28 Nov 2022 3 min read

Turning the Climate Catastrophe ship

By Lewis Pugh

We're faced with an emergency, and inaction is simply not an option.


A cargo ship is an enormous thing. It looks big from land, but it looks even bigger when you are swimming in front of it. I can promise you there is nothing more frightening than seeing a ship bearing down on you in the middle of the ocean.

It doesn't help knowing that, even if the people at the helm do realise you are there, they probably wouldn't be able to alter course in time to avoid you. That was quite an incentive for me to pick up the pace as I crossed the busy shipping lane in the Gulf of Suez!

Tough choices

The Red Sea Swim was a lot more difficult than I thought. There were many times I could have given up, countless moments that it felt too difficult, or too dangerous, or I was just too exhausted.

The right choice is not always the easy choice. I chose to do something no one had attempted before, because I had a good reason to do it. If we heat our planet by more than 1.5°C, we will lose 70% of the world's coral reefs; if we pass 2°C – and we are currently heading for well beyond that – 99% of coral reefs will die1.

I wasn't just swimming for the coral reefs, although the loss of this foundational ecosystem would be a tragedy unprecedented in human history. Like the proverbial canary in the coalmine, the coral reefs are signalling that something is very, very wrong with the state of our global climate. And we need to do something about it while we still can, before it is too late.

Measuring urgency

If you want a tangible sense of the relentless increase in global temperature, there is a counter on my foundation website which tracks global warming since 1880. It never stops, ticking over fractions of degrees each second in only one direction: warmer.

Last month the UN released its 2022 Emissions Gap Report, which looks at the ways governments across the world aim to achieve net-zero emissions by the middle of this century. The report revealed that, despite the commitments made by nations at COP26 to increase their pledges, few have followed through to date. Existing pledges would reduce emissions by just 1% by 20302.

Down to business

The report makes it clear that we cannot rely on governments to solve the Climate Crisis. Business needs to lead the way through meaningful action. Which is why I partnered with LGIM, a company supporting efforts to limit carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Through its Climate Impact Pledge, LGIM has committed to help companies reach their net-zero objectives.

It is not always an easy path, but we have no other choice. We're faced with an emergency, and inaction is simply not an option.  

COP 27

UN Secretary General António Guterres called the emissions gap "a by-product of a commitments gap, a promises gap and an action gap." Bridging that gap starts with COP27 in Egypt.

COP is an annual event, and each year the need for tangible, decisive action becomes even more urgent if we are to realise the pledges made in the Paris Agreement. Like the global warming counter that never pauses, the climate emergency becomes more severe, and the stakes ever higher, with each passing day.

Averting a climate catastrophe may feel like trying to turn an enormous ship around. But we have a strong current of public will behind us, which can support the urgent action that is needed from both business and government.

We need all hands on deck now, united in a true spirit of cooperation.


1. Source: IPCC 2018 and 2021.

2. https://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2022

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