Don't Lose Heart on Global Climate Action
Updated: Nov 30, 2021
How and why to keep your inspiration and action going amidst inadequate national commitments
If you’ve been following the news lately, then you may know some of what’s been happening at the UN Climate Summit (COP26) in Glasgow. As I’ve read the various newsletters and articles from organizations and people I follow (like Bill McKibben, 350.org, WRI, Washington Post Climate & Environment) I have been on a roller coaster of Yays and Boos. (note: I grew up in the Bahamas and as kids we played a game called Yay-Boo.)
Yay: Over 140 countries submitted updated 2030 climate plans, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs), under the Paris Climate Agreement before COP26. The G20 nations also agreed that national climate action needs to be ramped up this decade and will enhance their 2030 emission reduction targets in places.
Boo: China and India and Russia all set net-zero emission targets late in the mid-century, in 2060 and 2070. This is too late to keep the temperature rise to 1.5C. The Washington Post recently reported that many countries under-report their greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations. The Washington Post examined 196 country reports and their results show a giant gap between what nations declare their emissions to be and what they actually send into the atmosphere. They report, “the gap ranges from at least 8.5 billion to as high as 13.3 billion tons a year of under-reported emissions — big enough to move the needle on how much the Earth will warm.” Without accurate data, the world’s climate action plans and road maps will be flawed.
Yay: All together, countries covering over 70% of global emissions now have set net-zero emissions targets through law, in policy documents, or as a clear political pledge.
Boo: Overall, countries’ announcements were light on significant action this decade. Achieving net-zero in the coming decades won’t be possible without strong 2030 emission reduction targets. Current commitments don’t yet add up to what we need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C.
Yay: More than 100 countries, including Brazil — representing over 85% of the world’s forests — have pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. They have also agreed to provide $19.2 billion in public and private funding for this effort.
Boo: Previous pledges to halt deforestation have been unsuccessful in reversing the increase in forest loss, including the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests. In that declaration, 40 countries pledged to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030. We are no where near the target set. Countries now need to act radically, which may not be politically feasible, like in Brazil, where the President has been supportive of deforestation in the Amazon. Brazil in not on track to meet its goal of net-zero by 2050.
Yay: G20 nations agreed to stop financing coal power abroad.
Boo: These same countries are still financing coal-fired plants in their own countries. Building new coal plants will lock in future warming now instead of reducing emissions as quickly as possible. The fossil fuel industry has more lobbyists at COP26 than any country delegation.
Yay: More than 100 countries signed the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions. The signatures cover nearly half of global methane emissions and 70% of global GDP.
Boo: Only 11 of the 20 countries that produce the most methane worldwide signed the pledge. The biggest producers (China, Russia and India) have not yet signed.
Yay: South Africa announced a historic partnership with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and the European Union to mobilize an initial $8.5 billion over the next three to five years to support a just transition toward a low-emissions and climate resilient economy in South Africa.
Boo: Rich countries have not delivered fully on their earlier pledge to provide $100 billion/year from 2020 to 2025. Funds are to support climate action in developing countries, those most affected by and contributing the least to climate change. So far, they have announced no concrete plans or specific details for scaling up adaptation finance.
Losing Heart and Why Not To
With this kind of news, it’s easy to fall into in a downward spiral of hopelessness. You may want to throw your hands in the air and give up. After all, if the world’s leaders aren’t doing enough, what difference will our individual climate actions make? I get it. I have moments like this too.
At times like these, it’s important to take care of ourselves, both so we don’t stay stuck in despair, and so we don’t allow our feelings to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we lose heart and stay there, we lose all our effectiveness.
So, how do we become resilient people who don’t give up on humanity?
How Not to Lose Heart
When I’m discouraged, one of the first things I do is read the wise words of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher who writes often about living wholeheartedly in a brokenhearted world. In her book, Welcoming the Unwelcome, which has a chapter on “How Not to Lose Heart,” Pema acknowledges that we all experience discouragement regularly. Yet, she advises its important not to lose heart. She says:
“The way to not lose heart is to realize that everything we do matters… If we allow ourselves to feel our vulnerability, if we sit up tall when we want to collapse and refrain from striking out when we are provoked, we are having a positive effect on the larger world.”
She also recommends the following steps for working with your discouragement. I’ve expanded her instructions based on what I do to help myself.
4 Steps to Not Losing Heart
1. Recognize when you are losing heart. Acknowledge it and give space to it. Notice where you feel it in your body. Simply observe it without trying to change it or make it go away. It’s okay to feel it for a moment. Remember, everything is temporary. All feelings come and go. Simply let your discouragement move through you with full acceptance.
2. Next, turn your attention to the basic goodness of humanity. Remember, ultimately, everyone wants to thrive and be happy, even those who work for fossil fuel companies. We may have different understandings of what it means to thrive and be happy, have different ways of achieving it, and other motivations on top of it, but from a spiritual point of view, everyone has the same essential nature. Feel your connection with others.
3. Then, put things in a bigger context. Remember, dealing with the climate crisis is a marathon. People are running it at different paces. That doesn’t mean we aren’t running the same race. We can lead the pack and encourage others to keep going. You may need a water break or a slower pace for a moment, but the idea is to keep going. Also, remember, we are not in control of the long-term outcome of the race. It doesn’t mean we don’t keep running. Maybe, individually, we don’t finish the race, but we can support those coming behind us, like the youth climate movement, to finish the race in our place. To use another metaphor, remember, we are planting trees we will never sit under.
4. Now, allow yourself to notice the vulnerability of humanity and life on this planet. Recognize your loss of heart is based on a love and desire for a better world. You want more climate action because you want future generations and other creatures living on this planet to survive and thrive. Let your compassion fill your awareness. Feel it in your body. Then allow it to motivate your climate action. Make a commitment like, “I will not give in to losing heart because I will not add more inaction to the planet.”
Pema says, “If we learn how not to lose heart, we will always find ways to make important contributions to our world.”
Besides, the world needs you to help hold governments accountable for acting now on the targets they’ve announced and for revisiting their 2030 targets to achieve deep emissions reductions in the 2020s.
To encourage you, I will leave you with a few more yays.
Yay: The U.K. released the first draft decision text from the UN climate summit on November 10th, 2021. Cansin Leylim, spokesperson for 350.org, said in a press release, “This draft decision has some important points in it that are worth celebrating. For example,… the text calls for phasing out coal use and fossil fuel subsidies, this is the first time fossil fuels are named in 25 years of UN climate negotiations and that is a huge testament to the people power and grassroots actions that has pushed continuously for the end of fossil fuels.”
Yay: Around 300 demonstrations took place around the world on November 6th, the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice, to demand that governments move from climate inaction to climate justice. Over 200,000 people marched in demonstration in Glasgow on that day, showing up in the wind and rain. The climate movement is powerful and growing and will hold the world’s leaders accountable.
Yay: Global leaders have made the most significant climate action pledges ever. Now is not the time to stop working towards our long-term goal. Let's build on where we are. Fortunately, there are many things we as individuals can do to support climate action. Check out this post, this post, and/or this post for lots of ideas. Also check out the chart below, created by Project Drawdown.
I wish you all the best in keeping your heart engaged in climate action. Thanks for all you do.