It’s Time to Connect Global Climate Ambitions to Local Action

November 16, 2021


As COP 26 draws to a close, there will be some understandable criticism: the presence of fossil fuel company representatives, a lack of financial commitments from developed countries, and of course, India’s stand on ‘phasing down’ rather than ‘phasing out’ coal. While national governments often have to strike a balance between global commitments and domestic growth considerations, at an individual level, climate goals can seem vague and overarching.

Events like COP26 are starting to include newer voices in the conversation, but it is still disconnected from the ground reality of many countries like India, where climate progress looks different. In such a scenario, people-led climate movements can help put national goals into context, and connect them to solutions that have a visible impact on people’s lives. 

As India emerges from COP26 as the champion for a just transition pathway for developing countries, we have to put our climate action plans where our mouth is. For too long, indigenous communities, informal sector workers, women, and other groups most impacted by the effects of climate change have been left out of the conversation about how to solve it. Ironic, considering that many of these groups hold some of the solutions to climate change in their work and traditional knowledge. But this is beginning to change.

In India and abroad, we already see young people working to bridge the gaps between global goals and local, equitable, and community-grounded solutions. By connecting the priorities and aspirations of Indians to the climate context, they’re showing us a relatable way towards a more sustainable and inclusive future. The United Nations recently launched a campaign in partnership with Purpose highlighting such narratives. In India, ‘We The Change’ united 17 climate leaders under 30 working on climate education, community outreach, sustainable agriculture, circular fashion, green buildings, traditional folklore and knowledge. It further connected them with other climate activists, journalists, and national-level decision makers ahead of COP26.

In the past 6 years of working in India, we have amplified the work of young women pioneering solar-powered food dehydration technology that reduces food waste and carbon emissions, and puts RE tech in the hands of landless women farmers. We’ve united the voices of mothers and transport workers in Delhi advocating for low-carbon policies to protect the lives of their children against air pollution. And we’ve created placemaking activities with some of the oldest traditional fishing communities in Maharashtra, to highlight their traditional knowledge that has preserved our relationship with the sea for so long.

In all of this, we have found that engaging local and regional governments in conversations with their constituents leads to local solutions that fast-track climate action, and build cycles of communication, inclusivity and trust. This lesson holds true today too. India’s revised NDCs will certainly create a wave of climate commitments across state and city governments, but the wave goes both ways: we cannot succeed in our ambitions without engaging local leadership.

Local, state and city governments in India are working to translate national goals into meaningful action. Indian states are getting international recognition for their climate policies while many cities are making pathbreaking policies of their own around sustainable cooling, electric vehicles, and waste management. 

Now, the task at hand is for people-led movements to engage with local leadership in order to succeed in our climate ambitions. In the next few years, we hope to use this collaborative approach to bring informal sector workers together to speak to Bengaluru’s local leadership about low-carbon policies that impact their livelihoods, create platforms for young professionals and creatives to shape Maharashtra’s Climate Action Plan, and give women construction workers the tools to create better working conditions that lower the sector’s impact on climate emissions. These are a few recent examples, but Indian climate activists have been pushing for these conversations for decades.

If there is a hopeful message coming out of COP26, it is that we know the way forward. News about COP26 and its commitments may never reach every Indian household, but the sentiment that every Indian deserves an equitable and inclusive low-carbon future can and must be spread. At the local level, countless environmental leaders and activists have been advocating for this for years, and will continue to do so. It is time to connect global ambitions to local action. 

You can learn more about Purpose Climate Lab’s work all over the globe here

Sonali Bhasin Strategy Manager
Choose Both: A Digital Guide
for Equity & Evidence