24 Oct 2022 4 min read

The climate crisis: one good reason to keep on going

By Lewis Pugh

There is one thing I'm reminded of every time I set out on an expedition: you cannot control nature.


You can do your best to predict the conditions; you can plan around weather forecasts, the number of daylight hours, and the tides, but inevitably something will happen that you just couldn't foresee and can do very little about.

Which is exactly what happened during the first week of the Red Sea swim. I had just left Saudi waters and set my sights on Ras Mohammed National Park, the southernmost point of the Sinai Peninsula, when I hit the counter-current.

It was as if the water had turned to molasses and the turbulence gave it muscle. I had to pull three times as hard, while my swimming speed plummeted from a comfortable 3 km/hour to barely 1.7 km/hour. Given that I need to bank an average of 10 kilometres each day to cover the 120km distance, that makes for some very long swimming days!

Coral inspiration

There is nothing more disheartening than putting in extra effort and not seeing a discernable result. But in these situations, I've learned that you just need to keep your head down and your eye on the prize.

There are many reasons to give up. But you only need one good reason to keep on going. I'm grateful that the coral beneath me through the Marine Protected Area was nothing short of breathtaking. It reminded me with every stroke just what I was swimming for.

I didn't round the peninsula that day, but with a fresh start, I finally reached that key milestone.

Brimming with biodiversity

The turbulence around Ras Mohammed is one of the reasons for the rich biodiversity under its waters. Moving waters stir up nutrients, and the sea life shows its gratitude in a kaleidoscopic show of colour. The biodiversity in the Red Sea, and in particular on its coral reefs, is the reason I am doing this swim.

Tragically, not all the world's coral is this healthy.

Coral reefs support 25% of all ocean life and are among the most biologically diverse, and economically valuable, ecosystems on Earth1. But the world's coral reefs are in trouble.

They are being affected by pollution, rising global temperatures, ocean acidification and irresponsible coastal development. All across the globe, coral reefs are showing signs of stress through mass bleaching events.

The science is crystal clear: if we heat our planet by more than 1.5°C, we will lose 70% of the world's coral reefs. If we heat it by 2°C, 99% of coral reefs will die2. That is nearly all of it.

Currently, we are on track for at least a 2.2°C increase2.

If we lose our coral reefs, we will not just drive many thousands of species into extinction, we will lose an entire ecosystem. This would be unprecedented in human history.

Code red

Coral reefs are barometers that clearly indicate what happens when we heat our planet. Every fraction of a degree now matters.

Which is why, at COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh this November, I will be urging all nations to drastically cut their emissions and protect the world’s oceans.

But first, I need to continue swimming to reach the shores of Egypt. Over the last few days conditions have not been in my favour.

Some days it feels like a huge effort for small, incremental gains. It's only looking back after a few days that I can see the progress we are making. No matter the conditions, with each new day I just have to dive back in and keep going. As long as I keep doing that, I will eventually get to Africa.

New direction

Unfortunately, small incremental gains will not be enough to solve the climate crisis. If we take a long hard look at where we've come from, and where we need to be, it is clear that we are simply not making enough progress. We need a profound shift in the way we do things.

As a global investor, our expedition partner LGIM recognises that biodiversity loss presents a major risk to all our global systems. Its commitment to creating a better future through responsible investing is fundamental to everything it does, and its Climate Impact Pledge urges companies to limit carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Over the past year, LGIM has seen significant progress as more companies set decarbonisation and net zero ambitions3. However, the biggest threat to the planet remains the belief that someone else will sort out the problem. Saving these beautiful coral reefs is up to every single one of us, and inaction is not an option.

I still have many kilometres, over more precious coral reefs, before I reach Hurghada. The hard work will start after that, encouraging those gathered at COP27 to take the bold action we need to ensure that these vibrant coral gardens will still be here for people to celebrate when we are all long gone.


1. Source: https://www.epa.gov/coral-reefs/basic-information-about-coral-reefs

2. Source: IPCC, 2018 and 2021.

3. Source: LGIM, Climate Impact Pledge 2022 ‘Net Zero: Going Beyond Ambition’


Key Risks

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Lewis Pugh

Endurance swimmer and the UN Patron of the Oceans

Lewis Pugh swims in the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth to call for their protection. He was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world. He was also the first to swim across the North Pole and the first to swim the full length of the English Channel. Lewis has been instrumental in protecting over two million km² of vulnerable ocean – an area larger than Western Europe. At LGIM, we are united with Lewis in our aim to tackle the climate crisis. We believe inaction is not an option and are proud to support Lewis’ efforts to raise awareness and push for positive change.

Lewis Pugh