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Getting It Done: Critical moments in the Climate Decade and how to get there

21st September 2021 Amanda Reaume 4 min read

Experts pinpoint our most vital challenges and share effective ways to tackle them.

To keep climate change under 1.5 degrees, the world must act immediately to halve emissions by 2030 and work toward net zero emissions by 2050. That urgency led COP26 President Alok Sharma to call the run up to 2030 a “decisive decade” for humanity.

Sharma joined other speakers, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and US Special Envoy for Climate, Secretary John Kerry, at “Getting It Done: Critical moments in the Climate Decade,” one of Climate Week NYC’s The Hub Live events.

Climate Group CEO Helen Clarkson said that the focus of the session was “getting it done” because of how critical it is to shift immediately from ambition to action.

“We want to post that note of urgency,” she said. “We aren’t going to meet those commitments unless we actually start working.”

COP26 signals a time for commitments and action

Sharma sees COP26, the UN Climate Conference set to take place in Glasgow in November, as “our last best chance at getting it right.”

“The window for keeping 1.5 degrees alive is closing,” he warned.

Sharma said that more countries have recently made pledges aligned with net zero by 2050, but the current total still only represents 70% of economies. He called on G20 countries that have not yet made ambitious commitments to do so.

Secretary Kerry agreed that COP26 is an opportunity that governments and industry cannot let pass.

Staying ahead of negative impacts will take all we’ve got

“We have the latest IPCC report that stresses that we need to deploy renewables six times faster than we are today, we need to begin reducing our dependency on…coal five times faster, we have to do reforestation five times faster, we have to make the transition to electric vehicles about 22 times faster,” he said.

If we don’t do that, the impact will be great. “The consequences of being behind are storms that are far more intense, water that disappears, greater heat in various communities that become uninhabitable,” he explained. “All of this is at stake when we go to Glasgow.”

Business also has a role to play

Companies such as AB InBev, which makes beverages (including Budweiser), are stepping up, too. Ezgi Barcenas, CSO at AB InBev, said they’re focusing not just on decarbonizing their own operations but also on mobilizing their supply chain and partnering with retailers to do the same. “We have to step up and do our part,” she said.

Simon Glynn, partner and co-lead of Climate and Sustainability at Oliver Wyman, and Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group, created Getting Real to help companies do just that. It’s a resource for companies to turn their climate commitments into action.

It’s time to find ways to act now

“We are seeing a real shift in the last couple of years to lots of companies making long-term commitments,” said Clarkson. “But what are you doing tomorrow? What are you doing next year? We’ve really got to up the pace.”

The Climate Group is also challenging companies to think big via their RE100 and EV100 pledges, which ask businesses to make bold commitments to decarbonization.

“We need everyone signed up to this agenda,” said Clarkson. “Every business decision now has to have climate at the heart of it.”

Is technological progress the answer?

Many are hoping that technology will be the solution for meeting the goals of the climate decade. Gates, for example, is investing in sustainable technologies such as energy storage, aviation fuel and green hydrogen. And he’s leveraging COVID-19 economic recovery money for green demonstration projects.

“I’m an optimist,” he said, when asked if he thinks we can meet our climate objectives.

But Dr. Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, said that waiting for new technology to address climate change is the wrong strategy.

“Technology is really important to addressing climate change but the most important variable is time,” he said. “Solutions must already be on the market or they’ll just be too late.”

Many solutions could be implemented right away

Foley’s organization models climate change mitigation strategies involving technologies that exist today. “We could stop climate change entirely with the technology available right now,” he insisted.

Whether the solutions are currently available or set to come on the market in the future, deploying technologies to create smart cities and transition vehicles and industries to net zero will take massive and immediate effort from everyone.

We have to get it done, pronto

Panelists emphasized that the future of the planet depends on the actions we take now.

“We’re either headed for breakdown or breakthrough. Those are the options. There is no other path,” said Dr. Susan Gardiner, director of the Ecosystems Division at UNEP.

Envisioning a hopeful future can inspire action

But what could that breakthrough look like? Foley offered one vision of a future where we meet our climate targets.

“By 2030, [I believe]… not only are we addressing climate change, we are making our lives better, we are making things better for everyone,” Foley said. “We can address long-standing issues around equity, justice, race and economic disparity. We can help close the gap between rich and poor. We can make the world so much better.”