Climate Week is finally back at full force this year. For the past 14 years, The Climate Group, a non-profit organization aimed at achieving a world of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, has hosted Climate Week, a program of core events that generates a multitude of side events hosted by non-governmental organizations, coalitions, corporations, foundations, and other institutions for a week in September. Climate Week nearly always coincides with the United Nations General Assembly meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan. If you want to attract international attention, it helps to be where the world has gathered.
Given the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), it is perhaps tempting to think that the climate crisis has now been successfully managed, and we can tick off that box on the list of urgent existential threats to our planet and relax. That would be incorrect and short-sighted. While the IRA is landmark legislation and gives the US a measure of increased credibility as we look towards the next Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Egypt later this year, there is still much to do if we are to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
A new report issued days ago indicates that we are dangerously close and quite likely to trigger no less than six tipping points events that if they were to occur, would cause irretrievable damage to the earth’s systems including the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, and a massive die-off of coral reefs in the lower latitudes. Not only does this represent irrevocable change to our planet, but it also makes fighting future climate impacts even harder.
Here’s what I’m looking for during this moment when the bright lights of the big city of New York are trained squarely on the climate crisis:
1. Announcements are good, actions are better. The theme for the week is Get it Done, which seems more than apropos given the science and technology around meeting climate targets. The first benchmark to meeting the climate crisis halving emissions by 2030 is fast approaching, and we are nowhere near meeting it. Countries and companies love to use platforms like Climate Week and COP to make announcements about what they intend to do, but we need to start hearing about and highlighting results. The US government especially needs to set out a clear path for how it is going to translate the recent success of the IRA into a full implementation of the goals of its nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement.
2. We need to fully mobilize nature as an ally in the fight. Nature-based solutions offer the opportunity to sequester carbon and provide real climate benefits, but so far, they’ve remained underfunded and underused. Nature-based solutions are important because they help store carbon emissions that are hard to eliminate by other means. We cannot reach our climate goals without them. Nature-based solutions need to be scaled up dramatically and deployed in an integrated way across large landscapes. We need more projects like the one WWF is pursuing in Columbia through our Earth for Life work.
3. The link between the climate crisis and food systems is inextricable. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, forestry, and land use change is the third-largest source of global emissions. Land use practices that result in deforestation and the conversion of other environmentally important landscapes are challenging our ability to meet climate goals. WWF is focusing its efforts particularly on transforming global beef production to a more climate-smart and nature-positive system, as beef is responsible for more than 40% of animal agriculture emissions. Governments, businesses, and society as a whole should pay closer attention to food systems and their connection to the climate crisis.
4. Comprehensive climate action requires significant capital and a high-quality marketplace. We must mobilize substantial private and public capital to transform the key sectors of our global economy and meet our climate goals. We must also recognize, however, that nothing moves capital faster than the marketplace. We must unleash institutional and corporate investment for climate mitigation. However, markets that develop around financing carbon sequestration, and especially around carbon credits must be designed to maximize advancement towards our climate goals. This means promoting emissions reductions before resorting to carbon credit tools, ensuring any credits are high-integrity and situating them within a larger mitigation hierarchy plan that is about more than mere offsetting of existing emissions.
Will a week of events across New York City alone solve the climate crisis? No. But it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas, share successes, and create collaborations that are going to drive more climate action. Connection with peers at other environmental and conservation organizations, business, policy, and philanthropy sectors can spur innovation and most importantly action.
One collaboration I’m looking forward to celebrating is the work that the America Is All In Coalition, a coalition of leaders across sectors in support of climate action (which WWF helps lead), is doing with We Mean Business, a non-profit coalition working with businesses to act on climate change, to launch the SME Climate Hub on Thursday, Sept. 22. The SME Climate Hub provides tools for small and medium-sized enterprises to make and meet net-zero commitments. The SME Climate Hub was first launched globally at COP26 in Glasgow last year, and with thousands of businesses globally subscribed, it’s time for US businesses to join in and demonstrate how they are part of addressing the climate crisis.
Because one thing is certain: it will take all of us to successfully curb climate change, and we need to start working together.