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How do we build on the cumulative successes and lessons learned from previous summits to transform into urgent climate action?

Lucian J Hudson, Chair of Earthwatch Europe, and Emily Murrell, Trustee of Earthwatch Europe, reflect on the role that global summits play in addressing the environmental challenges we face - and what we must all do to ensure that they are followed by meaningful action. 

Many of us are in a state of shock and apprehension with the worsening situation in Ukraine still unfolding. It is at times like this that we can usefully remind ourselves about the need for and power of concerted efforts to collaborate to achieve common goals.

Despite the global turmoil caused by the war in Ukraine, it is also important to note the recent warning from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that it’s now or never to limit the impacts of climate change. Whether you consider yourself someone who has been concerned about climate change and sustainable development for some time or are a recently ‘self-declared climate concerned citizen’, there is no doubt that the world is far from stabilising global warming at 1.5°C and preserving biodiversity.

This turbulent year also marks 20 years since the World Summit on Sustainable Development and 30 years since the Earth Summit in Rio. Both these events brought together policymakers from across the globe and laid the foundations for significant milestones in identifying global sustainability goals and progress indicators like the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

When Earthwatch Europe Chair Lucian Hudson was the UK Government’s chief spokesman at summits focused on climate change and sustainable development in the 2000s, he saw first-hand the progress that can be made when you forge common purpose between governments, businesses, and civil society in these fora. Lucian recalls the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, which saw over 20,000 participants meet in Johannesburg and was a milestone - as were the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and COP21 in Paris in 2015. 

When returning from COP26 in Glasgow late last year, Earthwatch Trustee and former UK Climate Negotiator Emily Murrell remarked:

"These large international forums can be worthwhile to convene all the key players in our global economy, establish new ambitious commitments, and foster cross-border and cross-sector collaboration. They also provide that all important opportunity to ‘check-in’ on global progress. That said, they are not enough without the necessary action and follow-up in-between meetings."

Earthwatch is one organisation actively transforming the SDGs from words into action. Our environmental charity is focused on developing and promoting the role of citizen science in delivering the global goals, recognising that this is how you build positive feedback loops between society and policy. In short, if the public interest in preserving our planet is demonstrated, this fuels political will. This political will encourages policy changes at the local, regional, and international level, which changes society and the way we treat our planet for the better, which in turn can be monitored through citizen science.

Here are two ways Earthwatch are playing their part to deliver the SDGs.

Corporate learning

‘Earthwatch Learning’ draws directly on the SDGs to support businesses to reframe their strategies around the global goals. This helps to deliver business-focused outcomes at the same time as inspiring action through building personal connections with nature.

This can be overt and straightforward; working with organisations to articulate how their strategies are aligned to the SDGs and sharing this with teams through interactive and engaging learning events. It can also be through working with senior leadership teams to break down, refine, and reshape their approach. Strategies and business aims are made personal, and leaders are supported to create meaningful plans to deliver in their roles to achieve their organisation’s sustainability commitments. Earthwatch helps corporates to create innovative and immersive learning environments, often taking inspiration from and spending time in nature to create a deeper connection with the nature-based aspects of the SDGs. We also share our technical expertise, for instance highlighting relevant frameworks such as the Circular Economy and the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s ‘Planetary Boundaries’.

Citizen science

Second, Earthwatch stands out for its strong scientific credentials, particularly in the development of citizen science for environmental monitoring. Our ‘FreshWater Watch’ programme has been recognised by the UN as an example of a project that can make meaningful contributions to SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation).

This programme enables UN member states to monitor water quality on a larger scale using low-cost kits that do not require the kind of resources needed for laboratory testing. It also empowers citizen scientists to participate in the management of the resources upon which they depend. There are exciting pilots running in a number of African countries, including Sierra Leone, Malawi and Zambia. They all aim to establish FreshWater Watch methodologies to meet their international reporting obligations.

To maximise the value of citizen science for SDG reporting, projects can be co-designed with statutory agencies and should combine data needs with the needs of the citizen scientists. In this way, the value of citizen science for SDG monitoring goes beyond the data: public engagement and collaboration generated by the project can also have a positive environmental impact and improve water quality.

Earthwatch is well placed to lead this type of work. We are at the forefront of a number of innovations that use citizen science. Coming later this year, the MICS (Measuring Impact of Citizen Science) platform will offer a range of tools to measure the costs and the benefits of citizen science, maximizing the positive impact policymakers and project managers can have on their environment. Measuring progress is key – that is why Earthwatch is playing a coordinating role in the MICS platform to measure the impact of citizen science with respect to the SDGs.

Looking ahead to the delayed COP15 Biodiversity Summit, now expected to take place in August, Lucian Hudson, Chair, Earthwatch Europe reflects:

“We need a step-change, one built on accelerating and intensifying the cross-sector collaboration we’ve seen at previous summits. If cross-sector collaboration is to work, we all need to recognise success turns on valuing inter-dependency and producing more together than we can alone. Within its field of expertise, Earthwatch is in a significant position to accelerate progress towards achieving the Paris Agreement and the SDGs, and we look forward to working with our partners to make that happen.”

To discuss how Earthwatch could partner with your business or organisation on environmental research and engagement, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Lucian J Hudson, Chair, Earthwatch Europe 
  Emily Murrell, Trustee, Earthwatch Europe



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