Wanted: Citizen activists to take Climate Action to the Next Level for Greater Impact

A World Environment Day Op Ed By Denise E Antonio, UNDP Resident Representative

June 15, 2022
Wanted: Citizen activists to take Climate Action to the Next Level for Greater Impact


As Published in the Sunday Gleaner 6 June 2022, World Environment Day

The largest survey of public opinion on Climate Change ever conducted confirms most of earth’s citizens are believing the science on climate change and witnessing its impacts.  

SIDS like Jamaica, who live this climate emergency on the frontlines top the list of believers – at 74%.

Under-18 youth – 70% of them – top the age cohorts that view Climate Change as a grave threat.

Among the 64% polled who view Climate Change as a global threat, 59% agree that immediate climate action is urgently required to respond to the crisis.

These responses from the ground-breaking report – People’s Climate Vote (UNDP/Oxford,2020) – are a goldmine of insight for strengthening people action. This is good news as we pause to commemorate World Environment Day 2022.

We join sister UN agency, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the rest of the UN system in affirming there is “Only One Earth" and that people action will be key to achieving the vision of “Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature”.

But this will only be possible if we the people, the human occupants who are the primary culprits in the climate change phenomenon, believe the science and take individual and collective action.

People who live on the frontlines of Climate Change are likely to make excellent champions for the cause. They witness the impacts and feel real concern about how their lives could change; Young people tend to be true ‘believers.’ They are likely to bring refreshing boldness and insight as messengers of climate change education
Denise E Antonio, UNDP Resident Representative

I know what you may be thinking: We speak about people action every day. It’s not a new call. But emerging data may serve as a compass for being truly effective in engaging people.

This is what we know: People who live on the frontlines of Climate Change are likely to make excellent champions for the cause. They witness the impacts and feel real concern about how their lives could change.

We also learn that young people tend to be true ‘believers.’ They are likely to bring refreshing boldness and insight as messengers of climate change education.

Here is yet another lesson learned from the respondents who were polled in SIDS including the Caribbean: There is strong support for climate-friendly farming (68%), green businesses and jobs (66%); solar, wind and renewable power (64%); halting the burning of polluting fuels (51%).

These are powerful platforms for building a people centred climate agenda.

By engaging our people to agitate for climate friendly jobs, farming and energy, we touch issues that matter to them, their livelihoods and their families.

The time has come to take people engagement on climate action to the next level as climate change persists, and climate ambitions shift to the next level. We must learn to resonate on the same frequency as the people because it won’t be business as usual. As a nation at risk for more intense hurricanes, sea level rise and drought, Jamaica has ‘gone all out’ in its updated 2020 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).  Government call the NDC “more ambitious than its previous one.”

Jamaica is targeting emission reductions of between 24.5 to 28.5% by 2030 based on adding ambitious climate action in the energy and land use change and forestry sectors.

These issues could benefit from special partners who can translate these concepts for different target groups, making them more accessible. I call on the development community to provide platforms for singers, singjays, deejays and musicians and others in the creative arts to take the message to the people.

In partnership with Panos Caribbean, Climate Change Division (CCD) and National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the Meteorological Office and Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, UNDP assisted financially with the Voices for Climate Change Education project as early as 2009. The project came out with the popular anthem ‘Global Warning’, written by the great Lovindeer, and produced by Panos and Grub Cooper.

This popular song simplified messages around Climate Change and individual action while people danced and sang to the infectious rhythm and memorable words.

So powerful was this project that we wanted to explore what made it work and how we can mobilize for the next level. That is why after 13 years, we brought them together for a 30-minute documentary ‘Voices for Climate Education: 13 Years Later: Past Present and Future’. Much insight has been shared.

More than ever, sound reasons are emerging for engaging artistes in climate action. Eighty-two (82%) of music fans care about the environment, according to new survey findings released by the UK-based Music Declares Emergency pressure group. What a powerfully captive audience to echo the message gaining ground across the earth.

More organizations are engaging the creative sector as a force for change. At the global level, UNDP has also employed art to “move the needle on climate change”.  On the eve of COP 23 in 2017, UNDP collaborated with Pathway to Paris on a concert featuring powerful messages. Pathway’s Rebecca Foon memorably said: “Music and events bring people together, opens their hearts, unifies them, sparks inspiration, helps to turn passion and concern into action and tangible solutions … The audience is there to be inspired, to be motivated.

In western markets, the music industry has been stepping up its game as advocates for climate action. They are not just messengers. Artistes and musicians are modelling climate action with cleaner, greener tours, sets and operations.

A music industry online news centre ‘The Face’ reports UK’s live music industry has committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2030. Eco friendly touring is now becoming trendy with UK’s Association of Independent Festivals promising to eliminate single use plastics from their venues.   

In exploring ways to take citizen action to the next level, British NGO the Democratic Society recommended innovative approaches such as ‘green participatory budgeting’ to support climate-friendly projects in city spaces, all chosen by local residents; citizen science to co-create climate solutions; social innovation and local action for local plans and champions. Public participation must be mutually meaningful for citizens and organizations to achieve the desired effect, they concluded.

Even as we graduate to the next level of our participation in climate action, we must not forget that simple actions are still powerful. We just need more persons to take part.  For example, we can help cool down Jamaica by planting more trees; recycling plastics and encouraging others to do the same; disposing of garbage properly; switching to LED bulbs and converting to renewables like solar. Become advocates for policies, funding and programmes that foster change. Don’t be shy to ask for expanded Protected Areas and Forests.; policies and programmes to generate sustainable livelihoods; more nature-based solutions to reduce land degradation, restore eco systems and enhance climate resilience; speedier transition to clean energy and energy efficiency. These issues matter.

13 years ago, when we first engaged artistes for climate change education, Hellshire’s coastline was still metres away. Days were cooler. The temperature was not as intense. Today, the evidence is alarming, and   we the people must become bold messengers and partners for change. It is no longer business as usual. Are we ready to take this effort to the next level?