Making decisions to save our planet now, for future generations

Individually and collectively we must take urgent climate action

On any given day, we humans make about 35 000 decisions — big and small.

Some of us are forced to decide whether to flee our war-torn country. Others are making decisions about how to access water, energy or thinking about work, school and home. On social media, we click on hearts and swipe through photos. Sometimes we choose to move and other times to stay put.

Today I’m asking: how many daily decisions do we consciously make for our planet — and consequently for each other?

On 23 September 2019, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hosted the Climate Action Summit and asked this question on a global scale. And he invited only the world leaders who could boldly answer with action plans to take the stage.

United Nations Climate Action Summit, UN Photo/Loey Filipe

The impacts of climate change are being felt everywhere and have very real consequences on people’s lives. Global warming powered by our dependence on fossil fuels — including coal — is disrupting national economies, global weather patterns, and the lives of an untold number of people. Climate inaction is costing us dearly today and with dramatically higher costs impacting us tomorrow.

Youth, our children and our grandchildren will pay the highest price.

As the SG so forcefully said, “I refuse to be an accomplice in the destruction of their one and only home.” It’s time to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable.

The Summit brought clarity to what the world needs to do to win against the climate crisis. It also showed us ‘who’ is missing from the world stage. As the media reported: countries, coalitions, young people and cities announced solutions and, “new steps to fight climate change but much remains to be done.

That’s where each one of us comes in. Individually and collectively we can take climate action.

I am hopeful, and we all have reason to be. There are affordable, scalable solutions that are available to help us tackle climate change now — and even more, are on the way.

Take the simple act of planting a seedling that will grow into a tree. Countries like India and Ethiopia have broken tree-planting records to restore land and mitigate the impact of climate change.

Around the world, countries have committed to planting more than 11 billion trees — this commitment will require more hands than ever before to “help it happen”.

Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide and while they won’t solve all our problems, they are a vital piece of the puzzle that will bring jobs, clean the air and provide us with a constant, visual reminder of living green.

Credit: Great Green Wall

Twenty-one countries are working together to grow the Great Green Wall across Africa: addressing our biodiversity loss while addressing peace across borders from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east. Think of it as keeping the Sahara Desert from growing any bigger, while at the same time implementing a comprehensive strategy for a prosperous and peaceful Sahel region.

Around the world, young people are especially embracing the tenets of blue and green living, putting low emission standards and ways of life into practice and raising their collective voices to ensure that our generation doesn’t continue to define theirs.

Young Climate Action activists outside UN Headquarters in NYC, UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Interestingly, the youth and private sector movements are showing us that climate action can be built into our everyday lives. As easily as we pick up our morning coffees, we can make blue and green decisions that enhance demand for sustainable products. Products that preserve and improve livelihoods while at the same time ensuring the environmental sustainability of our oceans and our lands.

As we are creating this movement, we must remember that every one of our actions counts and is connected to another.

Take water: the average person taking a 10-minute shower every day consumes about 100,000 glasses of drinking water a year. With this knowledge, we are informed about our impact on the world — and we can then change showerheads, shorten our shower time and use wastewater in new, innovative ways.

Staying on the issue of water, the fashion industry is the second biggest consumer of water and responsible for nearly 10% of global carbon emissions. The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion wants to change that stat by creating and meeting consumer demand for sustainable clothing options. We can accelerate this move by being more mindful about each piece of clothing we buy and learning about its associated value chains, water, energy use and transportation costs.

And, to make a real dent in global water usage, we need to think about the food we eat. Nearly 70% of the world’s freshwater is used for agriculture, the biggest consumer of water, and responsible for up to 30% of global carbon emissions. From seeds and soil to what’s on our plate and the food we throw away — we urgently need to transform our food systems before we outgrow them.

Which brings me back to the 35 000 decisions we make each day.

Parent, entrepreneur, student, world leader — each of us who has the privilege to weigh options, knows that decision-making comes with individual and collective responsibilities.

Our actions now will either benefit the planet or hurt it.

It’s time for a climate action mindset and for each of us to make our next decision a blue and green one — for people, and for our planet.

Further reading

What if we stopped pretending?” Author Jonathan Franzen wrote this for the New Yorker and it was published right before the Climate Action Summit. It provoked some strong feelings from all the colleagues I shared it with — usually a good sign the article did its job.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and issues reports that help the world better understand climate change.

Our World. Our Future.

A platform for discovery and sustainable development from the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed.