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Helen Clarkson

Climate Week NYC Opening Speech

7th October 2021 Helen Clarkson, CEO of Climate Group 5 min read

Speech given by Helen Clarkson, CEO Climate Group, to open Climate Week NYC 2021

This is a slightly edited version of the speech given at the Opening Ceremony at the Times Center, New York, Monday 20 September 2021

Hello and welcome to Climate Week NYC 2021. This year we are hosting a hybrid Opening Ceremony Thanks to the wonders of technology, we’re all together to pull behind one message for the week.

This week is about Getting It Done.

Last year, I used the opening of Climate Week as an opportunity to take a broader look at the year, reference the devastating time we’d had with COVID; the extreme weather conditions we’d seen all over the globe; and the role of the climate community in standing strong and supporting each other. It’s awful that a year later, I could give almost the exact same speech today.

Despite the best intentions of our global leaders, COVID is still shaping our lives.

Despite the clearest blueprints for action from scientists and campaigners, the fires and floods rage on.

And despite how hard we’ve all worked in the last few years to get to where we are, we know there’s a lot more to do.

This Climate Week NYC we are talking about Getting It Done, and – exhausting as all of this sounds – I still think we can be optimistic about our ability to do just that.

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, and powerful people are now using our language. Climate change. Climate crisis. Climate action.

It’s great to hear. But the question now is how we actually turn this talk into the action promised? As Greta Thunberg and other activists have started saying – stop telling us about 2050 and tell us about now. Those of you joining me today are from business and government – and most of us have been working in this space for some time. So, we know it’s not that simple. But the message is 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.

So before I ask this from you, let me share how we’re doing.

At the Climate Group we are known for bringing together large networks with strong commitments at the centre – such as RE100, EV100, and the Under2 Coalition. It’s absolutely critical that all members in the campaigns deliver on their commitments – and we will continue to support their progress and hold them accountable. But, we’re increasingly pushing ourselves harder on how we use the power of the collective voice to create policy change in markets, which will lead to further acceleration. We’ve done this in the UK around the phase out of petrol and diesel vehicles and in South Korea and Japan around the availability of renewables. We’ll be taking inspiration from this success to move our work into harder to abate areas through initiatives such as SteelZero.

We appreciate all of you who are members of our campaigns and part of this work. However, it’s not enough to just join one initiative.  

We all need to create a world in which climate is at the centre. There is no such thing as a climate department of a business or a government. It should be a climate business, a climate government, or an obsolete one.

With that in mind, what is your business or government going to look like in 2030? And how are you working to deliver that right now? This is your problem, not your successors.

There is no longer time for ‘one last’ fossil fuel investment. You don’t get ‘one last’ coal mine.

I’ve highlighted where we’re working, and what change we’re making, and we know all these systems must transform in the Climate Decade if we’re to see the amount of change we need if we’re going to get to net zero by 2050. But, given everything you know, which system needs our most urgent attention?


The poll conducted with attendees at the Climate Week NYC Opening Ceremony highlighted the urgency needed to reassess many systems, with our energy system at the top of the agenda.

It wouldn’t be right to launch Climate Week NYC without acknowledging the COP process, and the fact that all eyes are on Glasgow.

In a few weeks, the climate community will be holding national governments to account. We’ll challenge them to be bigger and bolder and make equitable changes more quickly. We’ll demand a just transition from governments all over the world. But we know that governments need our support, and our action to make those commitments. We all need to show them that they can make bold promises, and that we will work alongside them to get it done.

This is a week for us – business and government leaders, civil society and NGOs– to showcase how we are doing just that.

Share your new ideas, be inspired by others.

Let’s rachet up all our work ahead of COP. We must hold ourselves to account, so that we can ask the same of others.

To close, I’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsors, who allow us to put this week on for you every year. Their generosity and commitment in times of uncertainty is something we are incredibly grateful for.

Thank you also to the partners who help us deliver our goals, and to all of you for leaning into an ever-changing Climate Week NYC.

We say that Climate Week NYC is a moment when we showcase climate action, and we talk about inspiring others. But it’s about inspiring ourselves – as we all need to do more. It can be too easy to show up to say what you want to say, to show your work to others. But we all need to be receiving as much as we’re transmitting.

It’s clear that however much we’ve done already, we’re still all at the starting line – so let’s go, and together we can get it done.