If you pay much attention to the news, you’ve probably noticed that it always seems to be bad. In fact, it almost always is bad – and deliberately! Research shows we remember bad news more easily, so it’s no wonder newspapers grab your attention with negative headlines.
If you care about the climate and the environment, a relentless feed of doom and gloom can make you feel hopeless – an effect termed ‘climate doomism’. The overwhelming amount of negative headlines has been shown to increase climate anxiety, and reduce the amount of climate action people take, as they feel the problem is too large to tackle.
However, this is so far from the truth! Every day climate activists are making huge wins, and so much change is being made by grassroots campaigners working in their communities. We’ve highlighted a selection of climate campaign wins here. Whether you’re a seasoned activist, or just starting a new year’s resolution to take more action for the climate, hopefully these success stories will inspire you to get involved.
Keep it in the Ground
With governments announcing new fossil fuel developments (like the Rosebank oil and gas field in the UK, or the Willow Project in the USA) left right and centre, it can be easy to forget how many fossil fuel projects have been halted by the campaigns against them. Here are just a few examples of oil and gas projects that never got off (or out of?) the ground.
In 2021, activists with the #StopCambo campaign successfully forced Shell to pull out of Cambo, a huge oil field in the North Sea. Despite having new owners, over 2 years later the field is still no closer to being developed.
Fossil fuel companies have been trying and failing to drill for oil in the Australian Bight for many years. At the time of writing four international oil companies (Equinor, BP, Chevron and Santos) have made, and then subsequently abandoned, plans to drill due to sustained opposition meaning the projects could not gain a social license to operate.
Equinor, the company behind the Rosebank oil field, have also put a long term pause on the Wisting oil field in Norway and the Bay Du Nord oil field in Canada. While these are pauses, rather than permanent stops, they indicate the power of activism in keeping millions of barrels of oil in the ground for longer.
Arguably the most prominent deterrent to supporting oil and gas investment in the North Sea is the size and organizational ability of environmental activists in the regionOil Price
It’s much easier to take positive climate action if you have access to accurate information about the climate (that’s why we do what we do at curious.earth – you’re welcome!). So when products or companies greenwash their way into our shopping baskets it can be hard to spot.
Luckily, recent years have seen an increase in adverts being banned for containing misleading information about the climate. In 2023 alone adverts for SUVs, airlines and disposable vapes have all been banned by ASA, the UK’s advertising watchdog. Shell also had an advert promoting their green energy investments pulled from billboards, TV and YouTube after the watchdog ruled it was “giving the impression that a high proportion of its business is lower-carbon energy, which is not the case”.
During COP26 HSBC placed adverts in Glasgow promoting the bank’s green investments – these were banned by the ASA and HSBC were told that future adverts must “disclose the bank’s contribution to the climate crisis”.
While these bans are enacted by a national regulator, they come about because of complaints made by individuals and campaigns by groups such as Ad Free Cities.
Protecting Indigenous people’s land rights has been shown to be a highly effective climate solution. It is therefore a huge climate win when ancestral land is returned to Indigenous groups. At the end of 2023, a court in Ecuador ruled in favour of returning over 100,000 acres of land in the Amazon rainforest to the Seikopai nation. The ruling also requires Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment to publicly apologise to Seikopai elders.
Indigenous peoples have long stewarded and protected the world’s forests. They are achieving at least equal conservation results with a fraction of the budget of Protected Areas, making investment in indigenous peoples themselves the most efficient means of protecting forests.Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur
Protecting land from unsustainable development is crucial wherever it happens, big or small, global or local.
Last year we wrote about the plans to build a water reservoir on the protected Beauregard plateau in France, to feed the artificial snow cannons at the La Clusaz ski resort.
In October 2022, after months of campaigning including a weeks-long occupation of the site, a coalition of 5 environmental groups successfully won their case demanding an emergency suspension of works on the site. The local court judge declared that “the public interest … is insufficient to call into question the urgent need to preserve the natural environment and the species it shelters”. The project has since been on hold, and more recently, campaigners have seen a further victory.
Following the original suspension, the La Clusaz council and the government’s Ministry for Ecological Transition both lodged appeals with the Conseil d’Etat (France’s highest court), requesting permission for the project to continue. In October 2023 their appeals were rejected in another blow to the project and a win for campaigners. The mayor of La Clusaz has confirmed that work is paused until legal proceedings have been completed, which could take years.
Put your money where your morals are
Finance is essential for all fossil fuel projects, and moving money out of investments that support fossil fuels (known as divestment) is one of the most impactful ways of taking climate action – it is estimated that moving your savings from the UK’s most polluting to least polluting bank could save as much carbon every year as 7 round-trip flights between London and Rome. But what if you had millions, or billions, to divest from fossil fuels instead?
The Fossil Free Universities campaign, led by students at universities across the UK, has so far convinced 108 UK universities to divest from fossil fuels, representing nearly £18 billion in investments. Students in the USA are also campaigning for their universities to drop fossil fuel investments. After years of campaigning by student activists, in 2023 New York University announced it would be divesting from fossil fuels. This is a huge win for the climate, as NYU alone has over $5billion available to invest.
Total energies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) are currently preparing to build the world’s longest heated crude oil pipeline – the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). The planned project would run almost 1500km of oil pipeline through nature reserves and local communities in East Africa, and would of course be a climate disaster. But, at the time of writing, campaigners with #StopEACOP have already delayed the project by nearly 4 years – and counting. The #StopEACOP campaign has targeted banks and insurance companies directly, piling on pressure until they commit to refusing to insure or fund the pipeline. Without sufficient funding, the pipeline can’t go ahead. Multiple high profile banks have already pulled out, with only 2 banks publicly supporting EACOP.
See you in Court
While individual campaigns can be highly effective at targeting specific companies or projects, sometimes a more legally binding solution is needed. Cue, climate litigation.
In 2015, there was a landmark ruling in the Netherlands where a court ordered the Dutch government to cut their emissions by 25%. This case inspired other climate litigation cases: In 2021 Shell were ordered to cut their emissions by 45%, also by a court in the Netherlands, in a ruling that was “the first time a company has been legally obliged to align its policies with the Paris climate accords”. In 2022, the UK government were ordered by a court to revise their climate strategy. The original strategy breached the UK government’s own Climate Change Act because it did not show how the government’s emissions targets would actually be met. And in 2023, the Brussels court of appeal ordered the Belgian government to cut emissions by 55% by 2030.
While there are also many climate court cases that are not successful, the increase in cases getting to court shows a change in social attitudes, and every win sets a precedent for further successful cases in the future. You can read more about climate litigation in our recent feature article.
I believe that we will win
As campaigners and activists we are often told that we are “too idealistic” and that a protest or act of direct action makes no difference. But this list of climate wins shows us that we can always make a difference, and that being idealistic is never a bad thing. The systems we live in were created by people, and that means people can create new systems that are just and green and where everybody is free. We have to believe wholeheartedly that a better world is possible, because that’s the only way it will be. And when we believe that we’ll win, often we do.
- Take inspiration from the campaign wins above, and join a campaign group for a climate issue you care about. Check out some of our previous articles like this one or this one for some ideas of how to get involved.
- If your work or university have a divestment campaign, join it! If they don’t, can you start one?
- While going to court isn’t an accessible option for many people, you can support ongoing court cases by helping with donations for legal fees or publicising the campaigns – check out our previous article on climate litigation for organisations to support.
- The #StopRosebank campaign is taking the UK government to court over its decision to approve the Rosebank oil field. You can add your name in support of the case – even if you live outside the UK.
- Follow positive news updates to remind yourself that we can and do win climate fights – we can recommend the following instagram pages for positive climate updates
Featured Image by John S Lewis, via Flickr