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Climate Change: A Challenge For Our Times

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We are but two short weeks away from the UN's global World Environment Day celebrations on the 5th of June. This year, the theme focuses on the impacts of climate change on Small Island Developing States, our "canary in the coal mine" for what all low-lying and vulnerable areas will face in the not too distant future.

I am really looking forward to heading to Barbados, this year's WED host country, to witness first hand the problems the island is facing and the creative solutions it is coming up with to adapt to these challenges. Barbados, a 430-square kilometer nation with a population of 270,000, is considered to be highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change -- from agricultural impacts to the destruction of its coastal ecosystems.

However, this small nation has taken big steps to reduce its climate footprint and to provide clean, renewable energy, and opportunities for green economic growth, to its people. Among other things, it has pledged to increase the share of renewable energy across the island to 29 percent of all electricity consumption by 2029. This would cut total electricity costs by an estimated $283.5 million USD and reduce CO2 emissions by 4.5 million tons, according to the government.

This year, I have been submerged, no pun intended, in climate change issues. I care deeply about this because as a Louisiana native I spent my childhood enjoying the beauty, wonder and delicate nature of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on this ecosystem and clearly demonstrated what increasingly strong super storms, which are caused in part by global warming and higher sea temperatures, can do.

It was an amazing coming together of individuals, businesses and communities that helped repair the damage caused by Katrina, but the impacts will be long-lasting and have had devastating consequences on the economy. Small Island Developing States with less capacity to handle these acts of nature are even more vulnerable.

I was so fortunate to have also participated in the ground-breaking climate change documentary series, Years of Living Dangerously, produced by James Cameron. The series sent me and other correspondents to report on real-life stories of climate change from around the world. When I found out about this series, my heart jumped out of my chest, because I realized -- finally -- this needs to happen now. It is hands-down the most important project I've ever been a part of.

What scares me the most about climate change is that by some predictions half of all species on earth will be extinct within 50 years. We will be experiencing floods and droughts that will prohibit agriculture and fisheries. It's going to be increasingly difficult for us to get food and water. And within that lies the balance of our very existence.

Small Island Developing States around the globe are already bearing the brunt of the tragic impacts of climate change, suffering from rising sea levels, severe storm surges and declining ecosystems. It is predicted that some currently inhabited small islands will be completely under water within a few decades.

The Prime Minster of Barbados expressed that his "target should be to place Barbados firmly on the world map in the context of the environment and sustainable development." He added: "This can only be achieved if all parties -- public and private sector, NGOs and civil society -- work together for a successful World Environment Day."

I agree with this idea of coming together. I have seen it in action and believe that when we combine the power of like-minded people, organizations and businesses, that we really can create an exponential impact. This is the essence of World Environment Day and the idea at the heart of my challenge to the global community -- to "raise your voice, not the sea level."

Humans are currently consuming far more than our planet can provide or sustain. We are polluting our air with carbon emissions, destroying our forests and species, and filling our seas with plastic and waste. The time is now to go greener by making choices that are good for people and the planet.

It's hard in these times to avoid eco fatigue, but fellow Goodwill Ambassadors Gisele Bündchen, Don Cheadle, Yaya Touré and I have joined forces to try to make taking action more fun. We are sending out an SOS to the world on behalf of Small Island Developing States. Our "message in the bottle?" We are all connected. The challenges faced by islands will face us all. So, every action we take to reduce waste and mitigate climate change counts. Join one of our teams and pledge to make a difference by taking action for World Environment Day.

We can do this by coming together as communities -- businesses, organizations, schools and individuals -- to connect our resources and skills to our passion for a more sustainable, resource-efficient way of living. We can do it by being more informed and by doing business with companies that have demonstrated their commitment to these issues. We can plant more trees, grow more kitchen gardens and just think more carefully about how the decisions we make impact our one and only Planet Earth.

Join us and let's have fun making a difference!

 
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