NYCW - home thoughts on New York Climate Week
Posted on 23rd September 2022 at 12:25
It’s late September and we are at the end of New York Climate Week, a high profile event-packed week of discussions and debates, seminars and sessions, all focused on the business built on addressing the challenge of climate change. It runs alongside the UN General Assembly, the annual forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter of the United Nations, so the weight of global geopolitics hangs heavily in the air.
Having been a regular at NYCW for many years, caught up in the excitement and adrenaline rush of speaking on panels, attending dinners, dashing from venue to venue across Manhattan navigating through the enormous security operation due to the world’s political leaders being in town, it has been an interesting exercise to view it from a distance this time. As a key precursor to COP27, the volume and intensity of the discussions has been huge with tremendous insights and expert knowledge expounded.
Themes encompass every sustainability and climate-related topic you can think of and a few more besides - net zero, ESG, race to resilience, climate finance, climate adaptation, transition economy, green business, emissions reduction, inequality, climate leadership, tipping points, the list is endless. As talking shops go, this one is up there with the best. And it has struck me that there has been a great deal of focus on targets – amongst numerous statements on climate-related objectives this week, the EU announced that it plans to upgrade its Paris Agreement climate targets, increasing member states’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) - the contribution each country makes towards the 2015 Paris accord to prevent disastrous climate change.
All this appears to be positive and progressive – vigorous and public debate together with pushing out objectives and setting more challenging goals. But, as pointed out by Sir Jonathan Porritt recently at a Sustainable Investment Forum held in the UK in July, targets have effectively become a proxy for action. He also highlighted the massive amount of virtue-signalling – and greenwashing – going on in the global asset management industry, a strongly represented group at NYCW. Every year, apart from 2020-21 during the two years of the Covid pandemic, thousands of people comprising the climate community travel around the world, which seems at best counterintuitive given the resulting carbon footprint alone. And why? To set targets. Targets which on the whole we then fail to achieve. The 1.5°C global temperature rise set out by the Paris Agreement is already dangerously close, and despite all the shocking empirical evidence of the effects of rising global temperatures, and all the target setting, it doesn’t appear that we are showing any evidence whatsoever of pulling back. So, what’s the answer? Set another ambitious target?
Ambitions and the desire to achieve them are of course vital. But ambition is not action, and we now need to act. There is an urgent need to think differently, to work out the language of how to communicate what needs to be done, and to get on and do it, not in the incremental tentative steps forward which have been the norm to date, but in big, disruptive, exciting leaps.
And I firmly believe that for business, for industry, and for communities – towns, cities, states, regions - the collection of data and the high quality disclosure of climate information and reporting is vital. We need to know where we are and where we’re going –a positive reason for target-setting – and above all creating the drivers to take real action, and fast.
So let’s keep measuring and monitoring, let’s continue getting the information out into the public domain to ensure that there is both scrutiny and also understanding of what works and perhaps even more vitally what doesn’t, but above all let’s find a way to make actions speak louder than words.
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