A Life Changing Retreat at Schumacher College in Devon

I arrived one balmy day in mid-July to start a week’s retreat at Schumacher College. I am rather embarrassed to admit I had not heard of Schumacher until a few months before, when a fortuitous meeting with its inspired founder Satish Kumar led me to sign up.

The college is set on the historic Dartington Estate in the South Hams in Devon, a gorgeous setting which features a spectacular forest which would become central to our retreat. The college offers a range of short courses as well as ecology-centred postgraduate and horticulture programmes to help people from all walks of life develop a deep, participatory relationship with nature.

With the rather lofty title of The Power of Ritual and the Poetry of Surrender, I had little idea of what the course would involve, so this was a genuine case of trust and surrender. I should have guessed from the packing list that it would involve a fair bit of time outdoors. I don’t even like camping, yet, within a couple of days, I found myself undertaking a solo night vigil in the forest – something that would have been unthinkable a week before.

Retreats are my favourite type of holiday, and are usually focused on yoga or detox, with five star as my default positioning. But this turned out to be the ultimate retreat. No yoga, no pampering, no five stars but, instead, an intense connection with nature and self.

Accommodation is monastic, with tiny, single rooms and shared bathrooms, but it is all spotlessly clean. They grow all their own vegetables, and these are served in abundance as vegetarian meals which were the most delicious I have ever tasted. Each day there is 30 minutes of well organised community service, where we helped to clear up after meals, cook or work in the gardens.

The small class setting and experiential learning aim to provide practical skills and strategic thinking to face the multiple challenges of the future of our planet.  Highlights were the sessions with the founder, Satish Kumar, a former monk who walked around the world for peace in the 1970s and is the long-standing editor of Resurgence magazine. Way ahead of his time, he’s now in his 80s, but has more energy than most people half his age. He focused particularly on one solution for change – how we need to lead much simpler lives. It’s described beautifully in his latest book, Elegant Simplicity.

The specifics of the course remain private to our tight group of 18 participants of all ages and of multiple nationalities.  Suffice to say, it was profound and life changing to each of us in different ways. I came away with a much deeper appreciation that we are totally interconnected to our natural world, and that without this innate understanding, it is difficult to appreciate the scale of crisis now facing us. Several times each day, I now feel humanity viewing the planet as an unlimited resource with little regard for consequence. It has forced me and in turn try and influence my family, friends and colleagues to understand this connection, and with no more excuses, to make many drastic changes to live more sustainably.

So for many of us who are trying to make sense of this ecological crisis, maybe a good place to start is by gaining a deeper sense of ourselves and how we fit into the natural world. As such, I would encourage exploring a Schumacher course as a proactive step. You will find answers that will surprise you. Stop feeling depressed about what is happening to our planet, and go to Schumacher and get inspired for change and the part you can play.

More at https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk

Why Educate a Girl?

The strangest things can happen when you are out for a walk. It helps if you are walking in the grandeur of the High Atlas Mountains and the people you are walking with are the British Ambassador to Morocco and girls from Education For All (EFA), a group of people and circumstances that took Juliet Kinsman, luxury travel expert and evangelist for women’s education, onto a whole new path in her illustrious career.  “I was chatting with Thomas Reilly, the Ambassador, and said to him that EFA is such an extraordinary and unique initiative someone should make a film about it, so he said, why don’t you? As a writer and journalist, I think of myself as a professional storyteller, but I also like to celebrate how the travel and hospitality industry can be a force for good.”

Juliet discussed the idea with Kuba Nowak, a film-maker she has previously worked with, and they jointly decided that they didn’t want to make a promotional film for a charity, they wanted to make an independent short documentary which was really a story of love and support and how that benefitted the girls in terms of getting a secondary education. “Kuba and I had made small films previously in the UK, but we had never made anything like this. It’s a whole different animal when you open it up to do something abroad. I didn’t know anything about the Morocracy, (a local blending of the words ‘Morocco’ and ‘bureaucracy’ that aptly describes the convolutions of working in the country), which was a whole other process.” Once production began there was a lot of work crammed into a few shooting days.

Credit: Reto Guntli

“It was a real honour and privilege to be allowed to spend time in the girl’s dormitories, and we were very sensitive to the fact that these are the girls’ homes, and for them to let us be there and to observe life and capture life, they didn’t make us feel like we were being intrusive, it was very kind of them to let us be part of their family life, as it were.”

For the girls of EFA, now numbering almost two hundred in five boarding houses (a sixth will open in September) and fifty attending university, their fellow students, the house mothers and the boarding house staff, have become their extended families. But the true test of family life is much closer to home, in the remote villages of the High Atlas Mountains the girls come from, where the support of the families and villagers themselves has gone from fears of the girls becoming drawn into the decadence of ‘big city’ life when EFA opened its first boarding house in Asni a decade ago, to celebrating the education, the confidence and the chance of a better future than any of the girls could possibly imagined. Many of those early nervous families and villagers have become EFA’s greatest advocates.

“Going to the villages and seeing how remote they are was what motivated us to make the film. During the recording we spent time with different girls at different stages. We visited Ghita Aït Moulid, who lives in a remote village, and when her mum spoke to us, Kuba and I didn’t understand what she was saying, but suddenly there was a point where everyone in the room started crying and she was obviously revealing something very personal which she’d not told anyone before. Her story was that she was sent away to work when she was seven years old and was subject to terrible abuse from her hosts in Casablanca. We made it very clear that we were making a film and she was sharing this with us, but she clearly felt strongly that she wanted the next generation of girls not to experience what she had experienced. It was because of situations like this that we felt a huge responsibility to tell their story truthfully.”

Hearing a story told in a language you don’t understand and then re-telling it to get the full, correct meaning has a thousand pitfalls, especially when dealing with a highly emotive subject such as the interwoven lives of a close-knit family. “I’ve been a journalist for 25 years and language is everything to me, it’s so nuanced. It’s absolutely critical that you represent people’s sentiments with exactly the right words.”

Credit: Reto Guntli

We were faced with interviews in French, Arabic, dilectical Arabic and Berber, plus broken English, and it’s really, really crucial that the way we represent the people we interviewed through the edit and through the subtitles is true to their words. Without a doubt that’s been the biggest challenge practically speaking, and in terms of making sure the right message for the film comes through.

“One of the benefits of having Zahra Aït Boumessaoud with us, who is a former EFA student, is that she speaks their language in a wider sense. She made people feel at ease. Zarah was translating in a basic sense, but we had a professional interpreter go through the transcripts, which was costly,

And when we do the final version we will do that again. We kept the costs down with a crew of three; myself, Kuba and our assistant, Memoona Naushahi, but we paid the girls to support us in making the film, which in itself has a positive economic and social impact. That’s the model of how we did this.”

“What was really important to me is that this was a very human story, about love, about the housemothers providing good parenting in the simple sense, but it’s really about the opposite of this whole idea that we have the right way of living or our sophisticated living is superior to this rural way of life. I think it’s a reminder that while these girls will definitely benefit from education, we in our world could learn how they live as families; there’s love, there’s support, they live as a community. For me one of the most poignant things I learned about Islam is that the girls would tell us, “In our culture if you learn something you want to share it, if you have a piece of bread and you are with your family you want to share it.”

That’s why education there is so powerful and valuable because within the families and the girls is the wish to want to share it, whereas we are much more individualistic in our world. It’s something we probably won’t get into the film but it’s absolutely my favourite story. Gita was saying that when she went at age eleven to work with a wealthy family, she said, “You know I went there and had seen that life on television and the ultimate goal was to have money and a nice house, and when I got to that family there was medicine everywhere, they had a full fridge but they never had meals together, would all just pass each and never spoke to each other. The environment felt poor. But you go back to her house and it’s mud walls and very basic but there’s love there in that room and you realise that’s the richness humanity should value.”

Note from NOW Founder – Alexa Poortier:

Juliet Kinsman produced Changing Worlds in the Atlas Mountains, a 20-minute documentary filmed in Morocco by Kuba Nowak in the spring of 2019.  Filmed primarily at the Education for All boarding houses in Asni and on location in Atlas villages and Marrakech, it is a universal story of hope, love and support as showcased by an inspiring NGO in rural Morocco which helps teenage girls access education.

Education for All, Morocco is founded by Mike McHugo.  He also founded Kasbah du Toubkal together with his brother Chris and Hajj Maurice, a unique Berber mountain resort and an extraordinary community-run 14 rooms lodge in the high Atlas which offers remote off-the-grid escapes and supports the local Berber community.  Kasbah du Toubkal is a member of the NOW Force for Good Alliance, an affiliation of extraordinary and caring places to stay that provides a sustainable travel experience and takes responsibility for their total impact on the community and the environment.

Education For All in Morocco supports Sustainable Development Goals 5 – Gender Equality.  It is another fundamental human right which is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development.   There are many ways to get involved and your efforts will make a huge difference.

Education is a human right. Enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it calls  for free and compulsory elementary education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, goes further to stipulate that countries shall make higher education accessible to all.   Going beyond the rhetoric, both the opportunity and the right to education are never equal and girls are too often shortchanged in many parts of our world.

An educated woman educates the next generation.  Here’s 10 more reasons why female education is important:

1. Increased Literacy: Of the 163 million illiterate youth across the globe, nearly 63 percent are female. Offering all children education will prop up literacy rates, pushing forward development in struggling regions.

2. Human Trafficking: Women are most vulnerable to trafficking when they are undereducated and poor, according to the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking. Through providing young girls with opportunities and fundamental skills, this billion-dollar industry can be significantly undermined.

3. Political Representation: Across the globe, women are underrepresented as voters and restricted from political involvement. The United Nations Women’s programmes on leadership and participation suggests that civic education, training and all around empowerment will ease this gap.

4. Thriving Babies: According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, children of educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past the age of five. Foreign aid for schoolhouses and curriculum development could greatly benefit the East African country of Burundi, where nearly 16,000 children die per year.

5. Safe Sex: A girl who completes primary school is three times less likely to contract HIV. With these statistics in mind, The World Bank calls education a “window of hope” in preventing the spread of AIDS among today’s children.

6. Later Marriage: As suggested by the United Nations Population Fund, in underdeveloped countries, one in every three girls is married before reaching the age of 18. In a region where a girl receives seven or more years of education, the wedding date is delayed by four years.

7. Smaller Families: Increased participation in school reduces fertility rates over time. In Mali, women with secondary education or higher have an average of three children. Counterparts with no education have an average of seven children.

8. Income Potential: Education also empowers a woman’s wallet through boosting her earning capabilities. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as UNESCO, a single year of primary education has shown to increase a girl’s wages later in life by 20 percent.

9. Thriving GDP: Gross domestic product also soars when both girls and boys are being offered educational opportunities. When 10 percent more women attend school, GDP increases by three percent on average.

10. Poverty Reduction: When women are provided with equal rights and equal access to education, they go on to participate in business and economic activity. Increased earning power and income combat against current and future poverty through feeding, clothing and providing for entire families.

Sources: Borgenproject.org, PRB, U.N. Women, CFR, World Bank

If Not NOW, When?

Gravely affecting safety and lives, the 2019 wildfires in California, Amazon Rainforest and Australia were extreme and devastating.  The east coast of Australia continue to burn until today and this is the kind of terrifying catastrophe revealed in a 2008 report commissioned by the Australian government which predicted that global warming would cause the nation’s fire seasons to begin earlier, end later, and be more intense — starting around 2020.

Come hell or high water, the Australia experience suggests that climate denial will persist through fires that have burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres; 186,000 square kilometres; 72,000 square miles), destroyed over 5,900 buildings (including approximately 2,683 homes), killed at least 30 people plus an estimated one billion animals and some endangered species.

Paul Krugman, opinion columnist of the New York Times’ article – Australia Shows Us the Road to Hell  commented on the political reactions that are more terrifying than the fires themselves. He noted that the same deepening irrational partisan division that exist in Australia also exits in other countries such as USA where anti-environmentalist governments seem unmoved as the nightmares of environmentalists become reality. And the anti-environmentalist media, the Murdoch empire in particular, has gone all-out on disinformation, trying to place the blame on arsonists and “greenies” who won’t let fire services get rid of enough trees. Climate optimists have always hoped for a broad consensus in favor of measures to save the planet. The trouble with getting action on climate, the story went, was that it was hard to get people’s attention. The issue was complex, while the damage was too gradual and too invisible. In addition, the big dangers lay too far in the future. But surely once enough people had been informed about the dangers, once the evidence for global warming became sufficiently overwhelming, climate action would cease to be a partisan issue.

“The Australian fires have highlighted the inadequacies of the systems – political, but also in terms of immediate disaster response. Tourism is badly affected”, commented Dr. Susanne Becken.

The urgency for climate action is rising and we have all heard and seen the bad news. In Oct. 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report projected that we will reach 1.5°C (34.7°F) above pre-industrial level by 2030. But our chances are lower today since people, companies and countries did not do enough to lessen their carbon emissions. 

Today, the IPCC tells us that we have only 8 years of current emissions remaining in our carbon budget before we reach 1.5°C (34.7°F) by 2028, or less if we don’t lower our emissions to zero or if events occur to amplify warming. We are warned that just half a degree beyond this and we will severely destabilise our climate and worsen the climate extremes we are already experiencing today. At the global pace of inaction, we will reach 2°C (35.6°F) danger zone within our lifetime.  

It is terrifying and irrational when countries in flames isn’t enough to produce a global consensus for action.

This is when we as individuals with a wallet and a vote must stand up and loudly voice our demand for action with full accountability and transparency, a transition to 100% renewable energy and a reduction of carbon emissions to net zero by 2025.

Are you demanding urgent climate action with accountability and transparency from your government and the companies you support NOW? If not NOW, when?

Track the climate action of your country https://climateactiontracker.org/

If not now, when?

120 Seconds with Sue Williams of Whatley Manor

Sue Williams is the General Manager of Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa located in a beautifully appointed, privately owned gem of a hotel, tucked away on the southerly edge of the Cotswold’s.

Inspired by the natural beauty of the hotel’s surroundings and their true love for luxury hospitality, Sue and the hotel owner felt compelled to take their property on the journey of reducing its carbon emissions and becoming responsible operators in a fully measured way.

With focus and creativity, Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa joined the NOW Force for Good Alliance, implemented the EarthCheck Evaluate sustainability programme and received their Earth Rating certification in the spring of 2019.

One Word that describes you?


What project are you most proud of when it comes to sustainability?

Taking our long-established hotel, which we operate within a 150-year-old building, and turning it into a low carbon, sustainable operation. Offering our guests, a quality, responsible travel option. I am especially proud of our team who has so readily come on the journey with us.

Which is your favorite part of the job?

Building our sustainability community. It is a subject that when you start talking to people you find it is dear to their hearts and they want to connect, share, contribute and generally be supportive of us on our journey. We have created a whole new group of friends who have become loyal supporters of the house. Equally I have enjoyed coming to understand what a creative process it is and throwing myself into it.

Which is the part you enjoy the least?

Being disappointed when you come up against ignorance. For instance, when some of your suppliers just close you down on the topic and decline to even engage on how we could work together in a more sustainable way.

Who is your greatest influence?

My hotel owner, he only says a few words, but they are well chosen and sincere.

Best advice you’ve been given?

Knowledge is power. You have a responsibility to read up and grow your understanding around the subject. Also, to make small steps daily and not to feel daunted at the scale of the job in hand.

How is Whatley aiming to provide a truly sustainable travel experience for its guests?

We need to do the thinking for the guests as they just want to step inside and relax. It is for us to create slow paced activities that enable them to unwind and enjoy the feeling of wellbeing whilst they are receiving the very best of service and food. For example, we include local produce on our menus, biodynamic wines from the UK & Spa products that are also make in the UK with sustainable packaging. Making the whole experience fully integrated with sustainability, rather than a big shout out about “look what we have done”.

What are you and your company doing to reduce and offset your carbon footprint and inspire others to do the same?

By looking at every process and every single activity at the hotel and making as many small changes as we can. Introducing energy saving measures where we can. When mechanical items need replacing then energy efficient items are found and put in. Same with our kitchen refurbishment we removed gas and now have induction equipment. We switched to renewable energy sources. We offset some of our activities such as waste removal and where possible meetings take place via Skype. For those meetings that must be attended that require air travel, we offset via the NOW Offset Carbon tool.

We mention to our guests the opportunity to offset their journey to us. We do this in our reservation confirmation emails and attach the interactive NOW Offset Carbon tool to make it easy for them. We get very positive comments from our guests about our sustainability actions which is very encouraging.
We use only carbon zero taxi companies and ask the occasional helicopter landing to offset their flight before they can come on property.

We are committed to getting an accurate carbon footprint measurement for the hotel and will annually commit to an independent audit with EarthCheck. This way we can truly monitor our impact and our progress in reducing harmful emissions.

I was asked to participate in a couple of sustainability panel discussions at industry events recently which gave me the opportunity to share what we are doing with the audience. Letting them know what an interesting and enjoyable process it has been for us. As a GM, NOW Sustainability is a wonderful tool by which to engage a young team and to have a shared purpose to work on together. Why wouldn’t you?

The October 2018 UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we only have until 2030 for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. By late 2019, we have only 8 years left in our carbon budgets before we reach 1.5C. Will we make it? Will we make it before 2030?   What is your Plan B at work and in your personal life?

Like so many I fear not, but I intend to use my determination and profile in industry to do my utmost to stir up others in our sector. I feel so focused on taking action at the moment and just know if others would make the same steps there could be a slim chance of not needing a Plan B, it is too frightening to think about. The luxury landscape would change so much, at work it would be taking whatever remaining steps to achieve a Carbon Neutral operation. I would continue to build our sustainable community to ensure as near neighbors we could help each other with whatever challenges came along. The same in my personal life, I would school myself to manage on so much less and commune with what nature remained.

How would you suggest we get people and companies to ‘do more’ to help this situation?

Keep painting the picture for people at every opportunity. For example, remind them about the rate of deforestation that is taking place, and how biodiversity is a reality and pressing the message home that without nature we do not have a future.
More hard-hitting documentaries which clearly illustrate the science behind the damage we are doing to our planet. TV remains all powerful and will reach people more rapidly.

I think generally the hotel industry must stop talking about growth and seeking more profit. They need to commit to investing in energy efficiencies and reduced emissions. I suspect legislation & taxes will need to be applied to get the attention of the majority.

Which is your personal favourite place to stay who are trying hard when it comes to sustainability?

The Grove Hotel in Narbeth, they are to be commended for all that they do with regards to mitigating their impact on the environment. It is stylish, comfortable & offers the best of food and Service. They don’t shout about it but simply lead the way with operating responsibly. www.grovenarberth.co.uk

What other steps do you take to make your daily life more committed to sustainability?

We have made the move to renewable energy at home & I have encouraged many members of the team to do the same. It was so easy to do and we each got a £50 introductory credit which was a happy bonus for all.

Managing our waste responsibly is a very important step. The primary step was to reduce the amount of goods that we buy, asking ourselves if we need the items at all. If we do need to make a purchase, we ask suppliers to not deliver in plastic and if they do, we ask them to take the cardboard & plastic away with them. Ensuring 100% not to send waste to landfill and offsetting the lorry journeys too. Following the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle. Owning the lifecycle of your waste is an important part of this process.

Climate change activism is also fuelling the flight-shame movement by highlighting the role of aviation and travel in global warming. Should people fly less or choose less carbonised modes of travel? How can people travel more responsibly? Are you walking the talk?

Both is most certainly the answer. Business travel should be restricted by law, however when Carbon Tax is applied which it surely will be, companies may not be able to afford to travel as much & there could be an even greater reliance on technology for virtual meetings. Leisure travelers certainly need to think before taking that trip. They travel on a whim, or for romance but rarely to “do right” by the environment, nor considering the delicate ecosystems of the beauty spot they are going to visit.

I love to experience other countries and it saddens me to think I might see less of the world, but I would gladly reduce my personal airmiles to keep my personal footprint low. I have paid to offset the couple of short haul flights I have done this year. I hear electric planes are being invented, let’s hope they come into existence soon. I have a very short commute to work and I am grateful for the gift of time this brings and the knowledge that my emissions are low. When I do go to London, I always travel on trains which operate on electric lines. I like to believe I am walking the talk.

If you could have one hour with a world leader, who would it be and what would you say?

First, I would make David Attenborough World leader and just ask him what he needed me to do!

The world leader would need to be Donald Trump as his lack of comprehension of the scale of the problem is terrifying. I would say that power in the future will lie with the nation that comes up with means of manufacturing vast quantities of low carbon energy. The Chinese are working very hard on this and stealing the march on the rest of the world. Only then might a power-hungry man listen as I fear the biodiversity facts would fall on deaf ears.

Any regrets so far?
Only that I didn’t open my ears to the scale of this problem and take action years ago.

Top 10 People-Powered Moments of 2019

Moments of 2019

2019 has been a hell of a year!  At this most urgent time, when most institutionspolitical leaders and many brands are failing the trust test amid staggering inequality and social upheaval, we are seeing new kinds of influence taking power.  From the youngest generations to the oldest, people with a cause drive change and connect with us in ways that has never happened before.  Though we are running late and there are many key measures that are still moving in the wrong direction, there are actions that signal change is coming.

To conclude this remarkable decade of climate activism, where more people than ever are rising up to the challenges that we face, here is the 360.org list of 10 moments of 2019 to be remembered. 

1. Millions strike for the climate

The Climate Strikes of 2019 were groundbreaking. With just shy of 8 million people from 185 countries taking part. The protests were on front pages across the world, giving all of us hope that the good work will continue to push forward into 2020. The conscience and inspiration is Greta Thunberg is the Time Magazine Person of the Year. She is the youngest individual ever to receive this recognition which says as much about the moment and the year 2019 as it does about her.  “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.  How dare you.” 

2. Asian Banks dump coal

The world’s fifth largest bank, Japan’s MUFG, tightened its lending policy in May, when it announced an end to new project finance for coal power. Campaigners targeted Asian banks financing coal, especially in Japan, and it’s working. Singapore’s big three banks also announced they were ending financing to new coal plants earlier this year

3. Divestment milestone

In September, Investors committed to divest from oil, coal and gas companies to the amount of $11 trillion USD, blowing past last years $10 trillions goal by 2020. As of September that number has reached almost $12 trillion!

4. Brazilian states ban fracking

In an amazing victory after years of campaigning, the state of Paraná in Brazil passed a law in July to permanently ban fracking – and Santa Catarina followed weeks later. It means Latin America’s largest shale reserves will go untapped, with 18 million people safe from the direct impacts of fracking.

5. Lamu, saved

After years of resistance, in June a Kenya tribunal cancelled a developer’s license to build a new coal plant at Lamu, an amazing coastal UNESCO world heritage site. It was a victory, made even sweeter by the fact that the court recognized the lack of public participation and risks to people and the environment. See the celebration.

6. Afrika Vuka launch

This is a new platform made to unite grass root campaigns across Africa so that resources and learnings can be shared across groups working to halt the spread of fossil fuel infrastructure and promote the use of renewable energies. Thanks to groups sharing resources through this platform, South Africa’s Nedbank became the first bank in Africa to stop financing for coal.

7. Williams pipeline moratorium

Thanks to the work of Activists, New York’s Governor has halted the Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline which would bring fracked gas to New York City. The company has re-applied for their construction permits but activists continue to push for a permanent ban and a Green New Deal to make sure it never gets built

8. Fossil Free EIB

The worlds largest international public bank, The European Investment Bank (EIB) has decided to not lend to fossil fuels as part of its lending policy and has actually permanently ended support for most of their current fossil fuel projects.

9. Promise to protect

In the effort to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and protect water and ancestral lands, Indigenous leaders and allies held a March-May training tour for 1,160 people in nine cities across the USA. While construction continues to be debated and delayed, people across the USA are preparing for creative resistance in case it resumes

10. Europe’s gas does not pass

The MidCat pipeline between Spain and France, and Gothenburg terminal in Sweden were both cancelled, while fracking was banned in the UK. Read more.

Where to Travel in 2020 and Why?

Travel in 2020

196 countries negotiated the 2015 Paris Agreement and committed to taking steps to limit the increase in global average temperature by reducing and mitigating carbon. Despite this, global carbon emissions increased 1.7 percent in 2017 and a further 2.7 percent in 2018, and it has been estimated that the rate of increase in 2019 will be among the highest on record. Fast action now could reduce carbon emissions within 12 years and hold global increases below 2 degrees C and perhaps 1.5. But which countries are taking real action?

In the UN’s climate action summit in September 2019, 70 countries announced they will either boost their national action plans by 2020 or have started the process of doing so, while 65 countries and major sub-national economies such as California committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Why not make these places your choice of trip destination in 2020 to give yourself a more sustainable travelling experience and do your bit to help?

Andreas gucklhorn

The next stage is to hold all these places to account, of course. Many times countries have committed to change for press attention but then failed to act. You can use the Climate Action Tracker to find out what your country is doing – and to make your voice heard if they are not doing enough. More here.

Meanwhile, below is a summary of the most interesting bits for travellers to help you pick and choose. You can find a full list of countries and exactly what they are doing on the Climate Watch Data website here.

Blur cartography close up concept

In Europe
France said it would not enter into any trade agreement with countries that have policies counter to the Paris Agreement. Finland promised to become carbon neutral by 2035 and planned to become “carbon negative” soon afterwards. Germany also committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. Slovakia pledged to end subsidies to coal mines in 2023 as it joined the powering past coal alliance, committing to close all coal mines. It has also committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. Italy said it would phase out coal by 2025 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. It also committed to put in place a “Green New Deal”, including a green jobs programme and review its subsidies to fossil fuel. Greece pledged to close all lignite power plants by 2028 with coal plants to be dismantled from 2020. Hungary promised to phase out all coal-powered electricity production by 2030 and increase forest cover by 30% by 2030. The UK pledged to double its funding to tackle climate change through overseas development aid to £11.6 billion over the next five years Ireland has vowed to set a moratorium on exploring for new oil but said it still intends to use gas as a “bridging fuel”.

In Asia
India said it will raise the portion of renewable into its energy mix to 175GW by 2022, with the aim of boosting it to 450GW in the long-term. Indonesia promised to cut fossil fuel subsidies and develop a green finance facility. Pakistan committed to reach land degradation neutrality by 2030 by restoring at least 30% of degraded forests, 5% degraded croplands, 6% of degraded grasslands and 10% of degraded wetlands, and would plant 10 billion trees over the next five years.

gustavo lepe

In South and Central America
Chile promised a full decarbonisation of its energy mix, but did not communicate a date. Bolivia said it would reach 100% of households with electricity, with 79% renewable by 2030. Guatemala pledged to restore 1.5 million hectares of forested land by 2022. Colombia has committed to restoring 300,000 hectare (about 180 million trees) of forest by 2022, and an additional 900,000 hectares of agro-forestry and sustainable forest management.

Morocco promised to produce 52% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. South Africa pledged to finalise a just transition plan compatible with the 1.5C target and a climate change bill to provide the legislative basis for updating its climate plan, allocate sectoral emissions targets, and regulate large emitters. It also vowed to develop a programme to enhance the land’s net emissions sink capacity by restoring subtropical thicket and grasslands, expanding forestry and reduce tillage. Kenya promised to plant 2 billion trees by 2022. Nigeria said it would employ youth to plant 25 million trees. Ethiopia reaffirmed its commitment to planting 4 billion new trees a year. Congo DRC committed to stabilize its forest cover at 60%.

In Small Island Developing States
Many smaller countries, including Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries, were among those who made the biggest pledges, despite the fact the they have contributed the least to the problem. Fiji, for example, committed to plant 1 million new trees and said it was exploring planting 31 million more. Barbados pledged to plant one million trees by end of 2020 (on 166 square miles of land) and called on all Bajans around the world to come and help. Some pledges are likely to be contingent on receiving climate finance from the wealthiest countries.

anna earl

Russia (finally) ratified the Paris Agreement. New Zealand has committed to plant one billion trees by 2028 and to make the country “the most sustainable food producer in the world”. Sweden, South Korea, Denmark and Iceland announced a doubling of their contribution to the Green Climate Fund. A total of 12 countries made financing announcements to the fund, including the Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Monaco, Slovenia, Hungary and Lichtenstein.