Young urban shepherd Lukas Janssens guides his flock among the tombs of Schoonselhof, one of Belgium’s iconic cemeteries, knowing that sheep are kinder to nature than lawnmowers.

Limiting carbon dioxide emissions, a key contributor to climate change, and promoting biodiversity are two key goals of De Antwerpse Stadsherder: the Antwerp city shepherd, Janssens’ company of one human and 270 sheep.

“We will not avoid it with a flock of sheep,” Janssens said of global warming. “But it is another step to build a greener society.”

Only days after alarming UN report on climate change, the message of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, was still stuck in his head: “code red for humanity”, with global warming threatening to suffocate the planet.

Even if Guterres’s words were primarily aimed at governments, investment managers, and asset owners, some citizens have known for decades that this day would come.

Janssens is one of many who have made a very personal commitment to do something, along with those who refuse to fly, adapt their personal diet, or stay out of school to protest on Fridays.

“I started as a shepherd because, together with the sheep, I wanted to commit myself to society, to have a social objective beyond the production of meat, milk or wool. I want them to be useful, ”he said of his flock as they grazed on the steep banks of a ditch that ran through the huge cemetery.

None of this could matter unless nations show similar commitment when they meet in Glasgow, Scotland, in November for the UN’s COP26 meeting on climate change.

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Participants will seek to agree on measures to try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above late 19th century levels. The figure has already reached 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit).

Which begs the question: Are Janssens and his ilk the Don Quixotes of the 21st century or the vanguard of a global green revolution that could help prevent the planet from overheating?

After the UN climate report, people are looking to do their part. #Climate change

At 24, Janssens has already seen his 3-year business rapidly expand as his company has proven to be ripe for climate-conscious times. “It can’t grow faster than this,” he said. “It is more than a full-time profession.”

Their choice of action may not be everyone’s choice, but activists say that as long as people do something, they can make a difference.

“Not everyone will become a pastor, of course. But it is fantastic that there is such a variety of initiatives, ”said bioengineer Benjamin Clarysse of BBL, a confederation of environmental groups in northern Belgium.

And collectively, he insisted, individuals could become more than the sum of their parts.

The challenges posed in the UN report are enormous. He gives a guarantee that warming will get worse and insists that it is “an established fact” that climate change was clearly man-made. If that wasn’t enough, a summer of exceptional floods, heat waves and wildfires from the western US across much of Europe and North Africa to Siberia has added to that sinking feeling. Some of the flooding came as close as 35 miles (60 kilometers) from the pastures of the city of Janssens.

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“I imagine there was a sense of hopelessness among the people,” said Pim Nusselder of the Dutch Milieu Centraal, a group that promotes sustainable options on anything from energy to waste to shopping. “However, the longer we wait, the bigger and more expensive the challenge.”

He insisted that small actions, if taken by enough people, could grow far beyond expectations, taking the population of the Netherlands as a clue. “I am often asked: what I do, is it not a small drop on a boiling plate? Well, we have 17 million drops and if each one does 10 sustainable things, you have 170 million drops in a hot plate. This is how forest fires are extinguished. “

Underlining their opinion, a report this year from the EU statistical agency showed that people taking some personal action to combat climate change, whether in food or transport, have reached their highest level since 2011.

Greta Thunberg was at first a lonely teenager with her solo protests in front of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Now, she addresses political and business leaders at UN conferences and is entertained by world leaders like the head of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, even if they don’t follow much of her advice.

Activists caution, however, that politicians must not shirk responsibility for the individual. “They can’t just say that everyone should do some of the work. Relying only on the goodwill of the people will not get you there, ”said bioengineer Clarysse.

Virginia Mayo in Hoboken and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

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