Why I'm Optimistic About the Climate Challenge Before Us
Updated: May 4
Momentum for action is building around the world
In the last few weeks, I’ve felt inspired and hopeful about the growing momentum in global climate action. Even though I recently wrote about being daunted by the challenge before us, after attending many events leading up to and after Earth Week where experts and representatives from around the world spoke about the climate crisis, I now am back to being optimistic.
While there were too many events in the past few weeks for me to attend them all, I made it to a fair number of meetings, including the Climate and Energy Funders Group gathering, WRI’s Global Leadership Council meeting, an Ocean-Based Solutions meeting hosted by United Nations Foundation and Ocean Conservancy, and the Nobel Prize Our Planet, Our Future Summit. There, I listened to a range of speakers including Presidents of Island Nations, students, and more well-known speakers like John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate; Gina McCarthy, the White House National Climate Advisor; Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; Andrew Steer, former President of World Resources Institute and new CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund; and Sandrine Dixson-Declѐve, Co-President of the Club of Rome.
They gave me lots of good news to share. Here is some of it in list form (not in any order of priority):
1. Countries, cities, and businesses are increasingly pledging to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) by 2050. To date, over 100 countries, representing more than 50% of global emissions, have currently pledged to achieve net zero in the next 20–40 years (according to the Net-Zero tracking website). Over 1600 businesses have also pledged similarly. Cities around the world are building climate resilience and also pledging to net-zero by 2050. A late 2020 report by New Climate Institute states that “823 cities and 101 regions, which represent more than 828 million people across every continent and close to 11 percent of the global population,” have set zero emissions targets. Over 10,000 cities have also joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.
2. The climate advocacy movement has been persistent in communicating the urgency of the climate crisis, and in taking legal action. Recently, the highest court in Germany ruled that a 2019 law delaying climate action puts an undue burden on the youth. People are also listening and changing their attitudes about the need for climate action. They are now consistently demanding more. JP Morgan Asset Management included a slide in their recent quarterly market assessment package that shows U.S. attitudes on environmental policy. The percentage of adults saying dealing with global climate change should be a top priority increased from a low of about 25% in 2012 to over 50% in 2019.
3. Groups are coalescing to develop roadmaps and pathways for 50% GHG reduction by 2030. For instance, in February 2021, thousands of US cities, states, tribal nations, businesses, schools and faith, health and cultural institutions formed America Is All In to mobilize climate action across the country and urge the Biden Administration to reduce emissions by at least 50%. The Club of Rome and the Potsdam Institute have collaborated to create The Planetary Emergency Plan. And the world is coming together for COP 26 in November in Glasgow to affirm plans for new, ambitious nationally determined commitments (NDCs).
4. The world is coming together to collaborate on solving our shared multi-dimensional crises. This was in evidence during President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, where the U.S. committed to target reducing emissions by 50–52% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, and with the earlier agreement between the U.S. and China to work together on climate. These two events have provided a “jolt of momentum for global action.” Other countries are now making ambitious pledges too. For instance, Japan is nearly doubling its current target to 50% reductions. South Korea is aiming to end overseas funding for coal, and China has stated it would peak coal consumption in the next five years and reduce its consumption immediately thereafter.
5. The United States government is taking a whole-of-government approach that will make sure all agencies factor climate considerations into their at home and abroad. The Biden administration has spelled out several detailed initiatives that will put it on the path to the targeted 50% reduction by 2030.
6. Investors are shifting sizeable sums toward sustainable investments. In a private conversation, Pete Krull, of Earth Equity Advisors, said that ESG funds added $51 billion dollars in 2020, which is more than double what investors added in 2019.
7. The world is reaching tipping points in a few sectors, like electric vehicles and renewable energy. Deloitte recently published a report, Electric Vehicles: Setting a course for 2030, in which it outlines a clear path for growth in the EV market this decade. With several large automobile companies, like Ford and General Motors amongst others, committing to all-electric fleets soon, the market is hitting a tipping point. Renewable energy costs have dropped dramatically in the past decade, even enabling electric vehicles in Scotland to be powered by tidal energy.
8. There is a growing awareness of and commitment to solutions focused on addressing the interconnected issues of climate, biodiversity loss, and inequality. All the meetings I attended acknowledged that we must address all three simultaneously if we want to put the world on a path to a more sustainable, more prosperous future for all.
Yes, we still have a lot of work to do. And we still need to pause from time to time to mark the progress and results of our action. It provides us with fuel for the road ahead. I hope that the world will use the rest of this year to create specific and far-reaching plans to make real strides towards halving GHG emissions by 2030 and address inequities in our society. We have the knowledge and the technology to do this if we work together. We need to continue to seize the moment.
I’ll leave you with this inspiring 1-minute This Is Our Moment video that the World Resources Institute distributed on Earth Day this year. May it, the positive news in this article, and elsewhere in the global community be fuel for your climate action.
All the best,