20 years ago today, Greenpeace East Asia opened its first office in Hong Kong.

Greenpeace was new to the region and seemingly insurmountable obstacles loomed large from every direction over our small team: mainland China was digging up and burning coal at a staggering rate to feed its breakneck economic growth; Hong Kong was a dumping ground for the world’s electronic waste and Taiwan’s fishing fleets were plundering the world’s oceans with impunity.

The first Greenpeace East Asia team in Hong Kong, 1997

Like those who set sail from Vancouver to Amchitka Island to protest nuclear testing in 1971, they didn’t know what they would encounter, or whether or not they would succeed. However, the “can-do” spirit is part of Greenpeace’s DNA and it was with this indomitable optimism that we embraced the challenges that lay ahead. Two decades later, after countless campaigns, years of negotiations and 2 ship tours, it’s humbling and inspiring to see all that we’ve achieved: 

We scaled Hong Kong’s iconic buildings to call out climate injustice and the growing epidemic of overconsumption and led a global day of action, successfully pushing Zara and other international brands to detox polluting chemicals from their production lines.

 When a coal mine backed by Standard Chartered threatened the Great Barrier Reef, we took the fight straight to the steps of their headquarters, adding to pressure that led the bank to back out of the project.

We exposed shark finning and human rights abuses in Taiwan’s fishing industry and called out Taiwan’s failure to regulate its exploitative overseas fisheries.

The Rainbow Warrior in Taiwan 

For over a year, we fought alongside oceans defender Yufen Kao when a fishing corporation attempted to sue her for defamation and celebrated when she was fully acquitted.

2017 began with incredible news for renewables: Taiwan amended the Electricity act after more than 20 years of campaigning. Renewable energy will now be prioritized on the grid and all nuclear power will be phased out by 2025.

The Greenpeace Cup Clean Internet Race at Seoul city hall 

After months of actions, research and corporate dialogue, our Clicking Clean campaign pushed Naver, Korea’s biggest internet company to commit to 100% renewables; and after we revealed the devastating impact of microplastics in the oceans, Korea introduced new legislation, first banning microbeads in cosmetics, then banning microplastics from a wider range of pharmaceuticals.

And in mainland China we’ve accelerated the war on coal and taken on the world’s biggest coal company; now coal consumption in China has seen 3 years of continuous decline, stalling growth of global CO2 emissions.

We live in a very different world now. Greenpeace has evolved, alongside the changing political and environmental landscape. But its DNA has not changed: when the occasions calls for it, we will act, no matter how daunting the challenge.  As Esperanza crew member Marco Ferraz once said: “The optimism of the action is better than the pessimism of the thought.”

We need to carry such spirit if we are to stop catastrophic climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and take on other challenges.

The scale and urgency of environmental problems can feel overwhelming at times, whether it is burning of coal in mainland China, over-consumption in Hong Kong, expansion of nuclear energy in Korea, destructive fishing in Taiwan. But we choose to believe in the optimism of action: if we don’t act, those problems will only get worse. Thanks to your support, we are making positive progress, and our optimism has grown as the movement becomes bigger and stronger.

We need to carry such spirit to rebut the politics of our time. We are living in a time of tremendous upheaval, on the brink of a future that seems chaotic and bleak, where much of the world is turning in on itself. We need to say no to the politics of fear, because the planet - our common home - should always come first. Yes the world can be messy, but we can sort out the mess, if we come together.

What will Greenpeace East Asia look like in 20 years? What kind of world will we and our children be living in? I can no more answer that than the handful of people who started the Greenpeace office in Hong Kong two decades ago. But what I have learned from the Greenpeace East Asia’s journey is that nothing is impossible, if you have the will and determination to fight for it.  I know our optimism and action today will shape a better future for our planet.

I look forward to witnessing it, together with you all.

Pang Cheung Sze is the Executive Director of Greenpeace East Asia