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Green Is The New Black

10 wins for the planet in 2021

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As 2021 draws to a close, we are celebrating 10 important wins for the planet. This time of year is the perfect moment to honour our achievements great and small. We’re reflecting on landmark decisions, stories that inspire and people who made history.


Reflecting on the year

Post-COP26, there has been a lingering feeling that we are facing an uphill battle. It’s easy to feel hopeless and defeated but taking time to reflect on this year’s wins for the planet was a much-needed boost for inspiration.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the words of Emma Goldberg. A political activist and writer, Goldberg has been credited as saying “if I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”. This is a sentiment shared by activists who believe that we should not let the challenges of our cause take away our joy. There is a question mark around whether Goldberg said those exact words but this excerpt from her book ‘Living My Life’ echoes the sentiment.

“I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy….I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things. Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.”

By pushing for climate justice, we are creating a better world for everyone and that world includes joy and celebration. And we don’t need to wait. We can start right now. Without further ado, our Top 10 wins for the planet:


1. Shell case in the Netherlands

In May, climate activists celebrated the ruling in a case against Dutch Royal Shell. The judge ruled that Shell is partially responsible for climate change. She ordered the company to reduce its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. The cuts must include “scope 3 emissions”, which are indirect emissions and include the use of sold products. This was a historic ruling and one that climate activists hope will set a precedent going forward. Activists and lawyers are scoping similar cases and we hope to see more big polluters being held to account through the legal system in 2022. 


2. Farmer’s Protest in India

In 2020 we saw the world’s largest strike in history. Farmers in India took action in response to three new laws passed by the government. The laws allowed corporations to purchase directly from the farmers and would have plunged swathes of farmers further into debt. Over 5 million marched in Delhi, and another 250 million took part in the strike. After over 360 days of striking and widespread police violence resulting in 700 lives lost, the prime minister announced that he will repeal the laws. The protestors celebrated but will not stop their work until the government has officially repealed the laws. There is so much we can all learn from this fight. The strike was intergenerational and inclusive, with designated women-only spaces for safety. They prayed together, ate together and fought in solidarity. 


3. Global Day of Action

Another demonstration of mass mobilisation and people power we are celebrating is the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. On November 6th, in the midst of the COP26 talks in Glasgow, an estimated half a million people across the UK attended hundreds of marches, rallies and stunts. COP26 Coalition is a UK-based alliance of groups that includes environment and development NGOs, trade unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks. 


4. Indigenous Carbon Resistance Report

Despite the fact that Indigenous people make up just 5% of the world’s population, they protect 80% of the earth’s biodiversity. It is impossible to quantify the overall impact of generations of land stewardship but researchers are beginning to collate evidence to highlight the importance of Indigenous resistance. The Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon Report, published this year, proves that Indigenous resistance to fossil fuel projects all across Turtle Island, now known as North America, has prevented at least 25% of annual US and Canadian emissions. Indigenous leaders are climate leaders and we hope to see more of these reports and increased respect for land defenders and water protectors in climate spaces. 


5. Shell pulled out of Cambo

The UK has a shocking 40 proposed new fossil fuel projects in the pipeline. One of those projects is Cambo, an oil field off the coast of Scotland. During the COP26 talks, activists from the Stop Cambo campaign used the conference to raise awareness of the project. Their persistence resulted in the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, speaking out against the oil field. Then, even better news. Shell, who had a 30% stake in the project, announced they were pulling out of the project on the grounds that “the economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time”. This is huge. Without the investment from Shell, one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies, the project is in serious jeopardy. The campaign activists are celebrating this win but are conscious there is a lot more work to do to get the project cancelled. 


6. CEO of Shell called out at TED Countdown

Another blow to Shell came in a slightly different forum – TED Countdown. After discovering that Shell was invited to speak as part of climate conversations, activists were outraged. In an almost David vs Goliath moment, Lauren McDonald, a young Scottish climate activist, took to the TED stage where she seized the opportunity to call out the CEO of Shell, Ben van Beurden, for the company’s crimes against people and the planet. In an emotional speech, Lauren looked right at the CEO and stated “you should be ashamed of yourself for the devastation that you have caused to communities all sound the world. Already you are responsible for so much death and suffering.” The footage hit the headlines as people applauded McDonald’s bravery and continued the important discussion around whether there is any place for fossil fuel companies in climate spaces (more on that here).


7. Giant Panda no longer categorised as endangered

After years of tireless conservation efforts to save the iconic giant panda from extinction, China’s environmental ministry shared that they are no longer categorised as endangered. The world’s most famous conservation animal is now in the vulnerable category so they are not completely out of the woods but numbers in the wild have increased by 17% in a decade. 


8. The election of the first Indigenous cabinet secretary in US history

Deb Haaland has become the first Indigenous cabinet secretary in US history. Haaland will be responsible for the country’s land, seas and natural resources and will oversee tribal affairs. Around 2% of the US population identifies as American Indian or Alaskan Native – descendants of those who survived colonial efforts to eradicate or assimilate indigenous peoples. In addition to environmental issues, Haaland is also responsible for upholding the government’s legally binding treaty obligations to the tribes. 

In an interview with the Guardian, Haaland stated that she would “move climate change priorities, tribal consultation and a green economic recovery forward….I’m going to continue to reach across the aisle, to protect our environment and make sure that vulnerable communities have a say in what our country is doing moving forward.” This is an incredibly important moment for Indigenous Americans and the lands they protect. 


9. Monarch butterflies return to California

The Western monarch butterfly population has declined by more than 99% in California, where they cluster from November to March each year to keep warm during winter. Experts attribute the decline to climate change, habitat destruction and lack of food due to drought. In 2020, the annual winter count recorded fewer than 2,000 of the seminal black and red butterfly. However, this year’s count was much more promising with over 50,000 recorded early on in the three-week count. Scientists are unsure why the numbers are so much higher this year but explained that there is evidence to show that the condition of their usual breeding grounds had improved. The monarch is a vital pollinator, as well as a food source, and it plays a crucial role in the ecosystem.

10. Land Back in Australia

The Australian government has returned more than 395,000 acres from four national parks to the Aboriginal Eastern Kuku Yalanji people. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to one of the world’s oldest rainforests. The land will now be jointly managed by the Queensland Government and the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people. The government will disperse annual funds to the group for site management. This is a major win for the planet and an incredible step in the right direction. Let’s hope 2022 sees more ancestral lands being handed back to their original stewards.

(Bonus) 11. Britney is free!

After 13 years trapped in a conservatorship, Britney Spears is finally free. The singer has begun to open up about her experience in snippets on social media. She has also made a point of thanking her fans around the world for shedding light on her case. Spears is sharing the small things bringing her joy and appears to be enjoying her newfound freedom with her fiance, Sam Asghari. Disability rights activists are hopeful that Britney’s high profile case has shed a light on conservatorship in the US. Right now, 1.3 million Americans live under strict conservatorships.


Season of joy

So many of these wins are the result of ordinary people making a decision to take action for a cause they care about. They are proof that people power works. Proof that when we come together with a common goal, creatively use the tools and talents we have and, most importantly, persist – we can create change. 

If we have any advice for you to take into the new year, it’s this: do not allow hopelessness to pull you under and carry you away with its current. Hope is a discipline and hope leads to action. Joy is resistance, too. Cultivate the daily habits of hope and joy as part of your climate action and your self-care. 

IMAGE: Photo by Pascal Müller on Unsplash | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Two cute and cuddly baby pandas are lying side by side on a wooden floor. They are looking at the camera somewhat shyly.

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Leanne has worked and volunteered in the NGO sector in Asia and the UK for almost a decade. She is a proud and passionate fundraiser who is motivated by connecting people to causes that they care about and giving them the opportunity to make a real difference. Since growing up on the West Coast of Ireland, she has always been a lover of nature, especially the ocean. Her journey towards living more sustainably and consciously started slowly through an interest in minimalism, plant-based diet, yoga and the zero-waste movement. She has attempted all of them with varying degrees of success! Seeing the Extinction Rebellion April actions in London this year was the biggest wake-up call to learn the truth about the scale of the climate crisis and Leanne now considers herself a bone fide, but imperfect, environmentalist keen to share the infinite benefits of slowing down and living more mindfully with anyone who will listen!