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6 Things We Learned at Climate Week NYC

Ban Ki Moon Climate Week NYC

Climate Week 2015 events are heating up all across New York City, and TriplePundit is on the ground reporting. While there's still plenty of action scheduled for the weekend and early next week, we've found plenty to see and explore already.

Can't be in New York in person? Live vicariously through us with these six things we learned so far during Climate Week NYC.

1. All eyes are on Paris

With December’s COP21 climate talks quickly approaching, Climate Week NYC 2015 represents a key milestone event that allows companies and governments to send a timely reminder to negotiators about their desire for climate action. It was tough to go five minutes in New York this week without hearing something about COP21 -- and for good reason.

The negotiations are shaping up to be the biggest, potentially most historic gathering of global climate and environment leaders in human history. Still not quite sure what COP21 is and why it's so important? Check out our cheat-sheet here.

2. But companies aren't waiting for world leaders to take action ...

We're all waiting with bated breath to see what will appear in the Paris text. But that doesn't mean companies are holding off on making big commitments on climate change.

General Mills kicked things off before Climate Week even started: pledging in August to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent across its full value chain – from farm to fork to landfill – over the next 10 years. On the second day of Climate Week, five global companies also rose up to answer the call, making the bold commitment to go carbon neutral by 2050.

"We’re hopefully giving governments the message: ‘Business is operating ahead of current political consensus. So, please create certainty to let more businesses effectively create the low-carbon economy,’" Keith Tuffley, CEO of the B Team, a nonprofit sustainable business collective, told TriplePundit. "The more certainty they can provide on the long-term goal, the more business and investors are going to do it for themselves."

3. ... And neither are local governments

Local governments also made bold moves during Climate Week: On Tuesday, 20 regional and local governments, which together comprise 10 percent of the world’s GDP, committed to drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. By the time COP21 opens in Paris, 20 additional regional governments are expected to add their names to this agreement.

These “sub-national” governments, which span the Americas, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, say their collective climate targets could prevent the emission of as much as 7.9 gigatons of CO2 by 2030 — an amount of carbon larger than the amount emitted in 2012 by the United States, the world’s second highest greenhouse gas emitter.

4. Companies are getting serious about renewables ...

When it comes to corporate commitments, the floodgates burst open once Climate Week kicked off -- with renewable energy taking center stage. Nine top firms, including Starbucks and Walmart, pledged to work toward 100 percent renewable energy through the RE100 initiative. Nine more, including Amazon and Etsy, linked up with the World Resources Institute and WWF to spur progress on renewables.

“This year is such a big year on climate change,” Emily Farnsworth of the Climate Group, who oversees the RE100 program, told TriplePundit in an exclusive interview. “There are a lot of businesses that want to make bold commitments to demonstrate — ahead of the negotiations in Paris — that businesses are actually very serious about tackling climate change. And a 100 percent renewable electricity goal is one thing that can really back that up.”

5. ... And seriously rethinking fossil fuels

Along with going all-in on renewables, companies and private investors are beginning to seriously rethink fossil fuels. On Tuesday, oil and gas divestment supporters and media gathered in a packed room at New York’s Paley Center for Media to hear this year’s tally of divestment commitments.

With last year’s count at $52 billion, and a modest number of companies and private investors signed up, the Divest-Invest campaign aimed to triple the number of commitments from universities, companies and individuals who previously relied on oil and gas investments as part of their portfolios. The organization did far better than that assertive goal.

“To date, 430 institutions and 2,040 individuals across 43 countries and representing $2.6 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies,” says the organization. The surge translates to a 50-fold increase in divestment assets since last year’s Climate Week.

6. The best is yet to come

It has been a big year for Climate Week, but the action is far from over.

This year, the Climate Week NYC signature event takes place at the tail-end of the week: on Sept. 28, to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly. The annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative also goes down next week, so be sure to keep your eye on this page so you won't miss a beat.

Image credit: United Nations Photo/Flickr

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit and director of TriplePundit's Brand Studio. She is based in Philadelphia and loves to travel, spend time outdoors and experiment with vegetarian recipes in the kitchen. Along with TriplePundit, her recent work can be found in Conscious Company and VICE’s Motherboard.

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