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Kate Zerrenner headshot

As Climate Week 2022 Approaches, Huge Questions Linger Over Climate Justice and Water Scarcity

By Kate Zerrenner
Climate Week

Climate Week NYC, the annual gathering of climate leaders from the private, public and nonprofit sectors in conjunction with the United Nations and the city of New York, runs September 19 to 25, 2022 with this year’s theme: Getting It Done.

What’s on deck in NYC

This year's main program will have in-person events in New York City with sessions focused on the state of climate action, building equity into climate solutions, and what stops leaders from “getting it done." In addition to the main program, over 500 events in New York and across the world will center around 10 themes: the built environment, energy, environmental justice, transport, finance, sustainable living, nature, policy, industry and food. 

The main program will include high-profile leaders sharing their expertise. For example, the equity panel features experts such as Macky Sall, president of Senegal and chair of the African Union; Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank; Ezgi Barcenas, chief sustainability officer for AB InBev; and Alexandra Palt, chief corporate responsibility officer and executive vice president of L’Oréal. Climate Week will tackle issues related to designing effective, equitable and inclusive projects and how to scale up investment.

As with similar international events, the side events are often where much of the on-the-ground discussions happen as well as sharing lessons learned and best practices. The events range from in-person in New York to virtual sharing sessions and run the gamut of issues covered within the 10 themes. Events include both practical information sharing as well as exhibits showcasing climate-related art, including plays and visual arts.

Continuing to look through the climate justice lens, events cover a variety of topics. The New York Department of Energy will have experts to talk about solar for schools as well as a panel of female experts from African nonprofits to discuss the preparation for the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP) climate negotiations in Egypt in November. Another event features representatives from local nonprofits discussing how to transform Rikers Island, an infamous prison scheduled for closure, into sustainable infrastructure. Several other events include speakers from South America discussing different equitable solutions to Amazonian challenges. Though these events are often local in nature — that is, sharing often hyper-local examples — it is these types of discussions which can lead to partnerships or inspire ideas how to solve challenges elsewhere. 

What 3p hopes will be covered during Climate Week (but will it?)

The fact that climate justice is prominent as one of the three pillars of the main program is encouraging. However, for climate justice to be successful, at some point it needs to be better integrated with approaching other leading social justice challenges. Much like corporate sustainability becomes better integrated into a company’s overall strategy by moving it from a standalone unit into a central unit like finance, integrating equity throughout the climate discussion enmeshes it into all climate solution conversations. Rather than setting equity to the side to talk about schools, for example, a more comprehensive approach might center the solar discussion in energy and have equity as a necessary part of the equation. People interested in equity will attend the events focused on those issues, but an energy engineer might not necessarily think to do so. If that same engineer attends a solar event that includes equity issues, it can help to integrate the topic into the mainstream.

Similar and yet given much less focus at Climate Week is water. Water and energy are inextricably linked, yet they are often separated in climate and environment conversations. The water sector offers a significant opportunity for reducing emissions (as well as the energy and agriculture sectors offering significant water benefits), and yet they are not a theme or even given a prominent position at this year’s Climate Week. Like equity, water runs through every climate topic. The nature theme covers issues like nature-based solutions, but there is no event focusing on the climate benefits of addressing water issues (including where it connects to energy).

No event can be everything, and that’s definitely true about Climate Week

Climate conferences have to make choices about what to cover — what are high-profile, high-reward issues but also what are topics they could cover that could garner additional investment dollars. Climate Week is often seen as the setup to COP a few months later — the Golden Globes to the Oscars big event. Lessons learned, best practices shared and relationships formed will often solidify in the pressure cooker of negotiations and side hall conversations. Climate Week 2022 will cover a lot of ground in a few days. Hopefully, equity and water flow through the conversations. Even if concrete actions are not the end result of the conference, the undercurrent of solutions to some of the toughest climate challenges can help shape what we’ll see heading into COP27 in November.

Image credit: Markus Spiske via Pexels

Kate Zerrenner headshot

Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.

Read more stories by Kate Zerrenner