Sustainable Planet: YMCAs and the climate crisis

Date: 19 April 2023

Third article in a YMCA Vision 2030 series explores how YMCAs can positively impact employment

When we talk about the four Pillars of Impact of YMCA Vision 2030 –  Community Wellbeing, Meaningful Work, Sustainable Planet and Just World – we understand the words. But do we know what they really mean?

Researchers from the Geneva Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, have collected and presented definitions and data and analysed trends of each Pillar, and presented those findings to the World YMCA. 

In this third of a series of four articles, we closely examine each pillar. See the first article on Community Wellbeing here and the second on Meaningful Work here.

Karolina Lagercrantz explored Pillar 3 – a Sustainable Planet, with research from a variety of international organisations and the strong influence of her time at COP26, Stockholm+50 and her long-time work within the sustainability field.

What are the challenges we face in working for a Sustainable Planet?

We are facing what Karolina calls a ‘triple planetary crisis’ of pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change. It’s climate change that is most pressing, she said. And the human overconsumption of resources and fossil fuels is causing all issues.

Karolina referenced the Paris Agreement of 2015, where world leaders agreed to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius and to further pursue efforts to reach a warming goal of 1.5 degrees.

“The headlines you see today are alarming,” she said. “They say we are close to the point of no return, and that we’re on track for 4 degrees of warming by 2100. None of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals can be reached if we go over 1.5 degrees.”

Notable trends

Karolina noted two main climate action trends

  • Race to zero (‘net zero’): This is balancing the amount of GHG released with the amount removed from the atmosphere through means such as reforestation etc. “Many private companies, international organisations and governments have made Net Zero goals”, she said. As part of Vision 2030, YMCAs are working to be climate neutral to ensure that collectively we become a green, sustainable Movement. Climate neutrality is the reduction of all GHG to zero while eliminating all other negative environmental impacts that an organisation may cause.
  • Climate justice: The climate crisis is a justice crisis, she said, as some, notably the poorest communities, will be hit harder by climate change than others. “There is a growing movement to address such inequalities”, she said. There is reason to be encouraged. “Many humanitarian organisations are actively working on climate mitigation and adaptation. Private-sector actors are also taking genuine steps to address their role in climate change and collaborate with national governments”.
What’s next?

Young people are more at risk due to the effects of climate change, she said. We cannot empower young people without taking it into consideration. They are less resilient, as they have fewer economic and social resources and skills. And they will suffer more from future warming simply because they will live longer than older generations.

“Young people are very much at the forefront of climate action. Those include holding demonstrations and becoming actively involved with institutions”, including the UN climate conferences, she said. Additionally, she is seeing an increase in youth-led private initiatives, such as pushing for the creation of green jobs. 

As YMCAs look to implement and activate Vision 2030 into their strategies, they should ask themselves this question, Karolina said. “What are each of your YMCA programmes doing to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis?”