Taking climate action by building relationships

Engagement Panel 4, Climate Action, 6 July 2022, by Sophia Elsig

“It’s time for a mindset shift,” said Alexander Nick, Director of Climate Action at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. “Changing our approach to business and capitalism, and  incorporating climate and social angles to the DNA of a business, is the key to a sustainable society.

For years, activists have flooded the streets to get the attention of policymakers. “Our house is on fire” was the iconic motto voiced by climate activist Greta Thunberg. We’ve all heard it, but have we truly been listening? The statistics are there. The testimonies as well. However, action is barely noticeable.

In UN reports, environmental experts and governmental representatives concluded that limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C is essential for us to avoid the worst climate impacts and to maintain a livable planet for our generation and generations to come.

However, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), none of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Goals is likely to be achieved if human-induced climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution are not successfully addressed. Many conferences are being held across the world, such as COP 26 and the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, both of which were mentioned in the Panel. Yet, just as Mair Kelly, YMCA Ireland National Board Chair of the International Development and Global Justice Committee, and a YMCA Climate Ambassador put it, “this was the 26th COP, and that’s 26 too many”.

“We need to look beyond COP 26” added, James Gomme, Director, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Everybody keeps forgetting about them once the conference is over”.

On top of that, securing a sustainable planet is no longer purely a matter of environmental sustainability,  but an issue of human wellbeing and dignity. This could potentially have serious implications for the current and future work of the YMCA Movement everywhere, as it directly threatens its very mission.  This trend, characterised by the intersection of climate action and wellbeing, falls under the term Climate Justice. This concept addresses the just division, fair sharing, and equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of climate change and the responsibility of dealing with it. Not all climate impacts are created equal, or distributed equally. Addressing climate change also means fighting systemic prejudices. ”It will be the most vulnerable of our societies who will suffer most”, added James Gomme.

“There have been some positive changes,” says Alexander Nick. After years of natural disasters stemming from climate change destroying populations across the globe, some governments, but increasingly also civil society, companies and other stakeholders, are coming together and confronting this reality head-on.

YMCA is already playing a big role in raising awareness across communities. We influence behaviours, shrink our own emissions and advocate for climate justice. With its broad reach spanning diverse engagements, social backgrounds and geographical contexts, YMCA is contributing to creative, low-cost, high-impact solutions – locally and globally.

For example one of our panellists, Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza, a Climate Action Youth Led Solutions Initiative Awardee from Peru, spotted a problem in his country. “One of Peru’s major issues is access to water and sanitation”, he said. His team and he solved a social, health, and environmental issue through one project. “We created sanitary infrastructures for school from plastic waste”.

Audience members naturally also asked how they, as contributors to climate disasters, could shift their habits. Our panelist Narupacha Maung-In, the Director for Social Development and Environment Conservation at the YMCA of the North Development Foundation, Chiangmai, Thailand, stressed the importance of reducing single-use items and water and energy consumption. Being aware of the impact of abusing resources brings us closer to sustainable living. Angela Consuelo S. Ibay, Head of the Climate and Energy Programme at WWF in the Philippines, also added that one should be conscious of food waste and mentioned the importance of spotting greenwashing. “Measuring your own carbon footprint is a good place to start. Where do you want to go if you don’t know where you are?” answered Alexander Nick. He also added that driving connection through activism, enabling a culture that supports individual transformation, and committing to action are key steps the YMCA can take.

“Why does this have to fall on the shoulders of young people?” asked a young audience member. The question of responsibility is a greatly debated one. Some blame government, some meat-eaters, drivers, tourists, older generations and also specific countries that are known to contribute enormously to greenhouse gas emissions, such as the United States or China. Mair Kelly answered “This is not an us versus them issue. To tackle climate change we have to take an integrated and intergenerational approach. We have the responsibility to collaborate.” One way to do so is to connect youth around the world, from all backgrounds, to work together to drive change we need so much” added Angela Consuelo S. Ibay.

Both our moderators Magda Gana, a Program Secretary at YMCA of Makati in the Philippines, and Shakil Karim an international consultant and YMCA Climate Ambassador endorsed the “importance of relationships in fighting for the world we want”.

Climate change is overwhelming. Emotionally and physically. Some are pessimistic, some have more hope. It can be very easy to feel a sense of hopelessness and loneliness in the face of countless environmental catastrophes. However, we have made progress as an organization and worldwide too. The main takeaway, endorsed by all panellists, is the importance of relationships and collaboration. Climate change is an issue that we must take on together, through collaboration and youth empowerment.