Countdown Global Launch

Action: Notes from Session 5 of the Countdown Global Launch

Countdown is a global initiative to accelerate solutions to the climate crisis. Watch the talks, interviews and performances from the Countdown Global Launch at ted.com/countdown.

Actor, producer and activist Priyanka Chopra Jonas cohosts session 5 of the Countdown Global Launch on October 10, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

It’s time to take action. This closing session of the Countdown Global Launch explored the road ahead: How to think urgently and long-term about climate change. How to take into account the interests of future generations in today’s decisions. How we as individuals, communities and organizations can contribute to shaping a better future. 

Session 5 was cohosted by the actors and activists Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Chris Hemsworth, exploring the many facets of climate action. The session also featured a number of highlights: a stunning spoken word piece by poet Amanda Gorman on ending the devastation of climate change; a call to action from filmmaker and writer Ava DuVernay about “voting for the planet” and electing sustainability-oriented leaders into office; a short video from Make My Money Matter titled “Woolly Man,” urging us to check where our pension money is going; and an announcement of the launch of Count Us In, a global movement focused on 16 steps we can all take to protect the Earth. 

Finally, head of TED Chris Anderson and head of Future Stewards Lindsay Levin closed the show, laying out the path forward for Countdown — including next year’s Countdown Summit (October 12-15, 2021, Edinburgh, Scotland), where we’ll share an actionable blueprint for a net-zero future and celebrate the progress that’s already been made. The Countdown is on!

Actor Chris Hemsworth cohosts session 5 of the Countdown Global Launch on October 10, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

The talks in brief:

Roman Krznaric, long-view philosopher

Big idea: We don’t own the future — our descendants do. We need to strive to become good ancestors to future generations and leave behind a legacy of sustainability, justice and radical care for the planet.

How? Though they have no influence or say now, our decisions and actions have a tremendous impact on the lives of future generations. A growing movement of people across the world are looking beyond our short-term timelines and envisioning how we can create change that benefits us and our descendants. In Japan, the Future Design Movement structures community-led town and city planning sessions in a remarkable way: half of the residents participate as themselves in the present day, and the other half are tasked with imagining themselves as future citizens from 2060. By prioritizing the needs of their descendents, participants are empowered to pitch bold and ambitious solutions for climate change, health care and more. From a global campaign to grant legal personhood to nature to a groundbreaking lawsuit by a coalition of young activists suing for the right to a safe climate for future generations, the movement to restore broken ecosystems and protect the future is fierce and flourishing. Roman Krznaric names these visionaries “Time Rebels” and invites us to join them in redefining our lifespans, pursuing intergenerational justice and practicing deep love for the planet.


Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner of Wales

Big idea: When well-being is the measure of a society’s success, governments will naturally trend towards lowering carbon, promoting wellness and nurturing social justice. What if a nation could create an agency to promote well-being rather than economic growth?

How? Wales is one of the first governments to enshrine well-being as a measure of a society’s success, and the first government to create an independent agency dedicated to the security of future generations. Sophie Howe, the world’s only future generations commissioner, tells us that such an agency must involve the people in decision-making. In Wales, the people have mandated policies to lower carbon emissions, promote wellness and cultivate justice. With the principles of well-being spelled out in laws that every institution in the country must follow, Wales is “acting today for a better tomorrow.” “Make it your mission to maximize your contribution to well-being,” Howe says.


Miao Wang, United Nations Young Champion of the Earth; Alok Sharma, president of COP26; and Nigel Topping, UK High Level Climate Action Champion, COP26

Big idea: Join Race To Zero, a global campaign to get businesses, cities, regions and investors to commit to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, at the latest.

How? Three participants of Race To Zero give us the lay of the land. To begin, marine conservationist Miao Wang discusses how young people worldwide are calling for change, demanding that leaders act with speed and urgency to create a world that’s healthier, fairer and more sustainable. Next, Alok Sharma talks about how organizations and institutions are already stepping up their climate ambition as they rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, making specific and science-based commitments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. And finally Nigel Topping describes the exponential growth in sustainability commitments that we’re seeing in sector after sector of the economy, as leaders work to transform their supply chains. At this rate, he says, we can expect to see the transition to net-zero carbon emissions within 10 years — but it will take all of us to get there. Can we count you in?


Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, discusses the company’s ambitious commitment for a net-zero emissions supply chain by 2030. She speaks at the Countdown Global Launch on October 10, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Lisa Jackson, environment and social VP at Apple, in conversation with urbanist and spatial justice activist Liz Ogbu

Big idea: Under the leadership of Lisa Jackson, former head of the EPA and now Apple’s environment and social VP, the company is already carbon neutral within their own corporate and retail boundaries. By 2030, they hope to extend carbon neutrality to their supply chain and consumers. In conversation with urbanist and spatial justice activist Liz Ogbu, Jackson shares thoughts on leadership, tech, the environment and building a green economy.

How? In conversation with urbanist and spatial justice activist Liz Ogbu, Jackson shares Apple’s green goals, saying there’s no substitute for leadership in the climate change battle. She believes that if Apple leads by example, the nation and world will follow. Apple’s transformation starts with recycling — repurposing materials rather than mining the world’s rare earth elements and “conflict metals” — but it doesn’t end there. We will not win the ecological battle without a vision of climate justice that involves the at-risk communities who stand at the front lines of environmental disaster, Jackson says. She believes that racism and climate justice are inexorably linked, and in order for the whole world to get where it needs to be, Apple (and everyone else) must tackle injustice first, and a green economy will follow. “[There’s] always been this weird belief that we’re taught … that you can either be successful, or you can do the right thing,” Jackson says. “There’s no difference between the two. It’s a false choice.”


“Our conscience tells us that we cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of those in need, to the growing economic inequalities and social injustices,” says His Holiness Pope Francis. He speaks at the Countdown Global Launch on October 10, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

His Holiness Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome

Big idea: We have a choice to make: either continue to ignore the looming environmental crisis, or transform the way we act at every level of society in order to protect the planet and promote the dignity of everyone on it.

How? His Holiness Pope Francis invites us on a journey of transformation and action in a visionary TED Talk delivered from Vatican City. Referencing ideas from his new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, the spiritual leader calls our attention to a global socio-environmental crisis — one marked by growing economic inequalities, social injustices and planetary harm. “We are faced with the moral imperative, and the practical urgency, to rethink many things,” he says. He proposes three courses of action to transform in the face of our precarious future: an education based on scientific data and an ethical approach; a focus on making sure everyone has safe drinking water and nutrition; and a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, particularly by refraining from investing in companies that do not advance sustainability, social justice and the common good. Watch the full talk on TED.com.


Andri Snær Magnason, writer, poet

Big idea: We need to connect to the future in an intimate and urgent way in order to stabilize the Earth for generations to come. 

How? In 2019, the Earth lost its first glacier to climate change: the Okjökull glacier in Borgarfjörður, Iceland. “In the next 200 years, we expect all our glaciers to follow the same pattern,” says Andri Snær Magnason. He wrote “A letter to the future” — a memorial placed at the base of where Okjökull once stood — in poetic, poignant form: “This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” Magnason invites us to recognize how glaciers connect us to the past, present and future. These icy bodies, that once felt eternal to people like his glacier-exploring grandparents only decades ago, are now at risk of vanishing. “The year 2100 is not a distant future — it is practically tomorrow,” Magnason says. Now is the time to act, so that future generations look back on us with pride and gratitude, because we helped secure their future.

Actor and singer Cynthia Erivo performs “What a Wonderful World,” accompanied by pianist Gary Motley, at the Countdown Global Launch on October 10, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

In a moment of musical beauty that calls for reflection, Cynthia Erivo performs a moving rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” accompanied by pianist Gary Motley. With her words and voice, Erivo urges us all to do better for the Earth and the generations to come.