Your power in the fight against climate change
In 2021, the governments of nearly every1 country ratified the consensus of hundreds of leading scientists, which confirmed that we are experiencing climate change as a direct result of human activity2. Recognition of this and the obligation it imposes on us to take action can feel daunting and insurmountable. Even prioritising the endless list of possible counter-actions is often challenging. It is easy to feel overwhelmed – sometimes leading to what some have termed ecoanxiety.
Often, members of my generation3 feel that the responsibility is too big to carry and that the rightful bearers of it are the previous generations, whose actions are perceived to have caused this crisis.
However, I see hope in this reality because if our activities can contribute to climate change, it means we also have the power to stop it, irrespective of our generation. At the individual level, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle within the current economy can reduce a person’s footprint by up to 25% 4. Collectively, we can achieve even more and catalyse the full-blown transition of the economy. This is why some of the most impactful levers for action as an individual are those that involve influencing others. In doing so, we facilitate change in the broader systems around us, be they organisations, communities or societies.
Encouragingly, our economy is already changing, thanks in large part to the actions of previous generations. An entire low-carbon-solutions industry is flourishing today. I have faith that we can achieve a low-carbon electricity grid in time to meet the Paris Agreement goals. There have recently been breakthroughs in nuclear fusion5, but also advancements in electricity-grid stabilisation technologies that enhance the viability of renewables-dominated grids6. Beyond these, there are small, yet significant innovations like, the Zero Waste Blade Research consortium’s prototype for the world’s first 100% recyclable wind turbine blade.
Nature-based solutions also offer tremendous promise. Beneath the Waves, a Bahamas-based non-profit organisation, recently identified the world’s largest seagrass meadow7, a considerable carbon sink, and are collaborating with the government to protect this area. These seagrass meadows are also economically appealing, due to their potential for carbon credit sales, in addition to reduced impacts of extreme storm events8, which climate change will likely exacerbate. Nature-based solutions can also help inspire smarter low-carbon innovation. Recent examples include progress around algae, which could accelerate the decarbonisation of cement, a high-emitting sector. The first algae-based concrete bricks are set to become available for purchase in 20239 and are a great example of nature-based solutions’ ability to provide alternatives to the food, energy and building industries, all while reducing carbon emissions and protecting ecosystems.
Evolving consumer preferences are in large part influencing changes to our economy, with many shoppers now seeking to minimise their direct impacts. For example, one of the contributors to transport emissions is aviation. Many of us have already reduced our flying, despite our reluctance to give up the joys and conveniences of air travel. Fortunately, aviation, one of the harder sectors to decarbonise, is seeing its own technological breakthroughs. Reducing air travel overall will still be critical, but a year’s worth of decarbonisation efforts will no longer be undone by a single trip overseas. The first commercial electric planes are expected as early as 202810. Yet, there are still doubts that electric planes will be viable for long distances11 – hydrogen may be worth exploring too. This is why a major aerospace company has launched a hydrogen combustion testing platform and is planning to perform its first flight tests in 2026 for entry into service by 203512. The cost of producing green hydrogen, made from renewables, is plunging quickly – making this player’s bet all the more exciting. In the meantime, some airlines are already offering customers the option to pay a premium to fly using Sustainable Aviation Fuels– also called biofuels– that could reduce emissions by up to 80% compared to fossil fuels. Without modifying engines, 50% SaF-filled tanks are already possible today13. The production of these fuels still needs to reach economic viability.
To fund all of these exciting solutions, innovation in financial markets is crucial. As an individual, to whom you entrust your money and how you push them to fund decarbonisation in the real economy is a key lever of action. For example, private markets, especially early-stage ones, have a significant role to play as accelerators of low-carbon solutions. Some alternative asset managers already offer dedicated products that derive their value proposition from environmental sustainability. Another inspiring development lies in blended finance mechanisms, where public institutions invest in conjunction with private ones. In doing so, low-carbon projects are de-risked and can attract the much-needed capital pools of private investors. This can be particularly powerful in emerging markets or when introducing low-carbon technologies to developed markets14.
Not only do we effect change as consumers and investors, we also have the power to influence each other, our organisations and our governmental bodies. For example, some studies show that the younger generations’ environmental convictions have already led older generations to alter their purchasing habits15. This will prove particularly powerful in areas where emission reduction pathways are strongly linked to individual behaviours, such as in our diets. As a consequence of the 14.5% of man-made emissions caused by meat production16, 75% of my generation is already cutting their meat consumption. It is expected that this will influence their friends’ and families’ habits too. As a result, the availability of meat substitutes will likely increase, further easing a switch to more plant-heavy diets. Much of the economic change driven by consumer demand evolution is amplified by such network effects.
We also have the power to act inside the organisations we study or work in, most of which emit more greenhouse gases than we do as individuals. One of my personal inspirations is a colleague, Pierre de la Bourdonnaye, originally an audio-visual specialist, who has taken it upon himself to propose and execute initiatives to reduce the firm’s environmental footprint. His results are impressive: for example, he implemented a suggested initiative that led Pictet to cut its single-use plastic consumption by 90% since 2018. To me, his most powerful advice is to have an opportunistic mindset to seize quick wins and an optimistic one to appreciate the small victories until broader change becomes visible. Today, Pierre leads the charge on Pictet’s operational decarbonisation efforts and remains an inspiration to many seeking to guide their workplaces to transition. What Pierre did at Pictet, we can all replicate in our organisations and communities. The actions of one person can yield concrete, long-lasting positive impact – and we need not wait for management to make the first move.
The secret to success may lie in raising awareness and education around the complexities of climate change. In doing so, most will find their individual footprint comes from four main areas: travel (either commuting or by plane), energy usage at home, diet and goods purchased. The key is to start with one incremental change at a time, until it becomes a habit. Your natural starting point will likely be in your private life, but like Pierre, we should all show our entrepreneurial spirit to change the systems around us. These individual initiatives are crucial because they will yield immediate impact. In the long-run, promising technological developments will kick in and further improve our ability to reduce emissions. In the meantime, the choices we make as consumers can impact the speed of these developments. Being the change we wish to see allows us to influence our friends and family, but also our broader communities. In doing so, we can collectively transition the systems around us and make a profound difference – and for all of this, I am hopeful.