The climate week is finally taking place again this year in full force. For the past 14 years, The Climate Group, a non-profit organization aiming to achieve a net-zero carbon emissions world by 2050, has hosted Climate Week, a program of core events that spawns a variety of side events that are hosted by non-governmental organizations, coalitions, companies, foundations and other institutions for a week in September. Climate week almost always coincides with the session of the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. If you want to attract international attention, being where the world has gathered helps.
With 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 dealt with and we can check that box on the list of urgent existential threats to our planet and relax. That would be wrong and short-sighted. While the IRA is landmark legislation and gives the US a degree of increased credibility, as we look ahead to the next Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Egypt later this year, there is still work to be done if we are to do so, avert the worst effects of climate change.
A new report released days ago shows we are dangerously close and very likely to trigger as many as six tipping points which, if they occurred, would cause irreparable damage to Earth systems, including the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ones ice sheets, and a massive die-off of coral reefs in the lower latitudes. This not only represents an irreversible change to our planet, but also makes it more difficult to combat future climate impacts.
Here’s what I’m looking for at this moment when the bright lights of the big city of New York are aimed squarely at the climate crisis:
1. Announcements are good, actions are better. The theme of the week is Get it Done, which seems more than appropriate given the science and technology surrounding achieving climate goals. The first benchmark for tackling the climate crisis, halving emissions by 2030, is fast approaching, and we’re nowhere near it. Countries and companies like to use platforms like Climate Week and the COP to make announcements about their intentions, but we need to start hearing about and highlighting the results. In particular, the US administration needs to provide a clear path on how to translate the IRA’s recent success into full implementation of the goals of its nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement.
2. We must fully mobilize nature as an ally in battle. Nature-based solutions offer the opportunity to sequester carbon and deliver real climate benefits, but so far they have been underfunded and underutilized. Nature-based solutions are important because they help store carbon emissions that are otherwise difficult to eliminate. Without them we cannot achieve our climate targets. Nature-based solutions need to be highly scaled and integrated across large landscapes. We need more projects like what WWF is pursuing in Colombia through our Earth for Life work.
3. The link between the climate crisis and food systems is inseparable. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, forestry and land use change are the third largest source of global emissions. Land-use practices that result in deforestation and the conversion of other ecologically important landscapes challenge our ability to meet climate goals. In particular, WWF is focusing its efforts on shifting global beef production to a more climate-friendly and nature-friendly system, as beef is responsible for more than 40% of emissions from livestock farming. Governments, businesses and society as a whole should pay more attention to food systems and how they relate to the climate crisis.
4. Comprehensive climate action requires significant capital and a quality marketplace. We need to mobilize significant private and public capital to transform key sectors of our global economy and achieve our climate goals. However, we must also recognize that nothing moves capital faster than the market. We need to unleash institutional and corporate investment for climate protection. However, markets evolving around carbon sequestration finance, and carbon credits in particular, must be designed to maximize our climate goals. This means promoting emission reductions before resorting to carbon credit instruments, ensuring all credits are of high integrity, and framing them in a larger hierarchy of reduction plan that is about more than just offsetting existing emissions.
Will just one week of events across New York City solve the climate crisis? no But it is an opportunity to exchange ideas, share successes and create collaborations that will drive more climate action. Connecting with peers in other environmental and conservation organisations, business, government and philanthropy sectors can inspire innovation and most importantly action.
One collaboration I look forward to is the work the All In Coalition, a coalition of multi-sector leaders in support of climate action (which WWF is helping to lead), is doing with We Mean Business, a non-profit coalition Companies to take action on climate change to launch the SME Climate Hub on Thursday 22nd September. The SME Climate Hub provides small and medium-sized companies with tools 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 companies worldwide signing up worldwide, it’s time for US companies to get involved and show how they are helping to tackle the climate crisis contribute.
Because one thing is certain: in order to successfully contain climate change, it takes us all, and we have to start working together.
Find out more about WWF’s work on the climate crisis.