Ten reasons for climate optimism!

Time for a little honesty. I’m scared.

It wasn’t that long ago that I would lie awake in bed at night. I would be up for hours, thinking about my wife. Thinking about my three-year-old niece and six-month-old nephew. I agonised over how I was going to keep them safe from this illusive adversary called climate change.

I wondered whether I was brave enough to have children myself. I still do. I panicked about the world that they would grow up in. About how their lives would be defined by ecological collapse, with societal collapse assured to follow.

As I continued to educate myself about climate change, my concern, if anything, got worse – at least for a time. This challenge is just so complex, and the consequences of getting it wrong are far too extreme. All of this is compounded by the scale of the problem; it is just so massive that knowing where to start if you want to make any sort of appreciable difference, is very challenging.

19 February 2024 | 10 minutes

By Joshua Domb

There is a term for what I was experiencing. Climate anxiety.


According to a December 2021 study of 10,000 young people around the world published in The Lancet:


  • – 59% were “very” or “extremely” worried and 84% were at least “moderately” worried about climate change;
  • – more than 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning;
  • – 75% of young people said that they think the future is frightening; and
  • – 83% said that they think people have failed to take care of the planet.


After several unfortunate years heading down the climate anxiety rabbit hole, I realised that something needed to change. This issue was now having a very real impact, every day, on my happiness and well-being. So, I made a conscious choice to read less about the problems and more about the solutions.  And I started to see just how many solutions were out there.  I came to understand the direction of travel around these issues, and I saw how powerfully the engine of human innovation was working to change course.


Today I see solutions everywhere. I could talk for hours about the reasons why I now describe myself as a ‘scared climate optimist’.  Here are just ten.


1. Fossil fuel is on the ropes

COP28 in Dubai made huge progress on the key issue of fossil fuels.  The agreed final text called upon countries to transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems”. Whilst this phrase is surrounded by broader language and terminology which allows for flexibility of interpretation and is far from the unambiguous “phase out” that many had been hoping to see, it does make the ultimate direction of travel extraordinarily clear.


The world has already taken huge strides away from fossil fuels – without a COP text that ever mentioned them. What was achieved in Dubai will continue to drive rapid progress in this regard. What’s more, this text was achieved despite the best efforts of the nearly 2,500 lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry, who came to COP trying to stop exactly this outcome.


It will not be long before a COP text is agreed which includes a call for a “phase out” of fossil fuels. But all that will really do is codify something that countries around the world are already working to achieve and everyone already knows is coming. And it is coming sooner rather than later.


2. Renewable energy is growing at an exponential rate

The same clause from COP28 which called for a transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems” called for a tripling of renewable energy capacity globally by 2030, and an acceleration of zero and low-emission technologies (including – critically – nuclear).


According to the IEA, by the end of 2022, renewables accounted for 40% of globally installed power capacity. In 2023 the world added a further 510 gigawatts of renewable capacity to the grid, an immense increase from the 295 gigawatts of renewables added in 2022.


Global renewable power capacity is expected to grow by 3,700 gigawatts over the 2023-2028 period (for context, it took the world 20 years to add 2,400 gigawatts of renewable capacity between 2002 and 2021), and the pace at which the world will continue to add renewable power generation to the grid is only likely to continue to grow exponentially.


There is a knock-on effect here. According to one study, it takes on average five and a half years from the moment a new ‘giant’ oil field is discovered, to what the industry calls ‘first production’ i.e. the first barrel of oil to be taken out of the ground.  However, the infrastructure, permitting and broader development required to fully exploit projects of this size is such that to reach peak production normally takes more than 16 years. With renewable energy growing at such a rapid pace, projects like these, which cost billions of dollars and take a long time to hit their peak production capacity, become much less attractive, particularly as demand for oil is likely to drop – significantly – as renewable energy capacity continues to surge.


And none of this accounts for the ongoing improvements in technology (particularly solar technologies) which are still being made increasingly efficient by the army of scientists and engineers who are bringing their immense expertise to these fields. In short, the transition to renewable electricity is in full swing, and gathering pace.


3. We don’t need COP, or the political process, to make progress

Of the 28 COPs that have occurred so far, it is arguable that 25 were total failures. Paris in 2015 gave us the 1.5 degree target, COP 26 in Glasgow started a concerted move away from coal, and COP 28 in Dubai finally landed an agreement to transition away from fossil fuels more generally.


Despite this lack of political will and ambition, immense progress has already been made around the world on many of the most pressing issues which we need to address to get climate change under control. The September 2023 Synthesis Report, which summarised the findings of the first Global Stocktake provided for by the Paris Agreement, found that global temperatures are now expected to rise by 2.4-2.6 degrees Celsius (4.3-4.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, compared to an expected 3.7-4.8 degrees Celsius (6.7-8.6 degrees Fahrenheit) given the course we were on in 2010.  Whilst we are still clearly a long way from where we need to be, this does show the huge progress that has already been made to steer us away from the worst impacts of climate change, without our having really been driven there by any political process.


In June 2017 when Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement, more than 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, colleges and universities from across the US (or with significant operations in the US), signed the “We Are Still In” declaration – committing to hitting the targets of the Paris Agreement, notwithstanding the action that Trump had taken. Those leaders represented 120 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy. At the time of writing this article more than 3,800 American leaders had signed, representing more than 155 million Americans and $9 trillion of the U.S. economy.


Even without real political backing (or even, in some cases, in the face of active opposition!), people and businesses are making huge strides in their decarbonization efforts. And with voters more galvanised than ever by climate change, politicians are finally starting to take this issue as seriously as they should – hence the real progress made at COP 28.


But we do not need politicians or political processes to make real progress here; imagine what we are likely to achieve over the next few years as politicians are increasingly getting on board.


4. Young People & Indigenous Peoples

One of the most iconic images from COP 28 was of a 12 year old Indian girl named Licypriya Kangujam, who ran onto the main stage holding a sign saying “END FOSSIL FUEL. SAVE OUR PLANET AND OUR FUTURE”. She got a round of applause from many in the conference hall. Greta Thunberg was 15 when she held her first “School Strike for Climate” outside the Swedish Parliament, inspiring hundreds of thousands of young people around the world to join her in a global protest movement. And on 13 March 2020, 16 young Montanans filed a lawsuit alleging that their right to a “clean and healthful environment”, pursuant to the Constitution of Montana, was being violated because of a law that barred state officials from considering climate change in environmental reviews of energy policies. That lawsuit became the first constitutional climate trial in US history, and on 4 August 2023, Judge Kathy Seeley handed down a landmark ruling in favour of these young climate activists.


Around the world, young people everywhere are realising their power to take climate change into their own hands. They are increasingly challenging their parents and grandparents to do more and to do it faster.


Indigenous Peoples, everywhere, are also fighting back. Indigenous peoples are some of the most seriously impacted by climate change, often as their lands and homes are destroyed by climate change-influenced natural disasters, or stolen from them by governments and corporations to be exploited for commercial purposes.  But they are increasingly using social media and legal processes to raise awareness of these appalling practices, and they are finding willing partners around the world to help them do so.


By way of example, in a landmark case in September 2023, the Supreme Court of Brazil overturned a ruling in a lower court which suggested that indigenous peoples would have to demonstrate that they were occupying a particular piece of land in 1988 (when the Brazilian Constitution was ratified) to assert a right to that territory; a significant win for indigenous peoples throughout Brazil in their efforts to preserve lands which might otherwise be seized for agriculture. In another example, Peace Brigades International recently supported a delegation of lawyers from the UK to visit Guatemala, following which they launched a report called “We are not trespassers: this is our land”, highlighting numerous examples of violent dispossession of indigenous peoples of their lands in Guatemala.


Indigenous authors are also sharing their immense knowledge and wisdom with a vast and deeply engaged audience; the exceptional Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful book “Braiding Sweetgrass” spent 129 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.


Young people and indigenous people everywhere are working every aspect of this problem, and applying pressure, from every angle. They are bringing energy, urgency and agency to this movement. They are winning the hearts and minds of millions around the world, including many of the key decision-makers. And they are making a huge impact in the process.


5. We have all the technologies

You often hear people talking about ‘innovation’ as the key to tackling climate change. And whilst innovation is critical and can make massive contributions, we actually already have pretty much every technology that we need to reach net zero, or get somewhere very close.


We know how to power the grid entirely with renewable electricity. And whilst the technology is not yet where we need it to be, there are a variety of existing options for grid-scale storage. If we scale up nuclear power to provide the grid with a stable, zero carbon baseload, the need for storage is also significantly reduced. Green hydrogen, with its vast range of potential applications, is also starting to enter the mix in a more mainstream way.


We have electric cars, vans, bikes and trains. We know how to run shipping vessels on ammonia, biofuels and even wind power – just as all global trade once did. Aviation is a trickier nut to crack, but at the least we do know how to make sustainable aviation fuels, which only release as much carbon when burned as the biomass that you use to create them absorbs during their lifetime.


We understand where our food industry is causing the most emissions, and the need to significantly reduce the amount of beef and dairy products in our diets. Dairy and meat alternatives, including a range of lab-grown options, are beginning to spring up in their place. Innovative farming techniques have already been developed to scale up food production with significantly less space, water and fertiliser, and there is a growing global interest in regenerative farming techniques.


We know how to make our buildings vastly more energy efficient. We know how to smelt steel using electric arc furnaces, and several alternatives to cement are starting to look genuinely viable.


We have satellites in space which help us spot serious leaks of methane, and which are constantly refining our understanding of how the planet operates so that we can better adapt to and mitigate climate change.


And, to address the elephant in the room, carbon capture and storage technologies are now getting serious interest and investment. To date, these technologies have failed to take off. They have also been met – quite fairly – with scepticism by many who claim they are simply an excuse for further exploitation of fossil fuels.  But there was a time when solar panels seemed ludicrously expensive and inefficient, and we all know how that technology has since exploded into the mainstream and plummeted in price. With carbon capture now attracting the same level of interest, research and investment, there is every possibility that we could figure out how to scale carbon capture in a cost-effective way, to the point at which it will make a meaningful contribution to global decarbonisation efforts.


At least as importantly, we have taken immense strides in our understanding of the science and ecology of rewilding. We know how to repair our forests and our oceans and how to breathe life back into our wild spaces. And in almost every case, nature will do the work for us, if we get it started, and then get out of its way.


I do not want to pretend like all of this is a done deal, and there are still several points (particularly around aviation, concrete and grid-scale storage) where innovation is needed.  But it is not the case that our ability to rise to this challenge relies upon anything new – we already have almost everything that we need, and we know how to make it work right now.


6. Reporting requirements mean businesses are focusing on these issues like never before

This is a big one.


Various reporting regimes have existed for many years, covering different aspects of what we now collectively (and broadly) refer to as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance.


Between the United Nations Global Compact, Carbon Disclosure Project, Global Reporting Initiative, IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards and Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (to name just a few) it is fair to say that reporting requirements (largely voluntary) have been around for some time.


The voluntary nature of these rules is rapidly changing as investors (and the broader business community) seek transparency on a vast range of corporate ESG performance data, and a slew of new reporting requirements are coming in fast. Perhaps the most significant is the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which will see some 50,000 companies subject to mandatory reporting on over 1,000 data points as soon as 2024. None of this is to mention new rules from California, or forthcoming directives from the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, or United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority.


The effect of these reporting requirements is to concentrate minds, particularly those of CEOs, on how their businesses are performing in these spaces. Whether they like it or not, their performance on these issues is going to be open to scrutiny from competitors, investors, shareholders, insurers, customers, staff and beyond – and that reality has immense power to drive positive changes in corporate behaviour, not least as businesses are increasingly worried about being targeted by activists through litigation or at their AGM.


Businesses have never been more focused on ESG issues, and at a global level that will drive massive progress on these topics, contributing hugely to the broader work against climate change in the process.


7. The brightest minds in the world are working on every aspect of this problem

Bill Gates has invested some USD $15bn into his Breakthrough Energy Fund and wrote ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’. Elon Musk took electric cars mainstream through Tesla. The geniuses at Google are using AI to develop solutions covering everything from aviation (check out Project Contrails) to reducing tailpipe emissions (check out Project Green Light) to tools to track and alert people to floods, fires and extreme heat.


The power of business has turned to climate change also; where there is money to be made in selling solutions, the brightest minds and their inventions are sure to follow. By way of just one illustration of this happening in practice, between 2006 and 2020, global patent applications for green energy and energy-efficient technologies increased by nearly 120% under the International Patent Cooperation Treaty.


As we noted above, we already have most of the technologies we need to make this happen, so each of these patents and designs is generally about making even more progress in one of these areas.  And that is hugely reassuring.


8. The brightest minds in the world are applying pressure from every angle

Whether it’s Client Earth suing Shell’s Board of Directors in a world-first derivative action, a small hedge fund named ‘Engine Number 1’ galvanising support from institutional investors to help them win three seats on Exxon’s Board of Directors to push for greater decarbonisation, the brilliant David Attenborough using his platform at the BBC to raise awareness of climate change issues through the visual delight that is his series Planet Earth or Netflix galvanising public concern with a movie like Don’t Look Up.


Whether it’s Larry Fink highlighting ESG and sustainability issues in his annual letter to investors, the army of scientists that writes reports for the IPCC, the photographers and videographers who share images of decimated ecosystems and endangered species to mobilise the public consciousness or the journalists exposing corporate greenwashing and misconduct.


Whether it’s President Biden passing the Inflation Reduction Act, President Lula of Brazil pushing to stop deforestation in the Amazon, Yvonne Chouinard putting Patagonia into a trust for the planet or leading musicians and actors coming together to promote the Sustainable Development Goals.


The best and the brightest, the world over, are using every tool at their disposal to put pressure on the foe that is climate change from every angle. And collectively, they are making a monumental difference.


9. The money is already there

According to the IMF, in 2022 coal, oil and gas benefited from some USD $7 trillion of subsidies.


This figure is divided into two parts – explicit subsidies worth $1.3 trillion and implicit subsidies covering the remaining $5.7 trillion. Explicit subsidies are direct subsidies from governments to producers, often to keep the retail cost of these products (or electricity generated from them) to consumers lower than the actual cost of supply. Implicit subsidies occur when the retail cost to consumers fails to include external costs, including the tax revenues that would be generated if these external costs were included in the price. External costs include the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the consumption of these products, and the health impacts associated with the harmful pollutants released by these products.


Whilst it is difficult for governments to suddenly stop providing these subsidies because of the impact that the resulting increase in prices would have on consumers, these figures do demonstrate how fossil fuels are (and have, for a long time been) artificially cheap.  We subsidise them through our taxes, and by failing to properly charge for the broader impact associated with their use (all of which does have a very real cost which governments end up paying).


If only a portion of the $1.3 trillion of explicit subsidies were directed by governments away from fossil fuel subsidies and towards adaptation and mitigation efforts, this would mobilise hundreds of billions of dollars a year to fund the infrastructure and other developments that we need.


There is also a huge willingness from the private sector to fund sustainable projects and businesses. Whilst figures vary broadly depending upon the definitions and categories used, one report from PWC states that asset managers globally are expected to increase their ESG-related assets under management to $33.9 trillion by 2026, up from $18.4 trillion in 2021.


There are numerous funding challenges that we still need to meet, particularly for the developing world which suffers from very high interest payments on its existing debt burden and struggles to raise funds for green energy infrastructure. But the money is already there, and there is a huge willingness from the private sector to fund sustainable projects also.


10. Humans are good at achieving impossible things

Humans are defined by our ability to achieve the seemingly impossible.


The Moon is 384,400 kilometres from the Earth. 12 men have walked on it. Take a moment to think about the magnitude of that achievement. The computer on Apollo 11 which carried Neil Armstrong there in 1969 had a processor which ran at 0.043 MHz. A standard iPhone today has a processor which is over 100,000 times faster.


When COVID struck in 2020, we developed and produced vaccines so quickly that at least 13.1 billion doses had been given by the end of 2022.


We have sequenced the human genome, decoded the periodic table, mapped the surface of the sea floor and recreated nuclear fission – the process that powers the stars, using laser beams in a lab.   We have placed telescopes in space to peer deep into the vastness of the cosmos and created the technology to photograph the exquisite beauty of the universe and then beam the images back to our desks from orbit.


All of these extraordinary achievements started as a little more than an idea in someone’s mind. And when these things were first dreamed of, they must have seemed utterly ridiculous. But humans have achieved all of these wonderful things, and so many more seemingly impossible feats besides. And we did many of these things just to see if we could; it has rarely been the case that our very existence depended upon our ability to achieve them.


Our long-term sustainable existence on Earth does depend upon our meeting the sometimes seemingly impossible challenge that is climate change.


But to be human is to achieve the impossible. It’s what we do best. Heck, we do it for fun – even when we do not need to.




I am not going to pretend, for a moment, that I am no longer scared of climate change. I am. I have moments of anxiety. There are times when I struggle to sleep.


We still have a very long way to go in rising to the task ahead of us. And we may not make the progress that we need to before we are irreparably living with the consequences of our actions.


But I am a climate optimist, and I see real reasons for hope everywhere that I look in this space. We have gotten ourselves into an appalling and very dangerous mess. But we also have the ability to get ourselves out of it.


When I put my pen down at the end of the day, I do so knowing that there are millions around the world who are still working on every aspect of this challenge. When I pick my pen back up the next morning, I do so knowing that they will have made progress across the board, and that I will keep that progress rolling whilst they get some well-earned rest.


Even though I have only met and spoken to a tiny fraction of this extraordinary global team, I feel privileged to be a part of it and endlessly inspired by my millions of teammates.


And I dare to truly believe, if only for the occasional moment, that we can do this. That my children, if I am so blessed, might grow up in a world which is not so different to that which I grew up in. Because I am human. And even the most extraordinary and ridiculous things are possible for us humans, when we decide, together, to achieve them.







IEA – Renewables 2022

IEA – Renewables 2023

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