Sharing the load with climate anxiety

23rd September 2021


Hannah Lesbirel and Beccy Wilson speak to IEMA members about climate anxiety

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report has prompted headlines warning that we are on the brink of catastrophe. It sets an interesting scene for COP26, with the public and scientific community putting pressure on politicians to make progress.

Around the world, current targets for reaching net-zero emissions and carbon neutrality range from 2035 to 2060, but there are questions over how to define these targets and whether governments are progressing fast enough. Most scientists and climate experts have declared that the Paris Agreement will not be enough to avoid the global average temperature rising by 1.5°C.

June’s G7 Summit promised action on the climate crisis, but a global emergency can’t be solved by just a few countries. What we need is a holistic and ambitious outlook, and COP26 is an opportunity to establish a more immediate approach.

Hopes and fears

As an environment and sustainability professional, it can be difficult to listen to news reports on climate change. We have chosen our careers because of our drive to make a difference. We spend our days working on how to make projects more sustainable, and see first-hand the size of the issue we face. The media attention on climate change can lead those in our sector to feel anxious about the future; the steps we take may feel like a drop in the ocean.

How can we make a difference when the issue is larger than one person or community, and global corporations don’t appear to be stepping up? Was the IPCC report enough of a wake-up call? And is there any hope that COP26 will provide the outcomes needed? Members of IEMA and IEMA Futures have provided their views and expectations.

Mohammed Mohamoud, intern at Fast Futures, and environmental assessment and management masters student at the University of Salford, says it’s hard not to feel hopeless. However, he believes that if we can balance our hope and fear, and take a collaborative approach, we can ensure rapid and real progress is made.

Helen Chaplin, technical development executive at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, says “it’s the scale of the issue that seems so daunting.” She worries that people in the sector may feel that it is too late, and that it’s about choosing the “least bad” option.

Joss Watson, senior environmental consultant at Arup, points out that there has been little communication on proposals, plans and discussions for COP26, and more emphasis on the few days of the event itself. Does this mean there will be less influence from environmental professionals, and more focus on political motivations?

“It’s disheartening how quickly it is not news anymore,” says Nicolette Harrison Craven, environmental consultancy masters student at the University of Southampton. She adds that the lack of responsibility taken is “shocking”.

Sandra Norval, business development manager at West Sussex County Council and CEO of Bluedotaug, provides reassurance, saying that “we are certainly not alone” and must draw strength from our peers and each other.

Amy Bennett, environment officer at the University of Plymouth, explains that “having the key information about where the issues lie is important for us to know how to fix them.” She suggests we need to focus on what pressure needs to be put on large industry and corporations.

“The media attention on climate change can lead those in our sector to feel anxious”

Stand together

The climate crisis will require much collaboration, a wide range of experts, and for those responsible to act and be held accountable. Environment and sustainability professionals cannot take on the whole burden ourselves. We must sustain our energy so we can continue to push the agenda, ensure progress is made and educate colleagues. COP26 needs to ensure the emphasis is on countries and organisations that contribute most to emissions, not individual actions.

Hannah Lesbirel, GradIEMA is co-chair of IEMA Futures and an environment consultant at Arup.

Beccy Wilson, GradIEMA is an IEMA Futures member and an environment consultant at Arup.

Image credit | iStock

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