When Christiana Figueres was asked at her session titled “The Good News on Climate Change” why she was so optimistic, she responded, “You are why I’m optimistic.”
The fiery Executive Secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was at the Harvard Kennedy School on Friday afternoon to discuss why hopefulness is possible in the face of one of the most complex global issues of our time. While she discussed her confidence in future international policy, much of her talk focused on the exciting opportunities in business and technology.
“Imagine a future in which technology moves us,” she said, and then, with her words, created for the audience a world with unlimited energy harnessed personally, self-sustaining buildings, electric cars with inductive power transfers, coast to coast travel that created energy rather than used it—a future in which developed nations help developing nations tie their economic growth to sustainability.
It might seem that most of her “good news” on the climate is based on future hypotheticals, but her expectations are not unfounded. As Figueres stated her in talk, renewable energy has grown to a $1 trillion sector, the cost of solar panels has decreased by 80%, Tesla is outselling all other luxury brands in California and here in Massachusetts, and there are an estimated 80,000 jobs available in the clean energy sector. In Figueres’ arena of international politics, the world’s number one oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is also the world’s largest investor in solar energy. From governments to businesses, moving towards green solutions is becoming more and more valuable.
Figueres underscored that her vision depended on students. The take-away phrase of the afternoon was “eager minds of tomorrow.” Students in the audience studying physics, urban planning, technology and society, all listened intently to her call.
“You have the responsibility to make choices about how you use your privilege of knowledge,” Figueres told us. Rather than being a burdensome message, her talk painted a vivid image of the future possibilities and emphasized our role. As future leaders, she said, we needed to advocate for climate policy, push for action in industry, and further technological innovation.
As a student, I was struck by Figueres’ emphasis on the varied solutions necessary for climate change across multiple sectors. It reminded me of the importance of education in the battle against climate change. Education gives us the skills to create new technologies, the knowledge to understand the complexity of the problems, and the wisdom to orchestrate social, economic and political change. The kind of visionary change she described didn’t depend on a single discipline; it called on individuals from every area of life.
I went to Figueres’ talk on “the good news on climate change” expecting to hear about progress in international or state politics. But I left with the powerful understanding that the good news is in the opportunities for the future and the commitment to progress that is already apparent in different areas of society. The good news is that leadership, like that of the UNCCC, has created an environment that beckons for the innovation of “eager minds.” The good news is that we still believe in good news, and we strive to be a part of it. We are the good news.