We’ll Always Have Paris: A Recap of Climate Week NYC 2019 and the Push for Net-Zero Emissions by 2050
Recognizing the imperative to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, global leaders, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and youth climate activists gathered in New York City for Climate Week NYC from September 23 to 29, 2019 to demand and spur greater climate action. Climate Week events covered 11 areas including energy transition, industry transition, clean building and infrastructure, as well as climate finance, investment and carbon pricing, among others. A number of climate initiatives were launched during Climate Week NYC, which are discussed in further detail below.
UN Climate Action Summit
A Climate Action Summit was held by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the first day of Climate Week NYC. The Summit, which was entitled “Climate Action Summit 2019: A Race We Can Win. A Race We Must Win”, was aimed at advancing climate action in support of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In particular, Mr. Guterres challenged states, regions, cities, companies, investors and citizens to step up action in the areas of energy transition, climate finance and carbon pricing, as well as industry transition, cities and local action, and resilience, with a view to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The Summit took place in the shadow of the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which warned of catastrophic consequences should global warming exceed 1.5°C.
Climate Initiatives by Businesses
More than 1,000 companies have committed to climate action through various initiatives of the We Mean Business Coalition. We Mean Business is a global coalition of non-profit organizations and leading businesses looking to take action on climate change. The coalition brings together seven organizations – Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), CDP, Ceres, The B Team, The Climate Group, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development – which are working together drive policy and accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy. During Climate Week NYC, 87 major companies (with a combined market capitalization of US$2.3 trillion) signed the Business Ambition for 1.5°C Pledge in response to a call-to-action issued in June 2019 by a group of business, civil society and UN leaders. These companies have committed to setting science-based targets through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which independently assesses corporate emissions reduction targets across their operations and supply chains; these emission reductions are in line with the Paris Agreement’s objective of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and reaching net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.
The signatories to the Business Ambition for 1.5°C — Our Only Future” campaign have also taken their efforts a step further by extending their commitments to their entire value chains, which on average account for 5.5 times higher emissions than operations. In the push to achieve science-based targets, companies are leading the way in creating a positive feedback loop – which has been termed an “ambition loop” – where climate action is taken to the next level as government policies and private sector leadership reinforce one another.
Climate Initiatives by Institutional Investors
Institutional investors have warned that current government commitments leave an “ambition gap” that will not prevent global average temperature from rising beyond the 1.5 degree threshold. In the lead-up to the Climate Action Summit, 515 institutional investors managing US $35 trillion in assets called on governments to step up action to tackle climate change and achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. The Global Investor Statement to Governments on Climate Change, which was developed by the founding members of The Investor Agenda, urges governments to phase out thermal coal power worldwide, put a meaningful price on carbon pollution, end government subsidies for fossil fuels, and update and strengthen nationally-determined contributions to meet the emissions reduction goal of the Paris Agreement no later than 2020. The Investor Agenda is a collaborative initiative designed to accelerate and scale-up investor actions to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Launched in September 2018 by seven founding partners – Asia Investor Group on Climate Change, CDP, Ceres, Investor Group on Climate Change, Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, Principles for Responsible Investment and UNEP Finance Initiative – The Investor Agenda establishes a set of actions for investors in four key areas: (i) Investment, (ii) Corporate Engagement, (iii) Investor Disclosure, and (iv) Policy Advocacy.
During Climate Week NYC, The Investor Agenda’s founding partners announced the release of The Investor Agenda’s Annual Progress Report, which found that nearly 1,200 investors have taken action in one or more of the focus areas of The Investor Agenda. In particular, more than 750 investors have engaged with or directly influenced portfolio companies to act on climate change, more than 400 investors have stepped up their own disclosure on climate change, and more than 260 have set a climate target.
Climate Initiatives by Local Governments
Since cities account for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions, they play a key role in the fight against climate change. At Climate Week NYC, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy announced the launch of the City Climate Finance Gap Fund (the Fund). The governments of Germany and Luxembourg will provide up to 50 million Euros in grants to the Fund, which is seeking capitalization of at least 100 million Euros. This funding will then open up 4 billion Euros in low-carbon and climate resilient infrastructure projects in cities. Cities often lack the resources and capacity to implement infrastructure projects, so the Fund seeks to provide the necessary funding to advance projects from concept to full feasibility analysis, and ultimately to investment. The Fund will support project planning activities for low-carbon and resilient urban infrastructure projects in approximately twelve cities per year based on the following three principle objectives:
- Capacity building: Enhancing cities and local authorities’ capacity to mature high-quality project ideas to later–stage project preparation.
- Pipeline-building for later-stage technical assistance: Building a solid portfolio of project business cases for initiatives and institutions that focus on providing technical assistance for late-stage project preparation.
- Pipeline-building for investors: Increasing at-scale pipelines of bankable projects.
Global mayors are gathering at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen from October 9-12, 2019. The C40 Summit provides a forum for member cities to present new actions aimed at keeping global temperature rise to below 1.5 °C. One of the first announcements from the C40 Summit was the creation of a Global Green New Deal, which is based on four principles as stated by the mayors:
- We recognize the Global Climate Emergency.C40 Cities have announced at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen that we recognized the global climate emergency. In addition, 13 C40 cities have declared climate emergencies in their own cities.
- We are committed to keeping global heating below the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement by curbing emissions in the sectors that are the greatest contributors to the climate crisis: transportation, industry, buildings, and waste.C40 cities are putting in place 1.5°C compatible climate action plans, and are committed to high-ambition goals for our biggest emitting sectors of transport, buildings and waste by 2030.
- We are committed to putting inclusive climate action at the center of all urban decision-making, to create thriving and equitable communities for everyone.We will drive an urgent, fundamental, and irreversible transfer of global resources away from fossil fuels and into action that helps ensure everyone experiences the benefits of a more sustainable future.
- We are committed to working with those who will drive the change and whose lives it will impact, including business, governments, investors, labor, civil society, citizens, youth, and communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and poverty. Fighting climate change is a global responsibility – which is why we are calling on partners across the planet to join us in recognizing the global climate emergency and the science-based actions needed to overcome it.
Other Climate Initiatives
- Powering Past Coal Alliance: At the UN Climate Action Summit, the Powering Past Coal Alliance welcomed seven new members and extended its partnerships with leading finance sector initiatives. The Power Past Coal Alliance was launched by the Canadian and the UK governments at COP23 in November 2017, and represents a global alliance of national and sub-national governments, businesses and organizations working to advance the transition away from unabated coal power generation. Unabated coal power generation refers to the use of coal without any technologies to substantially reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, such as carbon capture and storage. With the recent addition of new members, membership of the Powering Past Coal Alliance now stands at 91 members, including 32 national governments, 25 subnational governments and 34 businesses.
- Global Maritime Forum’s Getting to Zero Coalition: The World Economic Forum, the Global Maritime Forum and Friends of Ocean Action (together representing leaders from the maritime, energy, infrastructure and finance sectors) launched the Getting to Zero Coalition, the goal of which is to decarbonize the international ocean shipping sector by 2030. The transition to green shipping has stalled in the past because of the challenges of global collaboration and high technology costs.
- World Resource Institute’s Cool Food Pledge: Launched by the WRI in fall 2018 at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, the Cool Food Pledge is aimed at reducing the climate impacts of food. At Climate Week NYC, a number of restaurants, hospitals, hotels, universities and cities (including IKEA, the city of Milan, Harvard University, Seattle Children's Hospital and the World Bank) announced that they would be joining the Cool Food Pledge. Collectively, the Cool Food Pledge signatories serve over 800 million meals each year, and they all plan to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030.
- One Planet Business for BiodiversityCoalition: At Climate Week NYC, more than a dozen companies (including Barry Callebaut, L’Oreal and Unilever) announced that they would join the One Planet Business for Biodiversity Coalition to protect and restore biodiversity and the companies’ respective supply chains and product portfolios. The commitment comes at a time when – according to the UN report on biodiversity released earlier this year – one million species are at risk of extinction and urgent action is needed.
- Climate Neutral’s "Climate Neutral Certified" project (PDF): The non-profit Climate Neutral organization has launched a labeling program that companies can certify their products under to let customers know their carbon footprint has been “accurately measured, reduced, and off-set to achieve net-zero carbon status.” The Climate Neutral web site liststhe companies that have so far committed to “monitor their carbon emissions in 2019 and offset starting in 2020.” At this stage, only three companies have been deemed Climate Neutral Certified for 2019 by offsetting their emissions from 2018.
The initiatives announced at Climate Week NYC build on the momentum and calls for greater action on climate change from around the world. The outcomes of the UN Climate Action Summit held in New York will help to inform the next international 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25), which will take place in Santiago, Chile from December 2 to 13, 2019. The Santiago Climate Change Conference will also be informed by the outcomes of the three Regional Climate Weeks that have taken place in 2019, including Africa Climate Week held in March, Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week held in August, and Asia-Pacific Climate Week held in September. Given the significant commitments made at Climate Week NYC, the pressure will be on governments, industry and other stakeholders to ramp up efforts and set their sights firmly on achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Climate Week climate change IPCC Global warning