Climate and Nature

Fostering climate optimism in the face of overwhelmingly negative outlooks

A sun rising over a field, illustrating the need for climate optimism

Are we at the dawn of a new age of climate optimism? Image: Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

Anurit Kanti
Alumni, Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: Global Shapers Annual Summit

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  • The recent Global Shapers SHAPE event provided reason for climate optimism.
  • There was a willingness to act in unison to deal with the universal climate challenges and create a virtuous cycle of motivation to collaborate towards a climate-resilient future.
  • To maintain the momentum of positive climate work and foster climate optimism, steps can be taken on an individual, community, organizational or regional level.

After a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a regional Global Shapers 'SHAPE' event returned with a renewed focus on climate action. Held in Nepal's capital of Kathmandu between 19-21 May, SHAPE South Asia 2023 saw a large number of climate enthusiasts come together to deliberate on solutions geared towards climate action, including launching a climate advocacy paper.

The World Economic Forum's Global Shapers Community across South Asia and beyond attended the conference under the theme 'Shaping Climate Resiliency', which ended with an overwhelming overtone of hope. There was a willingness to act in unison to deal with the universal climate challenge and create a virtuous cycle of motivation to collaborate towards a climate-resilient future.

It became clear that fostering climate optimism is integral to going ahead rather than being weighed down and forced into inaction by the otherwise overwhelmingly negative climate change outlooks.


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Reasons for climate pessimism

The Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC was one of the latest triggers for climate pessimism, with largely negative outlooks for the future and a prediction of gloom and doom with humanity crossing the 1.5°C threshold well within the 21st century. There were grim readings of the loss and damage that nature and people (especially the disadvantaged) are likely to suffer, and an abysmally high level of public-private finance still with the polluting industries, compared to capital allocated for climate adaptation and mitigation.

Image: IPCC Climate Change 2023 Synthesis Report

Another report released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) before Earth Day 2023 may have aggravated this pessimism. It detailed irreversible changes set to occur due to global warming, inducing fears that we have reached a point of no return, echoed by the IPCC report.

The sense of eco-anxiety (mainly among the youth) has often led to feelings of helplessness and inhibitions towards taking any steps towards combatting climate change, with many believing their contributions may be insignificant in constituting any real impact as we traverse into the ‘point of no return.’ It is critical, therefore, to foster climate optimism as we move forward while not being oblivious to the warning signs ahead.

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    Reasons for climate optimism

    Fortunately, the dark clouds of climate doom do have silver linings. Looking through the cracks of these climate reports smeared with negative outlooks, one can see the rays of hope underlining them. Humanity has a legitimate fighting chance if we consider the concrete target-setting by governments for climate action. The latest IPCC report has specific goals cemented, such as halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050, which the whole world can collectively put their efforts behind. Some other positive outlooks that support fostering climate optimism include:

    1. Existing effective solutions

    The plethora of readily available, cost-effective solutions that already exist and need to be scaled up, such as renewable energy innovations, carbon-removal technologies and ecosystem-based adaptation measures, among others. With systemic changes in motion through public-private actions, which prioritise the rapid development, financing and dissemination of such solutions, hope is around the corner.

    2. Gains of a people-centric climate strategy

    The multiplier effect of climate action when equity, social justice, inclusion and just transition processes are prioritized - with their positive spillovers on mitigation and climate-resilient development and the huge financial gains that can bridge the climate-financing gap - there is a clear indication that keeping people at the heart of climate strategy can have reverberating positive effects in the climate arena. An example is the impact of achieving gender equality - if women play a similar role in labour markets to men, as much as $28 trillion could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025. This is sufficient to close the global climate finance gap by over seven times, as we need approximately $3.8 trillion in annual investment flows through 2025 to achieve net zero.

    3. Global support for climate issues

    The rise in sustainability-focused employment (consultancies, renewables etc.), ambitious private sector commitments and actions, the meteoric growth in ESG funds and the exponential increase in climate change discussions have mainstreamed the climate narrative in every global conversation. Among many other positive indicators, these show the need to mainstream climate optimism.

    Leveraging positive climate momentum to increase climate optimism

    At the risk of sounding idealistic and prescriptive, the momentum of good climate action work must be leveraged to create the virtuous cycle of fostering climate optimism, which motivates further action towards this end.

    To maintain the momentum of positive climate work and foster climate optimism, the following steps can be taken on an individual, community, organizational or regional level:

    Get involved

    Find communities and organizations doing good work and find out how you can contribute in terms of being either employed or volunteering for them. Every effort matters.

    Spread the message

    Advocacy can go a long way towards instituting change. Through effective messaging (beyond alarmism) on aspects that highlight the need to preserve nature, improve social metrics and make other sustainability-related progresses through a positive lens, fostering climate optimism becomes easier. It can be motivational for others to get involved.

    Make a change yourself

    While adopting sustainable living is helpful, regenerative living - where your lifestyle has a positive, marginal effect on the environment (such as composting) rather than just a net-zero effect, which maintains the status quo, can be a game-changer. Going a step beyond to inspire others can drive a virtuous cycle of climate optimism.

    There is enough news out there that borders on climate alarmism, which is also integral to bringing attention to this critical topic. But when such alarmism negates hope, rendering many to give up on doing anything at all to battle climate change, nobody wins. Hope, rather than fear, can be a great motivator and our planet could do with some of it.

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    The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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