissions.

One contentious issue in the proposal was how to deal with the fact that clean, electrolyzer hydrogen draws tremendous amounts of electricity. Few want that to mean that more coal or natural gas-fired power plants run extra hours. The guidance addresses this by calling for producers to document their electricity usage through “energy attribute certificates” — which will help determine the credits they qualify for.

Rachel Fakhry, policy director for emerging technologies at the Natural Resources Defense Council called the proposal “a win for the climate, U.S. consumers, and the budding U.S. hydrogen industry.” The Clean Air Task Force likewise called the proposal “an excellent step toward developing a credible clean hydrogen market in the United States.”

But Marty Durbin, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for policy, said the guidance released today “will stunt the growth of a critical industry before it has even begun” and his organization plans to advocate during the public comment process “for the flexibility needed to kickstart investment, create jobs and economic growth, and meet our decarbonization goals.”

He accused the White House of failing to listen to its own experts at the Department of Energy.

The American Petroleum Institute said in a statement that “hydrogen of all types” is needed and urged the administration to foster more flexibility for hydrogen expansion, not less.

The Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association includes more than 100 members involved in hydrogen production, distribution and use, including vehicle manufacturers, industrial gas companies, renewable developers and nuclear plant operators. Frank Wolak, the association’s president, said it’s important the industry be given time to meet any provisions that are required for the top tier of the credit.

“What we can’t have is is an industry that is stalled because we have imposed requirements that the marketplace is not ready to fulfill,” Wolak said, particularly with the time it takes to bring new renewable resources online.

If the guidance is too restrictive, he said, “you’ll see a much smaller, if not negligible growth in this industry and a failed opportunity to capitalize on the IRA.”

Other industry representatives welcomed the proposal.

Chuck Schmitt, president of SSAB Americas — a supplier of steel plates— said the proposal “supports SSAB’s leadership and innovation in the decarbonization of the steel industry. This clarifying language will help drive new technology investment and create clean energy jobs in the United States.”

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here . The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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