Climate leaders across all sectors are being proactive about critical climate change mitigation, while keeping the welfare of all people front of mind.
On Monday, 16 speakers from around the world gathered virtually and in-person for "Race to Zero and Race to Resilience - Delivering on the Promise Of Paris: Every fraction counts." While the Climate Week NYC event touched on climate actions underway and still needed across an array of sectors and approaches, each speaker shared a similar sentiment:
“Keep 1.5 alive!”
COP26 President Alok Sharma opened with this call to action, and former Vice President Al Gore carried the message to the end with a new strategy for making it happen. Gore announced ClimateTrace.org, a radically transparent, publicly available emissions reporting network that gathers emissions data from hundreds of satellites and thousands of sensors worldwide.
Leaders lay the foundation for COP26
COP26 was another running theme throughout the event, as just over a month remains ahead of the pivotal climate conference in Glasgow. In anticipation, event participants, from tech executives to activists, explored the immediate actions required to halve global emissions by 2030 and deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement.
Sharma began the event with a stark accounting of what is on the line in the wake of the recent IPCC report. Researchers concluded the door to restraining climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius is quickly closing.
"In the really delicate system that is the world's climate, every fraction of a degree makes a difference," Sharma said. From millions more people affected to twice as many plant and three times as many insect species losing their habitat, Sharma set the stage for COP26's significance. He called COP26 "our last best chance of keeping 1.5 degrees within reach."
Clear goals and actions are necessary to achieve COP26 outcomes
Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, echoed the importance of COP26 outcomes, stating, "We have no other choice but to make it a success."
Espinosa cited four key areas on which progress must be made in Glasgow:
- That parties fulfill their pre-2020 commitments, particularly the pledge to mobilize $1B to developing nations annually
- That parties finalize outstanding negotiations and "actually implement the Paris Agreement"
- That countries commit to do much more on all key aspects of the climate agenda
- That no voices remain unheard and no viable proposals are left on the table
"There is no doubt that global leaders will face a significant agenda in Glasgow, but billions around the world look to them to make the bold and courageous decisions necessary to finally implement the Paris Agreement, significantly boost climate ambition and ultimately get humanity off its current path of destruction," Espinosa said. "We cannot let them down."
Urgent action is required on the ground
Gonzalo Muñoz, UN high level climate action champion for COP25, led a panel reviewing the action needed on the ground as world leaders prepare to gather at COP26. He spoke with Dr. Susan Chomba, director of vital landscapes in Africa at the World Resources Institute and youth activist Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti, founder of the Green Generation Initiative.
Chomba voiced her optimism for the current trajectory of climate action based on the progress she's witnessed in food systems and land restoration in the developing world. For example, AFR100, the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, plans to restore at least 100 million hectares by 2030.
Restoration of land is a vital and, for some, dangerous part of climate change mitigation
"Land restoration, we know very well, is one of the key nature-based solutions that we have to tackle climate change," said Chomba. "There's no solution that can be on the table at COP26 without taking into account agriculture and other land uses."
Wathuti advocated for increased attention to activists who have been threatened or killed in their defense of the environment. "Developed countries," she said, "have to deliver their promise to mobilize climate finance and listen to the voices of urgency in Africa. We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together and listening to the voices of young people who are everyday calling for urgency tackling this crisis."
Climate finance advances signal good news for investors and highlight the role governments should play
UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance Mark Carney transitioned from the very human elements of climate action to the financial. Carney cited how the percentage of global emissions covered by national net zero targets has grown from less than a third to more than three-quarters in the last 18 months—a positive signal for investors.
"The more credible and predictable these country policies are, the more investors will pour money in, in anticipation, creating a virtuous circle of investment growth, jobs and decarbonisation," Carney said. "Ambitious climate action is not just possible, it will be profitable, if countries act."
Carney also urged governments to move more quickly on climate reporting mandates, stating, "The private sector has taken climate reporting about as far as it can. Now's the time to finish the job and make it mandatory."
Private sector leadership steps up
Progress can be found in the business world as well, as shown by the growing participation in the UN's Race To Zero campaign. "We see real momentum and exponential growth," said Nigel Topping, UN high level climate action champion for COP26. "In Race to Zero, we have over 6,200 companies, investors, cities, regions and universities. And that's almost doubled since this time last year."
Google and Alphabet, Inc. CFO Ruth Porat explained how the internet giant has taken a two-pronged approach to decarbonization: buying renewable energy from suppliers and investing in carbon-free technology. Google aims to run all of its data centers and office campuses on renewable energy. It's also working on ways to make low-carbon purchases and choices easier for consumers, such as offering the most carbon-free route in Google Maps.
"Not only is this the right thing for the planet, but it also makes our products more relevant," Porat said.
Collaboration is emerging as an essential aspect of decarbonization
Bob Moritz, global chairman of PwC, opened a Topping-led panel with private sector climate leaders by discussing the importance of collaboration.
"Everybody's individual effort is great, but it's in silos. And it's minuscule compared to the total decarbonisation that we've got to deal with," he said. "What we've got to be doing now is actually get these groups together."
Amazon has a large footprint in the built world and has its own decarbonization goals and challenges, but it’s well aware that it will need to form key partnerships to follow through on its climate aims. Amazon Vice President of Worldwide Sustainability Cara Hurst noted the company will have 100,000 electric delivery vehicles in operation by 2030. Collaboration with cities to support charging infrastructure is a crucial element of this transition.
In addition, she said, Amazon has revised its original goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2030 after assessing progress. "We pulled that goal up to 2025," Hurst said. "We're really pushing very hard, sending those signals that we want to see greener grids, we're a purchaser of wind and solar."
Demand is spurring progress in hard-to-abate industries
Even players in the so-called hard-to-abate sectors can point to progress. Fernando Gonzales, CEO of cement company Cemex, says while the building materials industry has been talking about sustainability for decades, recent movement has been more meaningful.
"What is new is how the whole ecosystem is demanding and properly defining actions for all of us to move into our green and circular economy," he said. "And our industry has the capability to respond." More sustainable building materials exist, Gonzales added, they simply need to be more widely adopted in certain markets.
Integrated approaches to climate and nature are possible
International coalitions, the financial sector, climate action from businesses—this is all good, said the next panel host. "But we now need more than that," said Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, coordinator with the association of Peul Women and Autochthonous Peoples of Chad. "We need to preserve our natural scenes and humanity's health to achieve these greener and healthier futures."
Ibrahim spoke with Roberto Marques, CEO of cosmetics maker Natura, about the Brazilian company's work to protect the Amazon alongside local communities. Marques called the locals, "the true guardian of the forest with this goal of really protecting and regenerating nature." He said while Natura has preserved more than two million hectors and invested $400 million in the Amazon in the last five years, the company's work with 7,000 Amazonian families has mattered most. "We believe it is an unlock to create sustainable development."
Human health impacts go in tandem with environmental issues
GSK CEO Dame Emma Walmsley noted that COVID-19 has made the world focus on the connection between human impacts on nature and global health. Climate change increases human exposure to vector-borne diseases as insects and other disease-carrying animals migrate.
"Getting ahead of disease at this scale is going to mean adapting to new health challenges that this warming climate is bringing," Walmsley said. In collaboration with organizations across the public and private sector, GSK is working to prepare for the next global pandemic.
New Race to Resilience research reveals reasons to aim high
Recent McKinsey research for the UN's Race to Resilience reveals the urgency of the need for a more resilient world and directs the focus for action. As McKinsey Senior Partner Harry Bowcott explained, a world that warms by two degrees would experience negative impacts that dwarf current climate disasters. About 1.3 billion people would not be able to work outside due to heat at least 25% of the time. In 10 countries, more than 90% of the population, including many vulnerable communities, would be exposed to climate hazards.
But the new research reveals powerful motivation for companies to get ahead of climate risk. McKinsey found that businesses that took early action ahead of the 2007 financial crisis gained a small advantage quickly. And that advantage grew. By 2017, the cumulative shareholder return of the typical resilient company was more than 150 percentage points above the non-resilient ones.
"So for the corporates watching," asked Bowcott, "Do you know how fragile your assets are to climate hazard today, and how that will evolve?"
He concluded, "For companies, the race to resilience is a race worth winning for themselves. And all of us."
Al Gore wants to the world to meet this crucial moment
The final Opening Day session of Climate Week NYC closed with former Vice President Al Gore, who detailed a new effort at aggressive, transparent emissions data reporting—and exactly why it's so necessary.
"We've long since run out of time for half-measures, much less for vague promises for action decades into the future," Gore said. "We must meet this moment and drive transformative, systemic changes."
In Gore’s view, we need new ways to ensure accountability and transparency
Gore pointed to a lack of transparency and accountability in emissions data as an obstacle to reaching net zero. This is why the Climate Trace Coalition, of which Gore is a convening member, released what Gore called, "the world's first comprehensive accounting of global greenhouse gas emissions," based on direct, independent, real-time observation. The effort leverages data from 300 satellites, more than 11,100 sensors and other sources to produce timely, accurate and specific emissions data.
The former vice president announced that ClimateTrace.org has already found that emissions from steel production in China are on pace to increase by an amount equal to the total annual emissions of Singapore.
"Soon, we're going to be able to estimate emissions from every single individual power plant, all large factories and all other major sources of emissions on a monthly and then weekly timescale," Gore said. All data gathered, he added, will be available online and radically transparent.
Together, we are building hope through taking action
"It's advances like these in transparency, in clean energy and efficiency advances driven by human ingenuity and innovation that give me a tremendous amount of hope for our future," said Gore.
Given the drastic steps all speakers at the event agreed are required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, radical transparency may prove crucial to the effort. The takeaway from the closing event of Climate Week NYC's Opening Day was that human carbon output needs to reach net zero if we are to survive. In this important race, climate leaders must—and will—leverage every available strategy.