Climate Week 2020 was held last week, from September 21st until the 27th. There were over 350 live and virtual events held across New York and all over the world that aimed to explore lessons that we could learn in our battle against climate change. Ten overarching themes guided the discussions, seminars, and exhibitions during the week-long program: clean energy transition; climate impacts and adaptation; finance, investment, and jobs; food and land use; industry and built environment; nature and science; sustainable travel and tourism; transport and infrastructure; the US and international policy; and youth, public mobilisation and justice.
This year’s Climate Week happened in the wake of numerous global manifestations of climate change and a still unresolved pandemic. Clearly, we are at a critical juncture in our lifetime wherein our decisions and actions will determine not just the fate of our planet but our very own survival. That’s why now more than ever, it’s important for governments, businesses, academic institutions, nonprofit organisations, and other concerned groups to lay down their stake and decide how to move forward, lest we all fall off the climate cliff into extinction.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the week:
A race against time
Seeing the Climate Clock installed in New York City gives the chills. It’s the most striking visual reminder that we have so little time left to stop global warming – only 7 years, 95 days, x hours and counting. This timeline is the critical point beyond which there’s no turning back or reversing the continuously devastating effects of climate change. And yet, somehow, we needed this reminder. As the professor from James Madison University Dr Wayne Teel said, the Climate Clock brought awareness to the public, especially the younger generation, about the importance of taking action to reverse the effects of climate change.
Climate change impacts everyone
At this point, we should be way past the discourse of climate change being an existential threat that endangers the lives of everyone living on this planet. It is happening now and it is an EMERGENCY. It does not discriminate between the rich and poor nations. Everyone can feel its effects.
In the U.S, California is besieged with destructive wildfires brought about by near-record heat level. More than 3.7 million acres of land have been destroyed and 26 have died so far.
The same thing happened in Australia over the 2019/2020 summer season. Severe drought and record-breaking temperatures caused massive bushfires resulting in the death of at least 33 people and destruction of over 27.2 million acres of land.
Last February, Shrewsbury, a town in England, experienced its worst flooding in history, putting residential and commercial areas underwater and destroying everything in its wake.
This has prompted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to say:
These are just some examples of the negative effects of climate change in advanced nations; how much more for developing nations? While it’s true that climate change affects both the developed and developing nations, the poorer nations find it much harder to cope with its effects. And of course, there is this debate about the link of climate change and COVID-19.
We are interconnected
How people from different geographical spaces with different levels of development deal with climate change differs significantly. Poor countries and developing regions have fewer capacities to cope with extreme weather conditions and their effects in the daily lives of their people. This means loss of homes and livelihood, health problems, economic instability, and other social and economic concerns resulting from the change in the climate in their part of the world.
Meanwhile, wealthier nations have the resources to combat the effects of climate change. They have the means to support their residents and citizens when calamities strike and help them get back on their feet faster. But we live in an interconnected world where countries shouldn’t just mind their own business. Once again UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tells us, “In an interconnected world, solidarity is self-interest. If we fail to grasp that fact, everyone loses.”
This is why Climate Week has been held every year since 2018 – to show everyone that the only way to win this fight is if we all act together. We need to come up with a holistic climate strategy that centers on economic equity, environmental and racial justice.
Naturally, the world sets its eyes on the Big 3 regions – U.S., the European Union, and China to lead the way for a transition to a sustainable future. They have the biggest economies and as hubs of human activity, can have a major impact on climate change. The EU has already pledged to be more aggressive in its efforts to cut carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2050. China too has committed to net zero carbon emissions – by 2060.
According to President Xi Jinping: “Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of Nature and go down the beaten path of extracting resources without investing in conservation.”
However, it can be recalled that the U.S. has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement which means they won’t be cooperating with the rest of the world in fighting climate change. The Paris Agreement is only as good as the commitments made by each member nation to keep the global temperature from rising to two degrees Celsius, increase their country’s resilience from the effects of climate change, and help in funding vulnerable and developing countries so that they can also meet their climate goals. Without the U.S.’ commitment, a huge chunk of the global climate effort is crippled.
Private sector to the rescue
Big businesses are stepping up to fill the leadership void. We have heard various companies in different industries – energy, resources, mobility, and the built environment share their own efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Starbucks, Unilever, Microsoft, Nike, Maersk, and Mercedes-Benz are just some of the corporations involved in the Transform to Net Zero initiative, committing to to transforming their business plans to achieve net zero emissions and enhance their research, and support climate change efforts. This group is dedicated to sharing best practices in the fight against climate change while balancing its goals of economic success.
Walmart, Daito Trust Construction, Decathlon, Adidas, Anta, and Lululemon have joined The Climate Group’s EP100 Initiative, a global collective drive to increase each company’s energy productivity to maximise each unit of energy that they consume.
This is how some businesses are leading the way towards a low carbon world.
Partnerships are crucial
Of course, the efforts of the business sector won’t be enough to transition us into a low carbon world. Global partnerships are crucial in this fight so that no country will be left behind. The Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance was launched and pledged investments of US$2.4 trillion for carbon-neutral initiatives. Investors have a responsibility to demand transparency and accountability from the business sector to ensure that they are on track to achieving their climate goals. They are urged to ask for details regarding their business plans so that they aren’t just empty promises.
Germany, together with the World Bank, embarked on PROGREEN, a global partnership that aims to enhance efforts to curb forest loss, restore degraded lands, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help improve livelihoods of poor communities in rural areas. World Bank also partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to offer financial assistance of US$790 million to small scale food producers around the world to improve their sustainable practices. These partnerships are valuable ensuring that funds are made available to vulnerable communities in the fight against climate change.
We can still win this race
Through our collective effort, we can still win the race. Consumers can be more discerning in patronising businesses with a climate agenda. The youth are mobilized to make their voices heard for a future that they deserve. You can go out and volunteer to be a climate advocate or be an influencer in your own way. This is the main message of Climate Week 2020. We each can do something and each contribution, whether big or small, is a big help in our battle against climate change.
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Cover image of “March For Climate Justice NYC” on September 20, 2020 in New York City to kick off Climate Week 2020. Photo by Ron Adar.