The Decisive Decade; Let’s Talk Climate Optimism

Flat World Partners
5 min readOct 5, 2022

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Earlier this week, I was honored to share a Zoom screen with Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). During her tenure from 2010 to 2016, Christiana not only directed successful Conferences of the Parties — which we know all know as “COP” — in Cancun, Durban, Doha, Warsaw, and Lima, but notably negotiated and carried through the historic Paris Agreement of 2015. Throughout her career of direct involvement in the climate crisis, Christiana has been fighting another battle: climate change’s image problem. She strives to reframe this global challenge as a case for optimism, and as a resounding call to positive, immediate action through the 2020’s — the “decisive decade” — towards the goals of 2030.

Climate optimism, as nice as it sounds, is easier said than found, and the need for sweeping systemic change can feel impossible against the tiny impacts of individual action. “Ecological grief” was first coined in 2018 by researchers at the University of Australia to describe the response to the loss of sacred species, ecosystems, and landscapes due to climate change, equally felt by Indigenous Inuit people in Canada and farmers in the Australian Wheatbelt. Now, often termed “climate anxiety”, the mental health impacts of deep concern for the changing planet and the seemingly unchangeable human impacts are closely akin to grief, or the anticipation of grief for what could still be lost. Studies across the U.S. have shown that at least 60–70% of adults experience some level of climate anxiety, whilst in the 18–34 age category, almost half said that stress, sadness, or anxiety related to climate affects their daily lives.

So how do we turn the tables on this doom and gloom story and rise to the challenge? We now have the science to both prove where the effects of climate change are coming from, as well as the technology, capital, and policy tools to make the necessary changes. Christiana Figueres argues (rightly so) that the frontiers of sustainable change are within reach: solar and wind power have reached cost parity proving that renewable energy sources can be cheaper than fossil fuels, with the war in Ukraine highlighting our vulnerability to fossil fuel dependance. Christiana also highlighted sustainable transport and mobility as the next frontier where cost parity and the overwhelming benefits of a sustainable system will be reflected in the market, with construction and buildings hot on transport’s heels. Sectors like agriculture and land-use lag further behind in terms of an accepted commercial case for change, but changes are happening, and the tide is turning in favor of an indisputable need for a regenerative food system. On top of all these solutions is the overarching theme which is set to dominate the COP27 agenda this November: climate finance. Enter, impact investors.

At FWP we’re seeing market opportunities emerge across these themes and sectors and have found investment ideas in the depths of some despairing global issues — which makes the “race between Armageddon and awesome” thrilling to be a part of.
Hayley Mole, Vice President

“Every fraction of a degree of global heating avoided makes a difference.” This article by the Guardian last month lists just a few of the reasons for hope in the current environment, ranging from falling emissions in the behemoth emitter that is China, the Inflation Reduction Act passing through Congress in the U.S. and new reduction targets in Australia (read our rather-upbeat prior newsletter here). This EuroNews article sums up a long list of feel-good, climate progress stories for 2022 — including in my own neck of the woods, where a South African court banned Shell from prospecting for fossil fuels along the Wild Coast earlier this year.

A personal note on one place I find joy, wonder and inspiration in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges: wildlife documentaries. There is unimaginable beauty and wonder to be found on this planet of ours, and we live in an age where it’s been captured in microscopic detail. “Seven Worlds, One Planet” by the BBC will leave you in awe, while the most recent release of “Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory” by NatGeo brings an Indiana-Jones-esque lens to the wonderous natural world.

Outrage & Optimism: The two emotions that inspired this newsletter and are also the name of the podcast co-hosted by the wonderful Christiana Figueres. She has also published a book, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, which tells the same cautionary but overall positive narrative of the situation we find ourselves in.

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