Original article: The true value of Climate Week first appeared in Business Green on 3 October 2014 and has been reproduced below with their permission.
Working on climate change issues can be daunting. It is all-encompassing, requiring monumental shifts in thinking and action that can, at times, feel Sisyphean as we roll this immense boulder uphill, only to watch it often roll back down. However, last week at the Climate March and Summit in New York, not only did we push the boulder further up, there were many more hands helping. And it was a joy to see.
The UN Climate Summit and the People’s March was a rallying force for the climate. Not only did a significant number of world leaders attend the summit, including more than 100 Heads of State and Government, but they were joined by more than 800 leaders from business, finance and civil society. Heads of State gave speeches, some perhaps for the first time on climate change which is, in and of itself, worth noting.
The People’s March brought together people from all tiers of society - families, community and political leaders, indigenous people, religious leaders and celebrities. Joined by business men and women this was another remarkable change in the dynamics and social cohesion for the climate change movement, and symbolic of the fact that climate change does and will impact everyone, being the largest challenge faced by humanity today.
The energy and urgency of the imperative for climate change action was underscored by fresh discussions, commitments and individual leadership that signify a shift in thinking. For the first time ever, climate neutrality was mentioned in a UN document - meaning that there is an increasing commitment to reach net zero emissions in the second half of the century.
This echoes the call from business leaders across the globe made in our “Trillion Tonne Communiqué” to achieve net zero before the end of the century. We have finally reached a point in the debate where it is more accepted than not that reducing emissions will drive stronger economic performance, opportunities and healthier development. The old argument that acting on climate change is too economically costly is being laid to rest.
In addition to commitments on agriculture, forests, renewable energy, energy efficiency and oil and gas methane reductions, notable in NYC were the pledges made around carbon pricing by the World Bank and partners. The World Bank’s initiative brings together 75 national and sub-national governments and more than 1,000 global businesses and other organizations to accelerate carbon pricing activities to address climate change. We are pleased to have supported the World Bank in its endeavours and will continue to do so, through its Carbon Pricing Leadership Club.
Another major theme at the Summit was finance. A series of important pledges were made from governments and the finance community. For example, leading commercial banks announced their plans to issue $30 billion of Green Bonds by 2015, and a coalition of institutional investors committed to decarbonizing assets of $100 billion by December 2015 and to measure and disclose the carbon footprint of at least $500 billion in investments. Governments also pledged real money for the Green Climate Fund, bringing the total committed to $2.3bn. This is a good start, if still only a quarter of what the UN has called for by the end of the year.
These are just a few of the many commitments made in New York after a day of impassioned speeches from over 100 presidents and prime ministers – as well as a cameo by the new UN peace ambassador Leonardo DiCaprio – telling the summit that the world has wasted precious time and they needed to act urgently to deal with climate change.
In NYC, European Commission President Barroso reiterated the EU’s commitment to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, something The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders’ Group has long been advocating, as the minimum acceptable ambition. Now the proof will be in the pudding as this ambition, and the detail for delivery, will be confirmed later this month. China has indicated it will peak its emissions, but they have yet to set out when this will take place. And the US has approached this round of climate talks with real energy and commitment, but they need to show they can raise their ambition to further drive global action.
At the end of next year, Paris will host a summit where governments have promised to sign a comprehensive global agreement to lower emissions. It is only at that point that we will be able to look back to New York and see if this moment represents the start of the break through – the first step on a long path to a brighter and more sustainable future – or if it was another talking shop full of hopeful words that vanish.
Action on climate change now will be cheaper and less disruptive than doing nothing in the long-run, and if driven by a clear international agreement to move in the same direction, may be easier and faster than countries charting their own way forward. The science tells us what needs to happen and by when. Business is ready to invest and innovate, given the long, loud and legal signals it needs. Let’s hope policy makers and business leaders remember the spirit of New York and we carry on moving that boulder.
Sandrine Dixson-Declève runs The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group as well as the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership's EU Office and the Green Growth Platform.