Category: Climate Change (Page 1 of 7)

Doughnut Economics: Amsterdam’s response to the lack of sustainability in cities

This guest blog comes from Lou Lefort, a third-year student of BA Social Sciences in the Education, Communication and Society Department (Faculty of Social Sciences and Public Policy).


In 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the worst impacts of climate change could be irreversible by 2030. In 2021, the COP26 was designated as “the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control”. A strengthening of the global response to the climate threat is urgently needed, by way of combined efforts towards sustainable development.

It is in this spirit that, in April 2020, the College of Mayor and Alderpersons approved the Amsterdam Circular 2020-2025 strategy. Despite the already steep fall of the world’s economies due to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the City Council saw the situation as an opportunity for a more sustainable start.

The Amsterdam City Portrait

Towards a sustainable city

Today, the world’s urban population is estimated to be around 4.4 billion people (International Institute for Environment and Development, 2020), and is expected to keep increasing over the years. However, cities are not sustainable. As hubs of consumption, they are connected to supply chains all around the world and their food, transport and energy networks induce a massive ecological footprint.

It is through a circular economy strategy that Amsterdam strives to become sustainable and maintain an ecological balance. Circular economies seek high rates of recycling, refurbishment and reuse in order to reduce the use of new raw materials and avoid waste. The Amsterdam Circular Strategy was approved with the objective of halving its use of new raw materials by 2030 and achieving a fully circular city by 2050. Rather than an obstacle, the slowdown of all activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing a brief thrive in nature, was considered as an exceptional opportunity to introduce new politics. Working with the Dutch government and the European Union, the City of Amsterdam selected Kate Raworth’s Doughnuts Economics to implement and satisfy the demands of climate change and sustainability.

The Doughnut Economics

Firstly published in 2012, Doughnut Economics thrive for “meeting the means of all people within the means of the planet” (Raworth, 2012). The doughnut represents the “safe and just space for humanity” (Figure 1.). The inner ring is the social foundation, standing for life’s essentials that no one should fall short of, such as food, health, education or peace. The outer ring is the ecological ceiling of the planet. It constitutes the planetary boundaries not to overshoot to remain sustainable, such as air pollution, ocean acidification or ozone layer depletion.

A visual representation of the doughnut by Kate Raworth. It shows the social foundation (e.g. energy, water, food) and the ecological ceiling (e.g. ozone layer depletion, climate change). In between these two, there is "the safe and just space for humanity".

Figure 1

The economist Kate Raworth vouches for a thriving economy, dismissing the contemporary imperative for endless growth. She rejects Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth as a measure of economic success and instead, advocates for this dashboard of indicators based on objective values and grounded in human and ecological flourishing. In practice, the Doughnut must be transformative to shift the long-term dominance of capitalist growth, through the enacting of new regulations and institutions embedded in nature. In addition, it must be regenerative by design. Biological materials need to be regenerated and technical materials restored, in order to close the cycles of use and avoid waste. Finally, the Doughnut in practice must also be distributive. Wealth, education and empowerment should be equally accessible to all and circulated by a bottom-up and peer-to-peer pooling of knowledge. The objective is to redistribute resources, power and control to decentralised networks in ways that address inequality while supporting innovation and representation in the fight against climate change.

In order to satisfy these demands in the context of Amsterdam, the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) created the Amsterdam City Portrait, in collaboration with Biomimicry 3.8, Circle Economy, and C40. Analysing the city life and its impact through four lenses – social, ecological, local and global – the portrait presents what it would mean for Amsterdam to thrive as a city. It essentially asks a 21st-century key question:

“How can Amsterdam be a home to thriving people, in a thriving place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people, and the health of the whole planet?”
(Amsterdam City Portrait, 2020, p.3)

The analysis is made through recent and relevant data from official sources to give a holistic snapshot of the current status of the city. The portrait is a result of a cross-departmental collaboration within the city, between its municipality, businesses and residents. It also required input from internal and external stakeholders, such as private and non-profit organisations. The application of Doughnut Economics relies on technological solutions to manage environmental risk, focusing on biomimicry in cities. The plan is to use scientific and technological knowledge to ‘work like nature’ and reproduce healthy local ecosystems. From the use of ‘bee-hotel bricks’ to the incorporation of green roofs, the City Doughnut provides a smoother and achievable transition from the capitalist economy while benefiting the planet, by scaling down ecologically destructive and unnecessary industries.

In order to keep track of the progress and determine the social and ecological impact of the transition, Amsterdam developed a monitor. It will identify the areas which need more work to reach their targets in time and ensure the city keeps its promise to become fully circular by 2050.

Application and challenges

The Doughnut Economics’ motto aiming to “meet the means of all people within the means of the planet” (Raworth, 2012) is an ambitious vision that cannot be fulfilled without active participation across the whole community. The DEAL and its collaborators stressed the importance of bringing together the city stakeholders to bring about change in a thriving manner. To ensure the participation of every willing Amsterdammer, they held workshops in seven diverse neighbourhoods to hear their vision and priorities concerning the city. Everyone is invited to participate and share their ideas, as the emphasis is put on the citizen-led aspect of the city’s transformation. The aim is to empower and connect the citizens while giving greater recognition to the existing community networks. Such collaboration between the residents, the businesses and the municipality enables the identification of common goals, making them co-authors of the Doughnut strategy. One of the Doughnut’s principles is to “nurture human nature” (Amsterdam City Portrait, 2020, p.18) by promoting diversity, collaboration and reciprocity. Such a mindset strengthens community networks and trust, helping to create social and ecological benefits. It can encourage citizens to consume locally, to exchange services, but also to respect each other, and hence, each other’s environment. As a result, the City Portrait was created by and for the people of Amsterdam, including them in each step of the process from decision-making to the sharing of tasks via community-based projects.

However, practical challenges can impede these ideas. Despite the City Doughnut aiming to always engage critically with power relations, the distribution of power can be limited. It is important to acknowledge who came to the Doughnut workshops, but also who did not, and why. Some citizens might not have been able to attend the workshops or to voice their concerns. Different actors present different types of knowledge, and some types of knowledge may be favoured. As a transformative practice, Doughnut Economics seek to enact new laws and regulations, and will consequently work more closely with the political actors. It is vital to keep the citizens in the loop and maintain the idea of distributive responsibility in the context of policymaking. For this purpose, it is crucial that the sources and methodologies to extract data on the city and its ecological footprint remain transparent and critical.

As a developed European capital, another practical challenge will concern Amsterdam’s choice of investment and imports, which can both hinder the social foundations as well as the planetary boundaries imposed by the Doughnut. The port was identified as a major practical issue, being the 4th busiest in Europe and the world’s single largest importer of cocoa beans (ibid. p.12). The labour conditions of cocoa workers are often exploitative, undermining their rights and well-being. The portrait remains optimistic and presents the many innovative companies that have been developed as alternatives, or the civic organisations committed to the defence of human rights.

 

To conclude, Amsterdam’s response to becoming more sustainable relies on Doughnut Economics which can be summarised as striving to ensure life’s essentials for all people, within the planetary boundaries. Following a transformative, redistributive and regenerative design, the city’s circular transformation seeks to be citizen-led, allowing Amsterdammers to be at the core of the process, from the decision-making to the implementation. Nonetheless, some practical issues remain and must be carefully monitored.
Overall, the adaptation of Doughnut Economics in Amsterdam represents real and hopeful progress for the development of sustainable cities and the fight against climate change.


References

C40 Knowledge Community. (2020). Amsterdam’s City Doughnut as a tool for meeting circular ambitions following COVID-19. [online] Available at: https://www.c40knowledgehub.org/s/article/Amsterdam-s-City-Doughnut-as-a-tool-for-meeting-circular-ambitions-following-COVID-19?language=en_US

Doughnut Economics Action Lab, Circle Economy, Biomimicry 3.8 and C40 Cities (2020). The Amsterdam City Doughnut. [online] Available at: https://www.kateraworth.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20200406-AMS-portrait-EN-Single-page-web-420x210mm.pdf.

Gemeente Amsterdam (2015). Policy: Circular economy. [online] English site. Available at: https://www.amsterdam.nl/en/policy/sustainability/circular-economy/.

International Institute for Environment and Development. (2020). An urbanising world. [online] Available at: https://www.iied.org/urbanising-world#:~:text=The%20world’s%20urban%20population%20today,1900%20and%2034%25%20in%201960.

Raworth, K. (2012). A safe and just space for humanity. [online] Oxfam Discussion Paper. Available at: https://www-cdn.oxfam.org/s3fs-public/file_attachments/dp-a-safe-and-just-space-for-humanity-130212-en_5.pdf.

Raworth, K. (2018). Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist. London: Random House Business Books.

THE ALTERNATIVE UK. (2018). Are there holes in “doughnut economics”? Kate Raworth takes on a major critic. [online] Available at: https://www.thealternative.org.uk/dailyalternative/2018/6/28/raworth-doughnuts-critics.

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/

King’s Spotlight on Sustainability Podcast

The brand-new King’s Spotlight on Sustainability podcast aims to draw attention to sustainability at King’s and beyond. The goal is to get you thinking about some of the issues and challenges we face regarding climate change and the natural world by highlighting some of the excellent work surrounding sustainability happening at King’s and on a local, national and global level. 

Series 1 focuses on tackling climate change with big and small actions.  

  • Episode 1: What is net-zero carbon and how do we reach it? With Prof Frans Berkhout
  • Episode 2: What is COP26 and why does it matter? With James Baggaly
  • Episode 3: Why and how should you eat more veg? With FetchUrVeg
  • Episode 4: What is the King’s Climate Action Network and why should you get involved? With Maria Rabanser
  • Episode 5: How can you make your wardrobe more sustainable? With Un/Archived Textiles
  • Episode 6: What is fossil fuel divestment and how is King’s leading the change? With KCL XR 

You can access the podcast on Spotify here.   

What is success? COP26 and beyond

What will “success” at COP26 look like? Glasgow is different from Paris: it is not about signing a single treaty, but about the sum of its parts: the accumulated pledges of each country, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Dr Tamsin Edwards from the Department of Geography shares her thoughts about the global climate summit.


“What’s COP?”, asked my friend last week. It’s a bit unfair of me to quote him: he lives abroad, where media coverage is likely to be less blanket-like than in the UK; I didn’t use the full acronym “COP26”; and I gave no context (in fact, he was asking about my health).

But it’s a useful reminder that other people’s worlds are not revolving around the two week event that started today in Glasgow. For many of us working in climate change, life is currently consumed by COP26: reading about it, worrying about it, teaching about it; organising and writing talks for events there and elsewhere; talking to the news and recording podcasts; writing blog posts and opinion pieces about…well, what, exactly?

What will “success” at COP26 look like?

So I suppose the obvious reply might be: COP26 will be a success if climate scientists crunch the numbers of the final NDCs and find the predicted warming successfully meets the Paris Agreement target. But this is difficult to define, for a few reasons.

First, there are officially two targets: to limit warming “well below” 2°C, and to “pursue efforts” to limit at 1.5°C. So would success mean a predicted warming of 1.8°C? 1.7°C? 1.6°C?

Second, many would say these targets are not strong enough. We are already seeing changes to our weather at our current warming of 1.1°C. Each further tenth of a degree will make these changes more frequent and severe, and will make it more likely to trigger irreversible, long-term changes such as collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. A strong narrative has built up that we must limit warming to 1.5°C — rather than “pursuing efforts” to, which implies something higher — to limit the damage as much as possible.

Third, predictions of warming are inherently uncertain. Warming could be higher or lower than the central prediction. So only a central prediction below 1.5°C would have a better than 50:50 chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

Fourth, pledges are not the same as policies: the nuts-and-bolts plans of how to cut emissions using tools such as laws, taxes, grants, and encouraging behavioural change. The UK published their long-term strategy just-in-time before COP26, but few countries have plans with as many details. And they must be credible: Australia’s plans, for example, appear to be neither accurate nor physically possible. Without detailed and realistic plans for how to cut emissions by 2030, all talk is just…hot air.

And policies are not the same as reality: they must be successfully implemented, effectively enforced. There can be good surprises too, of course: faster-than-expected improvements in technology, energy efficiency, behaviour change. Future implementation is not necessarily something by which we can judge the success of COP26, but it is important to consider when assessing those Nationally Determined Contributions and any plans to achieve them.

Finally, there are other important aspects to COP26 that I haven’t discussed here (see explainer below): progress on these, or lack of, will also add to the bigger picture feelings of hope or disappointment.

I’m never a fan of binary thinking. The outcomes of COP26 will lie on a sliding scale, where it is unlikely we can reach the end — and the end is not clearly defined — but even a near-miss could be seen as successful in the stated aim to “keep 1.5 alive”. I agree with Christiana Figueres (former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and legend of the Paris Agreement) that some people will judge it a relative success and others an abject failure. This is inevitable when different groups are applying, at best, different value judgements and aims, and at worst, simplistic binary thinking, to outcomes that are not completely straightforward to categorise. I also agree with Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee which advises the UK government, who has said that COP26 will be seen as successful if people describe it as successful: in other words, if this is the dominant narrative emerging afterwards. We should ask, of course, which groups will determine that narrative?

It’s important to acknowledge that much of the progress of this COP26 has been made well before the meeting itself. Countries have been stating net zero aims and converting these into short-term targets and official Nationally Determined Contributions for the past few years. Without any action, we had been heading for a world 4°C warmer, or more. But given the policies we have already put in place, we are predicted to be heading for just under 3°C, perhaps a little lower. Under the official pledges updated before last month — if successfully translated into effective policies — we would limit warming to around 2.5°C. And since then, another 25 countries have updated their pledges.

Progress, yes, but by the minimum metric of limiting warming to below 2°C, nowhere near enough. Global emissions under the Nationally Determined Contributions are predicted to flatline or slightly increase this decade — China, for example, only aims to peak by 2030 — but limiting warming to 1.5°C requires us to cut global emissions by around half by 2030. By this measure, it is extremely unlikely we will see a prediction of 1.5°C warming for the final NDCs after COP26, though I remain hopeful we can improve beyond the current 2.5°C once they are all submitted and final. Keep an eye on that Climate Action Tracker

Glasgow is a very important push point, but not the only point at which we can make progress. After COP26, countries can always increase their ambition outside the five year update points of the Paris Agreement (most obviously, when governments change, as for the USA). Countries responsible for around three quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have adopted, or are considering, targets to reach net zero by 2050 or 2060: if successful, the predicted warming would be around 2°C (and if we were very lucky with the climate, perhaps as low as 1.5°C). This isn’t enough yet either, but it shows that this month’s pledges are not the only part of the story.

Longer-term, I think few people are aware that climate scientists also talk about the possibility of overshooting and then coming back. If could limit our rise above 1.5°C to just a couple of decades, this will be a better outcome than the fixed final temperature that I think most people imagine.

To put it more succinctly:

It’s never too late to do as much as we can.Greta Thunberg, The Andrew Marr Show, 31st October 2021

So 1.5 is still alive, but it’s on life support. We need to bring it out of critical care and into recovery: getting stronger month on month, year on year.

What does success look like elsewhere? I’ve been extremely fortunate over the past three years, with opportunities like co-authoring the first part of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and a related study, co-presenting the BBC Radio 4 series 39 Ways to Save the Planet, and co-directing an expanding MSc Climate Change.

But it hasn’t been sustainable, especially with the post-chemo fatigue (cognitive and physical) that seems persistently worse since February, so I went part-time in September. It’s been a time of tying up loose ends and passing things on. I think the hundred or so masters students are starting to settle in, with grateful thanks to co-director James Porter for helping them so much. I’ve taught four of my five weeks of climate science this term to them and our first year undergraduates. The King’s Climate Hub research network is going from strength to strength, thanks to incredible support by new coordinator Rachel Harrington-Abrams. The 39 Ways series is done. I’ve talked to interesting groups in the run-up to COP26, ranging from a huge, exciting event hosted by Stowe School (Schools’ Climate Action) to a lunchtime event for general counsel lawyers who want to make their business resilient to climate-related risks, as well as recording podcasts and other interviews (links below). In the next two weeks I’ll finish the teaching, travel to Glasgow to do a few events (also below), then round it off with a talk to a lot of vets.

I certainly haven’t yet been successful in going part-time. But I’m saying no to new events, projects and roles to make up the difference and rest after COP26. Success for me will therefore mean not a flatlining of activities, nor a slight increase, but substantial cuts: though hopefully not year-on-year until 2030.


This post was originally published on the All Models Are Wrong blog. You can read the original post and find a list of Tamsin’s COP26-related activities. She also includes an explanation of what COP26 is, or why it’s particularly important, and if you don’t know your NDCs from your UNFCCCs. It has since also been published on the King’s website here.

COP26: a climate conference dubbed the most critical one in a generation (daily updates)

COP26 has been dubbed “the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control”. But what is it really? What are the hopes and expectations? And what does it all mean for King’s and yourself? 

What is COP26? 

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, is the most critical climate conference in a generation, aiming to get international agreement and mobilise finance to secure global net zero by mid-century, adapt to protect communities and natural habitats, and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. This year’s conference is hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy and is taking place between 31 October and 12 November. 

This Conference of Parties (COP) takes place annually and previous sessions have produced some of the most critical global deals, including the Paris Climate Agreement which came out of COP21 in 2015. This saw 189 UN member states agree to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 °C. COP25 did not have significant achievements, so the pressure is on to produce tangible outcomes from COP26. 

The main discussion will centre around the following points: 

  1. Increase commitments (NDCs) to ensure 1.5 °C is credibly within reach by 2030 and global net zero by 2050. 
  2. Develop clear strategies for adaptation to protect communities and natural habitats (e.g. by restoring ecosystems and building defences). 
  3. Commit to a global finance package of $100 billion to help developing nations mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

What can we expect? 

The hopes for this conference to drive real change are high – and the urgency to do so even higher. Pope Francis called it “a real chance for change”, and Boris Johnson emphasised how COP26 must be a “turning point for humanity”. But what can we realistically expect? 

Although most world leaders have expressed the importance of this conference, the required action is lagging behind. There is a need for near-term policy action and large investments, which is where political leaders often become more hesitant. This again became clear at the recent G20 summit which saw an agreement to take “meaningful and effective” action to limit global warming but few concrete commitments. 

Throughout the conference, the finance aspect will represent one of the main challenges. The scientific community agrees that although addressing the climate emergency might seem costly, inaction will be much costlier in addition to destructive. The developed countries’ plan to deliver $100bn of global climate finance is expected to be met and exceeded from 2023 (three years late from the initial 2020 target). However, more adaptation support for the most impacted countries is required and further trillions need to be mobilised for climate transitions. The debate is largely around the question: how responsible are developed nations for the current climate crisis, and therefore, to what extent should they be obliged to pay for developing nations’ mitigation and adaptation measures?

COP26 & King’s 

This is a huge opportunity for the UK, and the education sector in particular, to show the brilliant work that education institutions are doing on this agenda, and it is also a good time to stock take and look at how institutions can do more (EAUC). 

COP26 is not only about political leaders – there is a range of non-state actors which are involved and are a key part of delivering on any climate decisions that are made, as well as of demanding more ambition. This includes civil society, businesses, financial institutions, NGOs, and also universities. Universities are in a unique position to contribute to solutions to climate change through the nature of our core work in education and research and through our ability to bring people together. And we also have the responsibility to do so.

The societal, economic, political, and technological transformations required to address climate change will be driven by world-class research. Therefore, part of our action strategy includes contributing our expertise to maximise the impact of COP26. Several of King’s climate researchers will be speaking at COP26 events. Kris De Meyer, for example, is running an online event with Chatham House on policy pathways from climate risk to policy action. Grace Souza will be in Scotland supporting indigenous delegations travelling from Brazil to Glasgow for COP26. Tamsin Edwards will be speaking at several events, including “Polar warming, global warning”, and “Inclusion is key: How gender equality improves science, tech and innovation for climate action” (streamed on the UK Gov YouTube channel).  

King’s is also actively collaborating with the wider sector through the COP26 Universities Network – a growing group of more than 80 UK-based universities and research centres working together to raise ambition for tangible outcomes from the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference. The Network will create lasting partnerships and legacies that reach beyond this single event. 

COP26 & you 

How does any of this affect you personally? COP26 might be an important conference, but the action that is taken on the ground is far more important, and that includes you. There is a range of ways you can get involved in climate action at King’s and beyond. 

  1. Join the King’s Climate Action Network to drive climate action at King’s by reducing our emissions and maximising our positive impact through education, research, and engagement.  
  2. Participate in one of King’s many sustainability projects and initiatives. 
  3. Explore King’s sustainable clubs and societies such as the Climate Action Society. 
  4. Sign petitions, write to your MP, attend climate protests… Check out this page for the 16 most effective ways to reduce your carbon pollution. 

There is no right or wrong way to take climate action. It is about finding what works for you and working on it together. Together we can change climate change.  

Useful resources & relevant events 

King’s resources 

  1. Check out COP26-specific events here, and keep an eye out for climate-related events here beyond the conference. 
  2. Listen to King’s COP26: we got this podcast. While you are at it, also check out the King’s Spotlight on Sustainability podcast – the first season of which is focused on climate change. King’s WORLD: we got this podcast also has some episodes focused on climate. 
  3. Read King’s climate scientist Tamsin Edwards’ blog post evaluating the success of COP26

General resources 

  1. Follow the following social media accounts to stay up to date throughout the conference: @cop26uk for the official news, @cop26.tv for an alternative view, @cop26coalition for a focus on climate justice, and @mockcop26 for a youth-led perspective.  
  2. The majority of public events will be streamed live on the COP26 YouTube channel. 
  3. Check out this jargon buster to make sure you understand the terminology being used at COP26. 
  4. Have a look at this infographic which summarises COP26 in an easily consumable but comprehensive way. 
  5. Check out this two-week course to explore global issues during COP26 and be part of the call for collective action: Learning for a Sustainable Future: Live at COP26. 

 

Daily updates 

Below we will include daily updates about the conference. Each day at COP26 has a specific theme that guides the conversations and events. You can find the full Presidency Programme here. 

Day 1: Procedural opening of negotiations (31 October) 

The start of COP26 follows days of tough climate negotiations among the G20 – the group of 20 major economies. Their final statement pledges “meaningful and effective” action to limit global warming, but offers few concrete commitments. The pressure is on for COP26 to produce clearer outcomes. Delegates and officials attend the Procedural Opening of the conference.

Day 2: World Leader’s Summit (1 November) 

By the end of the day, the summit’s first major deal has been struck. In this deal, more than 100 world leaders including Brazil, Russia and Indonesia promise to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.  The signatories cover around 85% of the world’s forests.

The Indian Prime Minister also pledged to reach net zero emissions – but not until 2070. This misses a key goal of COP26 to reach global net zero by 2050.

Day 3: World Leader’s Summit (2 November) 

During the second and final day of the summit, more than 40 world leaders find agreement on a global plan to boost green technology by imposing worldwide standards and policies.

The US and EU also announce a global pledge to slash methane emissions, which more than 80 nations have signed up to.

South Africa – a major emitter of greenhouse gases – is expected to receive $8.5bn to help end its reliance on coal.

Day 4: Finance (3 November) 

The UK announces a plan to force firms to show by 2023 how they will hit net zero.

How much money should the Global North give to the Global South to take historical responsibility and support these countries’ climate transitions? Conversations address this question, but no clear answers are developed.

However, new commitments including a pledge Japan made yesterday, could speed up reaching the goal of offering $100 billion for climate finance for developing nations, paving the way to achieving it by 2022 instead of 2023.

450 organisations controlling around two-fifths of the world’s financial assets ($130 trillion dollars!) have backed a plan to support “clean” technology.

Day 5: Energy (4 November) 

This day is largely about the move away from dirty coal towards renewables. More than 40 countries have already pledged to phase out coal. However, critics say there are significant gaps with some of the most coal-dependent countries including the US, China and India not making such pledges. Another point of criticism is the silence around oil and gas.

Moreover, 20 countries including the US have pledged to end public financing for “unabated” overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022.

Day 6: Youth and public empowerment (5 November) 

Marking the theme of the day, thousands of young people march through Glasgow in a mass climate protest organised by Fridays for Future Scotland. This march addresses the need for these climate discussions to move away from closed environments, making them accessible to the wider public including youth.

Nadhim Zahawi, the UK’s Education Secretary, has also mentioned changes to the primary curriculum to include a bigger emphasis on climate change and sustainability.

Day 7: Nature (6 November)  

Today is the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. Thousands of demonstrators take to the streets to have their voices heard.

Day 8: Rest day (7 November) 

Today, events and negotiations both paused to re-energise for the second and final week of the conference.

Global Witness also shared an analysis indicating that lobbyists for big polluters have the largest delegation at COP26, “flooding the conference with corporate influence”.

Day 9: Adaptation, Loss & Damage (8 November) 

The UK has pledged £290m to help poorer countries deal with climate change. Most of this money will go to Asian and Pacific countries and is said to support climate action, conservation efforts and the promotion of low-carbon development.

Day 10: Gender and Science & Innovation (9 November) 

During today’s conversations the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and girls across the world were made central. The importance of science for efficient policies and impactful agreements was also a key focus.

The Climate Action Tracker shares its most recent analysis showing that the world is headed for global warming of 2.4C despite pledges made by several countries during COP26 – far above the 1.5C limit.

Day 11: Transport (10 November) 

Today, the first draft of the COP26 agreement was published. It calls for stronger carbon reduction targets to be confirmed by the end of 2022. Another important point is that vulnerable countries should receive more support to deal with the impacts of climate change. Negotiations will continue the next few days with the aim to publish a final agreement by the end of the day on Friday.

Day 12: Cities, Regions and Built Environment (11 November) 

A report is published estimating that the carbon footprint of COP26 is double that of COP25 in Madrid in 2019, with international flights being a significant contributor.

China and the US announce a joint pledge to speed up climate action and boost climate collaboration between the two countries.

Day 13: Closure of Negotiations (12 November) 

A second draft agreement waters down commitments to end the use of coal and other fossil fuels. The text has changed from accelerating “the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” to accelerating “the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”. The inclusion of coal still represents a landmark moment. It also increases pressure as countries are asked to submit their NDCs before next year’s COP instead of the previous every 5 years. Besides, the new draft increases support for poorer countries to address climate change.

13 November: a deal is struck

The deadline to find agreement is not met, but on Saturday evening the final deal is published. This deal asks countries to resubmit their NDCs before next year’s COP with more ambitious targets to reduce emissions by 2030. The need for increased financial support (beyond the current $100bn target) from developed countries to developing countries to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change is emphasised.

A key point of criticism is the watering down of language around ending the use of coal (for the second time). After the change from phase-out of coal to the phase-out of unabated coal, it has now been changed to “phasedown” following a last minute intervention lead by India and China. The call for a phase-out of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels has remained unchanged.

Most developing countries are also not satisfied with the agreements around financial support, adaptation, and loss & damage. They argue it is not sufficient to help them address climate change – the impacts of which have already been destructive for many of them.

Although this agreement is not legally binding, it is still expected to shape global climate action over the next decades.

Black History Month & Sustainability

Black History Month & King’s 

Although Blackness is not limited to one year of the month, Black History Month represents an important moment to highlight the Black community, including the incredible things they are doing, as well as the struggles many are still facing.  

Across King’s, many events around Black History have been taking place this month. This includes the Visible Skin exhibition focused on Black portraiture and events organised by different faculties including The Black Heroes of Mathematics. You can also read amazing blog posts from the King’s community, including Helena Mattingley’s blog (Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s) reflecting on what makes the cut into history curricula; Sarah Guerra’s poem (Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s) about what she is proud to be; and Kirsten Johnson’s poem (Student Experience Manager in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities) about being proud to be intersectional. The IoPPN Race Equality Network also developed this amazing self-directed learning programme to encourage the community to dedicate 5-20 minutes every day to reading, watching or listening about often intentionally forgotten Black History. Check out what else the university is doing around Equality, Diversity & Inclusion and follow @KCLdiversity to stay up to date. 

Black History Month & Sustainability 

How are Black History and Sustainability connected? 

Non-white people are currently experiencing the worst environmental problems in our world. Black and brown communities are more likely to live near toxic waste sites, live in communities with fewer environmental amenities, be harmed by climate change, inhale fine particulate matter and more. Globally, indigenous people and people living in island nations and Central Africa are facing the brunt of climate change and waste dumping. A study in 2016 showed that London’s Black, African and Caribbean communities are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and are more likely than white people to breathe in illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, a harmful pollutant responsible for increased rates of respiratory problems, particularly asthma in children. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the first person (9-year old Ella Kissi-Debrah) to have air pollution listed as a cause of death was black 

Why is this the case? Francisca Rockey offers a straightforward answer: environmental racism. 

“Systemic injustices translate into environmental and socio-economic inequalities. It is not coincidental that inner city areas, heavily populated by black people are also found to be subject to long term exposure to pollutants. Environmental racism is when neighbourhoods, densely populated by black and brown people, are burdened with a disproportionate number of environmental hazards such as toxic waste and other sources of environmental pollution that lower the quality of life.”

But this is not the only way the black community is being impacted by the climate crisis. King’s PhD student Elias Yassin wrote an eye-opening blog post last year about the struggle to centre racial justice in the climate movement. He shared his experience as a Black climate activist, formerly with Extinction Rebellion (XR), and the challenges to make climate movements truly inclusive of activists of colour. 

Being a climate activist of colour in an overwhelmingly white climate movement is exhausting. Consistently, I have found myself pushed to the margins of XR UK because of a persistent disregard for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPoC).” 

Indeed, people from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds are often invisible in climate protest. According to Kids of Colour – a platform for young people of colour to challenge the everyday, institutionalised racism that shapes their lives – climate protests are not always aligned with the realities they live. While thousands of school students around the world went on strikes as part of the Fridays For Future movement, not everybody had this privilege. “The school strikes have been fantastic to witness, but it is also a privilege to be able to skip school,” said one representative of Kids of Colour. For protests organised by Extinction Rebellion, economic inequality also plays a key role: “Can you imagine giving up 10 days [of work] to sit in central London? It is absolutely not feasible for those in low-paid jobs,” said Ms Kissi-Debrah 

Despite this sad side of the story and the urgent need for climate justice, there is also a lot to celebrate around black history and climate this month. The World Economic Forum shined a spotlight on the following five Black heroes of the environmental movement: 

  1. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
  2. Robert Bullard, who has campaigned against harmful waste being dumped in predominantly Black neighbourhoods in the southern states of the US since the 1970s.
  3. John Francis the ‘Planetwalker’, who stopped taking motorised transport and walked everywhere for 22 years.
  4. Dr Warren Washington, one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change.
  5. Angelou Ezeilo, who set up the Greening Youth Foundation to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. 

This is only a snippet of the incredible black people in the climate movement. Some are more in the spotlight, while others carry out a lot of hard work and great initiatives in the background. But they are all equally important.  

Although Black History Month might be coming to an end, on 1st November Black History will be equally as important to think about and celebrate, including in the climate movement. Real sustainability and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion are inseparable. 

Continue reading

Meet King’s sustainable student groups and societies

This blog post provides a brief overview of some of the sustainability-focused societies and student groups at King’s. Read on to hear about their goals, how they engage students and how you can get involved. Find out more about all the societies and student groups at King’s on the KCLSU webpages.

KCL Climate Action Society

KCLCA aims to unite students from across the university to bring awareness on climate change and encourage action. Founded in 2019, the society quickly grew to become a large community of individuals who are all passionate about taking action and making change. Follow the society’s Instagram for updates on events, news stories and delicious plant-based recipes!

“The idea behind the society was thus to provide a platform for students to take action, in a context where we often feel powerless as individuals. The two courses of action were (1) organising events to be more aware and knowledgeable when it came to the many facets and issues related to climate change, from food and energy production, to fast fashion and waste pollution; and (2) campaigning at King’s to make and see some actual changes within the institution. […] Seeing so many people coming together and ready to put in the work gives me hope for the future.”Anna Peran, co-founder of KCLCA.

KCL Environmental Society

KCL EcoSoc is dedicated to connecting students who share a passion for the environment, to providing opportunities to learn about environmental issues and campaign for change.

Past events have included webinars on Climate Change, Culture and Communication and Environmental Justice, a live cook-along with celebrity chef Max LaManna, as well as the London Energy Idea Challenge (organised in collaboration with 4 other London universities).

Find them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

KCL Vegetarian and Vegan Society

KCL VegSoc brings together like-minded people interested in vegetarian and vegan food and lifestyles.

They are hosting their first event of the year on Sunday, September 26th: KCL VegSoc x What the Pitta. Join them to meet the society and enjoy some great (discounted) vegan food! Follow VegSoc on Instagram for more information and updates.

Hear from Bethan Spacey, outgoing president of the society, on her experience with VegSoc – “My first year in KCL VegSoc was brilliant. The year began with a What The Pitta social and I got to meet lots of people. Regular socials/food outings were held, as well as events like a sushi-making class, film screenings and talks. My favourite event was a volunteering trip to Friends Farm Animal Sanctuary, where we got to spend time with the animals. Last academic year, because I had enjoyed my experience with KCL VegSoc so much, I decided to apply for a committee position and ended up in the role of President. Unfortunately, this year was online, so we were very limited in what we could do, but our goal was to approach vegetarianism and veganism from a number of different perspectives: looking at the ethical implications, the environmental ramifications and the how it effects your health. Being online, however, meant that we were able to get some massive speakers for events such as Gene Stone and Carol J. Adams.”

King’s 4 Change

King’s 4 Change aims to encourage the King’s student community to act together for power, social justice and political change.

Recent campaigns run by King’s 4 Change include Just Transition, which focused on thinking about how we can make climate action more inclusive and attentive to the experiences of all people. Their Energy Campaign aimed to combat both climate injustice and economic injustice by encouraging people to switch to cheaper, fairer and more environmentally-friendly energy prodivers.

As put by King’s 4 Change co-founder Abigail Oyedele, “our aim is to train students in community organising methods […]. We want to give students the tools to get involved in community organising on a larger scale and make a change at King’s.”

Find out more.

Students for Global Health KCL

Those of you who are familiar with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will know that sustainability encompasses much more than environmental concerns. Specifically, SDG 3 “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” focuses on global health.

The King’s branch of Students for Global Health UK aims to empower students to envision a fairer and more just world in which equity in health is a reality for all, as well as take action on these issues. Last year, they hosted an incredible range of events covering themes such as Decolonising Healthcare, Global Mental Health, and Social Determinants of Health. Follow their Instagram for updates, resources and other informative posts, and sign up to their mailing list.

Fetch Ur Veg

Fetch Ur Veg is a student-run cooperative providing weekly veg bag deliveries. Their overall goal is to encourage a healthy and sustainable lifestyle for students.

“Our main goal is to offer a more sustainable way of getting your vegetable groceries and maybe stepping out of your comfort zone and encouraging yourself to cook with different ingredients. Each bag comes with a leaflet with recipes and cooking tips. Contrary to the supermarket, the vegetables you get are still covered in dirt. So you get an overall healthier diet, with a diverse set of vegetables that are not stripped of their nutrients or chemically processed and cleaned, and it just really makes you appreciate the food a lot more!” – Mia Lewis, outgoing president of Fetch Ur Veg.

In addition to delivering weekly veg bags, Fetch Ur Veg offer volunteering opportunities to interested students and staff. Join them if you’re looking for a break from coursework and want to spend a couple hours outdoors, packing vegetables with a lovely group of people in Kentish Town. Follow them on Instagram for updates!

KCL Women and Politics Society

The Women and Politics Society aim to promote and enhance women’s leadership and influence in politics. Through discussion panels and conferences, the team hope to inform and inspire young women and others to participate in politics and engage in advocacy. Follow them on Instagram for more information.

The society also runs its own online magazine, The Clandestine“a platform to lift those who have been forced into secrecy, up into that which is public.” 

King’s Think Tank

King’s Think Tank is Europe’s largest student-led policy institute. It aims to provide a platform for students to engage with the world of policy and organises policy workshops, panel discussions and lobbying trips.

KTT run a blog with critical analyses of past and current issues, as well as publish their annual policy-recommendation journal, The Spectrum.

With seven policy centres, including the Education, Energy and Environment or Global Health centres, students interested in sustainability can write for the blog or policy journal.

KCL XR

The King’s branch of Extinction Rebellion. Their long-term goal is to combat the climate crisis and they collaborate closely with the broader XR Universities network.

KCLXR is still a relatively young society – join them to help them grow and meet like-minded individuals.

Sustainability Stories: Emily Read

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a final year PhD student, in the Cell Therapies and Regenerative Medicine programme. Before this, I did my undergrad in Biology at Imperial and then moved to King’s to complete my master’s and now PhD. About two years ago, I became involved with sustainability at King’s by becoming a Lab Sustainability Champion, and more recently as a Sustainability Engagement Assistant with the Sustainability Team.

What does sustainability mean to you?

To me, it means caring. Caring about the planet, caring about other people, having empathy, trying to improve the situation around you, and being conscious of the state things are in, what your impact is and trying to mitigate it. I’ve always cared about the natural world. From a young age, watching David Attenborough documentaries, I became fascinated by the wonderful diversity of life. That made me think about studying biology – because biology’s at the core of all of this.

More recently, it has taken on a more personal meaning. During the pandemic, I’ve had time to reflect on what is important to me and what I want to do moving forward. It’s given me the headspace to think you know actually, I have to do something about sustainability and the environment. I can’t work in any other field really.

What is the link between your studies and sustainability?

I was astounded by the amount of waste I produced. I think anyone who works in a lab is conscious of the amount of waste they produce in terms of single-use plastics. It’s the same with the amount of energy we use: one -80 degree freezer uses something like the equivalent of a house in terms of energy (and we have 100s of these on the floor). That, for me, was a big “wow” moment. And it’s not really something that’s in the public understanding. There are a few articles that have said yes, scientific research uses lots of plastic and energy but it isn’t something that is spoken about very much. That’s why the Sustainability Champions scheme is so great!

To someone who isn’t really sure about how sustainability is relevant to them, I would say that it’s relevant to everyone and everything. It impacts everything. For example, if you’re studying a disease, there’s a high chance that it’s related to people’s wellbeing. You know – are they living in poverty? Do they have access to healthcare? Are they living in a polluted environment? It feeds into everything. And again, that’s highlighted in the diversity of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Why wouldn’t you make small changes that can make a difference? Like changing lab freezer temperatures from -80 to -70 has no impact but saves huge amounts of energy. It makes no sense not to do it.

Generally, I think that it’s not that the changes themselves are hard, rather, a lot of people aren’t aware of what they can do. Communicate, get people involved and don’t make them feel isolated, alienated or judged.

How are you taking action on sustainability?

I think personal changes have been an easy starting point. I started eating less meat and dairy and am now pretty much vegan. Making the choice not to fly when there are alternatives. Avoiding plastic, fast fashion. Those steps were for me relatively straightforward, and I am completely aware that making those personal changes is facilitated by my privilege. But if I have that privilege, I should use it. Again, it’s not helpful to think of it in terms of “oh why isn’t someone making those personal changes?” – people are doing what they can and we should keep encouraging them to continue doing just that.

I’ve also tried to make changes at work because that’s where I have more skills and will probably have the most impact and influence. Of course, larger-scale movements are important. But I think it’s also important to think: what is my skillset? What can I do? How can I use my skillset to the best of my ability to have the biggest impact?

What is something that gives you hope for the future? 

I think a lot of people have said this as well, the pandemic does feel like a turning point. It feels like this field is getting more and more funding, more and more interest. It’s becoming bigger and bigger. I think there will be jobs and opportunities in this field that didn’t exist five years ago. And it’s just growing at an exponential rate, which is really exciting. One thing that excites me is the ecological diversity side of things, specifically, this rewilding movement. I think it’s really interesting, how our natural spaces are now being left to their own devices and the impact that is having on biodiversity. And it’s now becoming more accepted and recognised! Finally, all of this collaboration – between different countries, different interests – it’s happening in a way that it’s never really happened before which I think is really exciting.

And finally, can you recommend a resource, book, inspiring individual/activist for anyone who’d like to learn more?

There’s a book called Wilding by Isabella Tree. It’s fantastic. It talks about the wilding movement, how it works, how successful it can be. Depending on your interests, I’d recommend looking into various activists – those listed in our Earth Day posts are a great start. How to Save a Planet podcast is also really good because it covers different aspects of sustainability.

Thank you, Emily! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

What would happen if we covered the Sahara Desert with solar panels?

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

In last week’s blog post, we alluded to the idea of covering the Sahara Desert with solar panels. While some of you may have had this idea before, others may have spent the past week captivated and wondering why it hasn’t been done yet. Well, aside from the fact that we simply don’t need that much energy, as we mentioned last week, there are several other reasons why we won’t do it. Read on to find out.

Why is this even an idea?

The Sahara Desert is one of the most exposed places on Earth to the sun’s rays. So, the idea is that if we could gather all that energy, we could power the world. In reality, we would harvest so much more energy than we could ever possibly need. According to Forbes, solar panels covering a surface of around 335km2 would actually be enough to power the world – this would cover just 1.2% of the Sahara Desert.

What would happen?

Outside of electricity generation, this could have several consequences. First, the light colour of the Saharan sand serves the purpose of reflecting the sun’s light and heat back into the air. By covering this, we would be ensuring that more sunlight is absorbed, thus prompting a rise in ground temperature. Warmer air then rises to higher altitudes and condenses as clouds that will then fall as rain, completely transforming the desert as we know it.

Why is this an issue?

The planet works based on a series of well-balanced systems, and this could completely upset the apple cart. The Amazon Rainforest, for example, is reliant on the mineral-rich sands blown from the Sahara for nutrients. Without these, the Amazon will not receive enough nutrients to survive, and its downfall could be accelerated. Furthermore, the increased heat in the desert won’t end there. It will be transported worldwide through weather systems, resulting in less rainfall for the Amazon and more unstable weather in regions such as North America or Asia.

What’s the silver lining?

We don’t need 100% of the Sahara to be covered in solar panels. Even 20%, which is the amount that would kickstart these impacts, is not needed. Instead, a series of smaller solar farms covering 1.2% of the surface should be enough to generate enough electricity without having such extreme impacts on the environment.

But is it feasible?

It is probably not realistic to expect political cohesion and economic investment to quickly make such a concept a reality. However, if projects such as the Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex in Morocco continue to show good results, there is no reason why a series of independent projects cannot be set up over a longer time period that could meet our energy needs.

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

King’s Energy: The Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

We’ve all wondered if it’s possible to cover the Sahara Desert in giant solar panels to resolve our renewable energy issue. No doubt you will have seen utopian constructions of what this could look like. For instance, David Attenborough’s A Life on our Planet provided an example of how a future powered by renewable energy could look. But in Morocco, that future is already here, and they’ve taken that interest in Sahara solar panels seriously too. Check out this image of the world’s largest concentrated solar power project, the Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex:

When was it built?

Construction began in May 2013. There have since been two expansion productions also commissioned, one in 2018 and one in 2019. It was funded by the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy at the cost of a cool $3.9 billion, though this funding came from several investors, including the World Bank.

How does it work?

Here’s the cool part! Noor I uses Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) to produce energy. Essentially, this means that a series of mirrors divert sunlight into something that retains that energy to be used later. The unique part about Noor I is that it uses molten salt to store energy, meaning that energy collected during the day can also be released at night.

The complex has upgraded on this for Noor II and III, which can store energy for up to 8 hours. Noor II uses a slightly different technology: parabolic troughs, or concave mirrors to the rest of us, to reflect the sun’s rays. Noor III, meanwhile, has a solar tower that collects the energy reflected from the mirrors (pictured).

Finally, Noor IV, which has not yet been commissioned, will use photovoltaic panels as we know them, so we will be one step closer to finding out what will happen if we fill the world’s hottest places with solar panels.

How much energy does it produce?

Noor I alone produces 370GwH per annum, with Noor II producing 600GwH and Noor III 500GwH and combined, they cover 6,178 acres. To put that into context, global energy usage was 171,240TwH in 2019. It would seem then that Noor is just a drop in the ocean, but consider that the Sahara Desert is 2.273 billion acres. It would take 116.5 Noor’s to supply the world with renewable energy based on 2019 demand, which would require 719,674 acres of the Sahara… Now, that really is just a grain of sand.

A couple drawbacks and limitations include the need to regularly clean the solar panels (even more so because of the sandy environment), which requires large amounts of water and the challenge of transporting power over great distances and political will.

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

Sustainability Stories: Anna Peran

Hey guys! My name is Anna and I’m here to talk about my views on sustainability and my experience of it at King’s. Originally, I’m from France and moved to London in September 2018 to start my BA in Geography. I’m now graduating from King’s, and these past three years have been such a time of growth for me. There are so many things to be said, but here’s a short selection.

When I first got here, I knew as much about climate change as your average French high schooler, that is to say: not much, and not nearly enough to start caring. That said, I was already vegetarian, and had made that choice for environmental reasons, about a year prior to coming to London.

In my first semester at King’s, I took a compulsory module on the changing natural environment that ended up changing the academic and career path I had envisioned thus far. Learning about the science of climate change, its societal causes and consequences, and the intricacies in between simply became fascinating to me. The more I learnt, however, the more the lack of political action surrounding environmental issues became frustrating.

I went to an event at the beginning of the second semester, where the guest speaker was a representative of COP24 who came to discuss the decisions that had been taken in Warsaw that year. I expected a lot from this event. It was after all about the institutions that were meant to actively be solving this issue. I distinctly remember the emphasis that was put on the framework developed and agreed upon at the COP for ‘future policy-making’, introduced as perfect to tackle the ‘future realities of climate change.’ To say I was disappointed would be the least. I remember thinking to myself, what about present realities? I realised how inadequate our current institutions were to answer the environmental challenges we now face. For one, they worked on different time scales and levels of complexity. From a mainstream perspective, climate change sounds simple: too many carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming with downsides to nature and society. That simplicity is deceptive. Reducing emissions is a given, how to do so is another story. Socio-economic and political dynamics must be considered, touching upon so many other issues, and making it all the more complex. Questions asked by a worried audience that day remained unanswered.

From this point on, making sense of governance to solve our contemporary challenges, especially from an environmental perspective, became the focus of my human geography degree. One thing about me though: I am deeply passionate and simply cannot let go of the causes I care about. I get that from my mum, who always reminded me that my voice matters, by listening and using her own. When it came to climate change, the situation was and remains so pressing I could not learn about it in class without taking any action in return. My thought process was simple: who am I to complain about people not taking action with the platform they have if I myself do not use mine, however small it is. I also thought: how am I going to react when I’m 50 and teens ask me if I knew what was happening and if I did anything to prevent it? I chose to take action so that one day I could say, no matter the outcome: I did everything I could. And that’s how KCL Climate Action society started, with the help of my wonderful friend Poppy who also studies Geography.

I believed that like me, once people would get a better understanding of climate change, they would start to care, and take action. Climate change remains very abstract for many people, as a global issue that expresses itself in local ways, as a natural phenomenon that results from societal doings, as human-induced but not human-controlled. The idea behind the society was thus to provide a platform for students to take action, in a context where we often feel powerless as individuals. The two courses of action were (1) organising events to be more aware and knowledgeable when it came to the many facets and issues related to climate change, from food and energy production, to fast fashion and waste pollution; and (2) campaigning at King’s to make and see some actual changes within the institution. As founder and president, it required a lot of work, motivation and organisation to start and get the society known, among students, academics and staff members alike. It taught me more than I had hoped for and in a year, KCLCA’s community grew from a couple of people to 900 students, with guest speakers from all over the world. Seeing so many people coming together and ready to put in the work gives me hope for the future.

I must say, however, that my vision of taking action has changed between the start of KCLCA and now. When I was president last year, I poured all of my energy into the society, but things take time and sometimes the results weren’t there, because not many people showed up to events at first, and there were many small initiatives here and there from other groups but it was hard to rally everyone and join forces. Halfway through the second semester, I was exhausted and let’s be honest, a bit depressed. I was drowning under alarming news, reports, and documentaries and I felt like things were staying the same, that our species was simply running to its end. And taking so many others on its way. I looked around me, looked at London, and how everything seemed so unsustainable, everywhere. It was a very oppressive feeling, and one I still get often.

I think there is a point, for everyone that cares about the situation and tries to do something about it, where you ask yourself: what’s the point? You don’t eat meat, you buy second-hand clothes or from sustainable brands, you buy local, you cycle everywhere. You look around: nothing has changed. That’s when community matters. That’s what KCLCA is here for, and so many other groups elsewhere. You can rest, and you need to. And if no one has told you yet: you’re doing a great job. We cannot change the past, we can only do something about now and the future. But this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Yes, the situation is pressing, but sacrificing your health and wellbeing won’t help. And that’s true of any other situation.

I think in these moments where things get overwhelming, it’s important to focus on the present reality, on what you physically have around you rather than everything happening elsewhere. Put your phone down, try and have a chat in person with a loved one, pick up a book you like, have a nice workout, take care of yourself in whichever way you can or like. Sometimes we need to anchor ourselves for a bit in order to stay afloat. That’s what I did this year and the committee did such an amazing job. They got things done, they made the events happen, they got the campaigns going, kept our social media active. And I am so grateful for this. Sigrid, our president this year, has been fantastic. The whole team really. I wish I could have done more, but I did what was best in that moment. The society will keep on going, and that’s quite something. Because so many students are going to learn so much from it and take it to the ‘real’ world after that. I intend to do so now, as I graduate.

In short, it’s about balance and community. That’s the essence of sustainability. For ourselves, for our society and for the environment.

That is one of many things the Western world notably needs to understand from Indigenous communities at the forefront of climate action.

 

For anyone interested, easily accessible resources include:

On our relation to nature:

Readings:

Videos and Documentaries

On the natural world itself:

Documentaries

  • Our Planet (2019). Available on Netflix.
  • Chasing Coral (2017). Available on Netflix.

On the science of climate change:

 

Thank you, Anna! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

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