Celebrating Earth Day (guest post by Nick Nuttall)

An inspirational message from UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres to young people at an Earth Day event in 2011 on how they have the power to create a better future

An inspirational message from UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres to young people at an Earth Day event in 2011 on how they have the power to create a better future

There is plenty to celebrate on this year’s Earth Day as more than a billion people in 190 countries take action to promote “green cities” as a way to build support for increased climate ambition at the local level.

At the same time, there is plenty to give us pause.

Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate serve as a stark reminder of the need and opportunities to take urgent action on climate change. They make it clear that people around the world are already suffering from climate change, which is affecting livelihoods, reducing crops, destroying homes and raising food prices. This will only accelerate if climate change is left unchecked.

The reports also confirmed that it is indeed possible, using a wide array of technological measures and changes in behavior, to limit the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, only major institutional and technological change will give a better than average chance that global warming will not exceed this threshold.

On 21 March, the UNFCCC celebrated the 20th anniversary of its coming to force. On that day we shared some of its achievements but also shared a “reality check” to remind us of the main challenges that we still face in the fight against climate change.

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However, it’s not all bad news. At the UN Climate Change secretariat we are constantly promoting climate solutions through our Momentum for Change initiative. Launched in 2011, it aims to showcase concrete, results-driven action that helps take us closer to a low-emission, more resilient world.

For example, in Mexico, an initiative called Ecocasa is unlocking financing to build more than 27,000 low-carbon homes and finance 1,700 “green” mortgages.  In doing so, it is serving as a blueprint for other countries in the region and beyond.

In India, Pollinate Energy trains members of the local community to distribute and install solar lighting systems as micro-entrepreneurs. This has two key benefits: it gives communities access to cheaper, renewable energy, providing alternatives to the expensive and toxic kerosene lamps that many of them use; and it gives community members the opportunity to earn extra income through a micro-entrepreneurship programme.

In Australia, the organization 1 Million Women has a simple goal with a big impact: get one million women to pledge to take small steps in their daily lives that save energy, reduce waste, cut pollution and lead change. So far, almost 100,000 women have joined the campaign.

In Ghana, the Bamboo Bikes Initiative is tackling climate change by building high-quality bamboo bicycles. The initiative is improving the lives of many rural Ghanaians not only by delivering a non-polluting and affordable form of transportation that satisfies local needs, but also by creating employment opportunities for women and stimulating economic growth.

I hope to continue to share these positive stories in the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima later this year and in Paris next year.

If you know of other inspiring examples, please share them! We have an open call for applications ending on 23 May. Who knows, perhaps we can celebrate next year’s Earth Day recognizing your work!

Nick Nuttall is Coordinator of the UNFCCC’s Communications and Outreach Programme