Climate Week kicked off in New York City on Monday with more calls for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
"This week is about getting it done," said Helen Clarkson, CEO of the Climate Group, which hosts and organizes Climate Week. In case you missed it, here are some of the top insights from organizers as they got the week of conversation started.
A clarion call from Climate Week: The time to act is now
Last year Clarkson leveraged her opening remarks at Climate Week to look at 2020 in review in light of the coronavirus pandemic, another record year of extreme weather conditions, and the role of the climate community in "standing strong and supporting each other."
"It’s awful that I could give exactly the same speech here today," Clarkson said in New York on Monday. "Despite the best intentions of our global leaders, COVID-19 is still shaping our lives. Despite the clearest blueprints for action from campaigners and scientists, the fires and floods are raging on. And despite how hard we’ve all worked in the last few years to get where we are, we know there’s a lot more work to do."
Don't despair: There's still reason to be optimistic about climate action
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates the world is essentially locked in to at least 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels. Our warming climate is already causing "widespread and rapid changes," the IPCC warns, and human activity — specifically carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels — is “unequivocally” to blame.
The findings are troubling, to say the least, but IPCC scientists are quick to note we still have time to avert the worst impacts of climate change if we take bold, immediate steps to reduce emissions. It's up to each of us to ensure that we don't allow despondence to become a trap or an excuse for not taking action.
"The main message is simple and sobering: Climate change is man-made," Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said of the report in her opening remarks at Climate Week. "But the good news in it is we can do something about it. Our action matters."
"As exhausting as all of this sounds, I still think we can be optimistic about our ability to get it done," added Clarkson of the Climate Group. "For a long time in the climate space, there has been little consensus, even less political will and almost no money. But the world has changed. We’ve hit the public consciousness. Powerful people are now using our language — climate change, climate crisis, climate action — and it’s great to hear. But the question now is how do we turn this talk into the action we’ve promised."
She called on business leaders, policymakers and NGO heads to look at Climate Week as an opportunity to learn, rather than simply another avenue to promote their own work. "We all need to do more," she said. "It can be all too easy just to show up, show your work, say what you want to say, but we all need to be receiving as much as we’re transmitting. It’s clear that however much we’ve all done, we’re all still at the starting line."
It's not enough to set goals for 2030 or 2050: "This is your problem"
"As Greta Thunberg and other activists keep saying to us: 'Stop telling us about 2050. Tell us about now,'" Clarkson continued. "The message is really clear: 2030 and 2050 targets are necessary, but they are not sufficient. We don’t just want commitments and plans. We need delivery and action."
The Climate Group convenes major businesses into networks that look to decarbonize the economy — including the RE100, a coalition of businesses committed to source 100 percent renewable energy, and the EV100, made up of companies committed to accelerating the transition to electric vehicles.
These efforts are laudable and do make an impact, but they aren't enough on their own, Clarkson said. "It’s not enough to just join one initiative. We all need to create a world which has climate at the center," she said. "There’s no such thing as a climate department of a business or government. It needs to be a climate business or a climate government, or an obsolete one."
Clarkson is saying what's on many a sustainability professional's mind during Climate Week, which has served as the launching pad for countless corporate and public-private coalitions aimed at combating climate change, many of which are now dormant or defunct. And her tone set a decidedly high bar for the week: "This is your problem, not your successor’s," she told leaders plainly. "There’s no time for one last fossil fuel investment. You don’t get one last coal mine."
What happens this week could help shape COP26 in Glasgow
By design, Climate Week is meant to stir up conversation about the climate crisis as the United Nations General Assembly convenes in New York and leaders prepare for the U.N.'s annual climate conference, this year scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland.
This year is no different, as advocates put pressure on heads of state to increase the ambition of their commitments to the Paris Agreement ahead of the COP26 climate talks.
"All eyes are on Glasgow," Clarkson said, and world leaders aren't the only ones with a role to play. "In a few weeks, the climate community will hold national governments to account and will challenge them to be bigger and bolder and make equitable changes more quickly ... But we know governments need our support and our actions to make those commitments, and we all need to show them that they can make bold promises and we will work alongside them to get it done."
"This is a week for all of us — businesses, government leaders, civil society and NGOs — to showcase how we’re doing just that," she concluded. "We’ve got to hold ourselves to account so that we can ask the same of others."
TriplePundit is tracking topics like this during Climate Week and in the lead-up to COP26 in Glasgow. Sign up for our daily newsletter to get the latest directly in your inbox.
Image credit: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash
Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL.