By Jamie Carson
Seeing firsthand the grandeur of Sir Richard Branson’s flowing blonde hair wasn’t the only draw to Climate Week NYC 2013, but it was definitely a highlight.
The event’s opening ceremony included leaders from corporate, government, multilateral and nongovernmental organizations. Upwards of 15 speakers were welcomed at the high-profile ceremony to provide a range of voices in the climate space including, to name a few, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and, of course, Virgin Group Founder Branson. He commented during his remarks that not only is there a need for more clean energy investment, but also market-driven solutions to approach a business economy focused on “people, planet and profit all at the same level.”
Debate is over
World Bank President Kim opened his remarks by reminding the crowd at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City that scientists are at 95 percent consensus that humans are behind the planet’s warming trend.
Even as a physician, Kim said, rarely does agreement reach such a high percentage in medical consensus. The doubt should be put to rest with the release of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) today.
Who will be climate champions?
A number of presentations and discussions at the weeklong event – hashtagged on Twitter as #CWNYC – referred to a call for more champions to lead the transition to not only a cleaner energy future, but also to adapt cities, coastlines and corporations to better weather the storm. Many pointed to G20 governments and businesses to lead in the momentum, even though there are several spotlights on climate action in developing countries, for example solar technology deployment.
Additionally, civil society plays a large role in creating momentum to reach solutions, said Artur Runge-Metzger, Director of International & Climate Strategy, European Commission Climate Action Directorate-General.
“Policy makers worldwide will only embark on the necessary transformation towards low carbon and high resilience if they get a clear and sufficiently strong mandate from citizens,” Runge-Metzger said. “Civil society can be a strong and loud voice in making citizen’s concerns and choices heard. Spearheading individual and local action on climate change will add credibility and sincerity to civil society’s political demands.”
Streamlining sustainable development through clear, consistent objectives
Building a set of resilient energy goals for the state of New York was made possible because of clear and consistent communication from leadership, said Kenneth Daly, President, National Grid – New York. The local and state administrations in New York set specific objectives early on, which allowed Daly and his team to research, plan and execute more effectively.
This consistent message from the administration allowed National Grid, as one of the state’s largest energy providers, to take the necessary steps to not only better prepare supplies and processes in the event of a damaging weather event, but also be aggressive in developing diversified energy sources. One example was an initiative in partnership with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to convert building power to natural gas, thus reducing emissions in many of New York City’s buildings.
The key is to achieve an energy “trilemma” of benchmarks including affordability, reliability and sustainability, Daly said during a Climate Week panel sponsored by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the Bank of America.
One body, such as National Grid – New York, can’t achieve this feat singularly; all hands in the process must communicate clear and consistent objectives.
Top-down vs. bottom-up approach?
Several international climate leadership opportunities are fast approaching. The IPCC AR5 release Sept 27; the Warsaw Climate Change Conference Nov. 11-22; and the United Nations Climate Summit recently called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon September 2014 should help better prepare world leaders ahead of 2015. The most crucial moment to enact global climate action will take place in Paris at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) Dec. 2-13, 2015 – the first time world leaders have gathered to discuss climate since no agreement was reached at COP 15 (2009) in Copenhagen.
Why a new agreement in 2015? Runge-Metzger said, “there are two main reasons really: 1) responding to the urgency of climate change and 2) giving early on a long, loud and legal signal to citizens and business creating certainty and predictability for any investment decision.”
To help move to an “age of sustainable development,” some of the world is waiting to hear from global decision-making bodies such as the UN. However, in the wake of global conferences of the past decade, local and regional innovations have sprung up – from biodigesters in Costa Rica fruit plants to electric vehicle and shuttle transportation initiatives at U.S. corporations. Sustainability is now a day-to-day part of operations at many corporations.
Other microsolutions such as state-based green banks, local investment in projects that rebuild resilient coastlines and community climate education move action ahead of the curve of the potential global agreement in 2015.
A solution that matches the problem
In the closing remarks of the NYC Climate Week Opening Ceremony, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim emphasized that action has been too small in responding to climate change and “what the world is looking for is a plan equal to the size of the challenge.”
To do this, civil society, corporations, governments and NGOs must all work synergistically. Decisions must be assessed through a “climate lens” to achieve the urgent results the world needs, especially for the most vulnerable. Even if carbon emissions reached net-zero today, the effects of climate change would still be felt for generations due to the amount of carbon that already exists in the atmosphere – greater than 400 parts per million as of spring 2013.
At the end of the day, we should be able to tell the next generation, “We took bold action and left you a better world,” Kim said.
About the author: Jamie Carson is founder and director of C.C. Global – an environment, resilience & sustainability communications firm that works with local and global partners to advance cooperation, education and outreach in the sector. To that end, C.C. Global has created a track record of connecting dots to new opportunities, all while providing strategic communications services that support your organization’s mission and valuable team. Besides working as a communications support team, C.C. Global reinvests in social enterprise initiatives such as Envirorun, a run, networking and speaker opportunity for the community, and is in the process of launching two more in 2014. Follow updates on Twitter @ccglobalUS and Facebook at C.C. Global.