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Opening Ceremony - Helen Clarkson

Opening Ceremony speech

18th October 2022 Helen Clarkson 6 min read

Our CEO Helen Clarkson started Climate Week NYC with a speech on accountability, justice and urgency at our Opening Ceremony. You can rewatch it below or read the speech here.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to our first fully in-person Climate Week NYC since 2019. 

We’re delighted to host Climate Week NYC and welcome you all here to New York. We’re thrilled to be back.  

I think we can accept that this is not the event the world is going to remember about September 19, 2022. And I know it is not just us Brits that feel a monumental figure has been laid to rest today.

Just a few hours ago, the world stopped for reflection, but we must also look to the future. Many of you will know that the now King of Britain, Charles the Third, has long been a climate campaigner, indeed he opened this event for in 2020, and we hope his passion on the topics discussed today continue to have a positive influence for years to come. 

The theme of Climate Week NYC this year, like last, is Getting it Done.

That’s not just because we were too lazy to think of anything else or wanted to recycle the posters. When we talked about the conversations we need to have this year, we still think the critical issue is moving from commitments to action. We think Climate Week NYC is the ideal place to have those conversations and to keep asking ourselves, how do we do more? How do we get it done? 

In my role, I often get asked about progress. People hear about conferences, policy announcements or commitments and I get asked about each: ‘is it good enough?’.  

The answer is: it is often good, but rarely enough.  

So essentially, we’re bringing back the theme because while in 2021 progress was made, it was not enough. There is a lot more that needs doing before we can claim to have got it done.  

There are three words I keep going back to this year: Accountability. Justice. Urgency

Who’s being held to account, and by whom? In whose name is action being taken, and is that fair? And are we making real, tangible, meaningful change at the right pace? 

The illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia has reopened the conversation around fossil fuels, but we cannot see the west backslide on this issue.  

There are those with good intentions, who are genuinely concerned about how citizens, businesses, and governments are going to keep the lights – and the heating – on this winter. We must respect their sincerity and support their efforts.  

But we need to be honest and recognize that there are many who want to use this situation to re-open debates which they have already lost. They lost on economic, scientific and moral grounds. They lost the debate with policy makers – but most importantly, they lost it with the public.  

Watch Helen Clarkson's speech during this year’s Opening Ceremony

It is clear: there can be no new fossil fuels and we cannot even use all the fossil fuels we’ve found. 

Despite knowing this, there’s still a lot of talk in the political sphere about gas. We have seen suggestions of it being used as a negotiating tool ahead of COP27; European commentators talk about new gas in terms of energy security, and oil and gas companies call for the right for increased exploration.  

Obviously, it’s important to see this issue through the lens of equity but climate justice does not mean facilitating the further use of fossil fuels. It means understanding that the issues facing the Global South are different to those facing the Global North and then supporting, financing, and implementing distinct approaches.  

The science is clear and many of us have experienced extreme heat across the world this summer, which has brought home to us once again – as campaigners, business leaders, government officials – but also as individuals, that we are experiencing climate change.  

But nothing has been quite so shocking as the flooding in Pakistan, which has caused devastation throughout the country.  

Our deepest condolences must be with that community, but so must the delivery of financial support that has been offered at countless conferences.  

We can be shocked at the pictures of devastation, but we can no longer pretend to be surprised.  

We know the things that we need to do with urgency. 

  • We must say no to fossil fuels, and yes to energy efficiency. At scale. Before this winter kicks in and millions suffer huge bills or go cold. There is nothing more urgent. 
  • We must say no to the rehashing of old arguments, and yes to delivering on promises already made. The global North has made financial commitments to the South and these are not being delivered. Every day this doesn’t happen, the credibility of our leaders diminishes.  
  • We must say no to greenwashing, and yes to meaningful progress. We're at the stage where commitments are no longer enough, we need to see action. And when there is no action, or there are bad faith actors using commitment campaigns to avoid real change, we have a responsibility to act ourselves. From Climate Group’s position, passive membership of our campaigns is not an option. A commitment is the first step you must take, not the last. 

The impact of climate change is becoming more apparent to those around us.

opening ceremony
Helen Clarkson, CEO of Climate Group, on stage at the Opening Ceremony of Climate Week NYC 2022

According to a study last year, 56% of young people said climate change made them feel “powerless”. Roughly the same proportion agreed with the statement “humanity is doomed”. 

I don’t want to complain about the reporting of the climate crisis, when for so long it wasn’t being reported at all. But threats of doom and destruction don’t motivate people.  

What does motivate people is hearing about work that’s being done to tackle the crisis at all levels – whether it’s by leaders like the people here today on stage or in the audience, or the people running the 100s of events happening across the city this week. 

All of us who are working on this are motivated because we know that every 0.1 degree matters. That if we miss keeping the global temperature under 1.5 degrees, we won’t give up – we will try for 1.6. We must find a way to convey to people that there is still a point in keeping going, in fighting, in doing more. 

And to that point, I want to take the opportunity to cover some fantastic news from Climate Group. This year, we’ve appointed a new Executive Director for North America, Angela Barranco. We also have a new President and Chair of our US board, Governor Bill Ritter.  

Both of them are here this week, and I would encourage all of you – but especially those based here in the US – to reach out. We’re delighted to have such strong leadership in North America and we’re excited to work with you all.  

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. 

As we go through this week we will keep coming back to these three key themes: Accountability. Justice. Urgency. 

What can I, and what can you, do to deliver these? That is what Getting It Done is all about. 

Thank you.