Opinion: IM will stay grounded, join us!

Photo: David Isaksson

OPINION. The climate crisis is breaking our planet and humanity. It’s going to take everyone to fix it, including us. That’s why we plan to reduce flight emissions to zero over the next five years, writes Martin Nihlgård and Lubna Hawwa from the organization IM Swedish Development Partner.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writers.

Last year, IM Swedish Development Partner caused 40 tons of carbon emissions from staff flying. This is the amount we recorded; actual emissions may be even higher. However, if our plans to transform the organization succeed, we will steadily reduce flight emissions to zero over the next five years.

One of the important sustainability goals in IM’s new strategy 2024-2028 is to avoid all business travel of staff, except in cases of emergency. On flights we can’t avoid until 2028, an internal tax of up to 30 percent is applied and the money is distributed to climate organizations.

How are we going to do it?

Flying is a strong norm in the global development sector, and it seems hard to think outside the box. We are already facing many internal and external questions since embarking on the journey to stay grounded. For example, can we monitor the results effectively? How do we document stories of positive impact to use in fundraising communication? Are we going to lose the connection with partners if we do not meet them in person?

We already have answers to a few questions. Although not by choice, the pandemic pushed many organizations to function under travel bans and border restrictions. The online work environment we have built during the pandemic still exists, which means we already fly much less than before the pandemic. We are aware of the risks that come with no travel and are willing to learn from others leading with digitizing and becoming fully remote organizations. 

More importantly, our global development programs are already led by IM offices in the regions and local partners. They are far more knowledgeable and better at getting the job done than any fly-in experts! This is also a step towards decolonization.  

But why are we doing this?

Globally, flights cause over two percent of carbon emissions, but by some estimates 80 percent of humanity has never even set foot on a plane. In most wealthy countries, only a few people are frequent flyers. This perfectly symbolizes the injustice of the climate crisis as a problem caused by the rich. Almost half of the global lifestyle emissions come from the richest ten percent of the population. As an NGO from the Global North registered in Sweden, we are part of this problem. We must do what we can to minimize the damages of our travels and other high emission activities. 

Stopping flights brings cost savings too. We spent about SEK 450,000 on flight tickets last year – not counting hotel charges and other expenses. Flying less means the money we save can be allocated to where it’s needed the most — our partners and rights holders fighting on the frontlines for a just and compassionate world. 

Beyond flights, we are going for zero-meat at our events and a capital investment policy fit for a zero-carbon economy. Wherever possible we will minimize consumption of scarce resources, reduce waste and in dialogue with our partners to promote environmental sustainability in their operations too. If we preach change but do not walk the talk, we risk losing legitimacy and support. 

Climate is changing. So are we!

We simply cannot ignore the warnings about the climate crisis and the looming dangers of a hotter planet. To remain relevant today, we must take a stand with every individual, organization and movement now on the frontlines calling for action before it’s too late. IM’s global strategy 2024-2028 commits to mobilize for climate justice, shifting funds to marginalized youth and women fighting for a safe and resilient future against the climate crisis and inequalities driving it. 

To stop flying is actually the easy part. The difficult part is mobilizing for climate justice in the communities. Many of them already live in brutal conditions of war, occupation, patriarchy, and oppression. We need to find ways to connect the climate crisis with these daily struggles and create a space where our partners can build programs for long lasting changes. Our success will depend entirely on how truly we can stay grounded in our values. We challenge other organizations and companies to join us and stay grounded! 

Martin Nihlgård 
Secretary General 
IM Swedish Development Partner

 Lubna Hawwa
 Climate Change Officer
 IM Swedish Development Partner

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