Climate Week NYC: “Time for collective, immediate and bold climate action that puts nature at its core”

By Charlotte Owen-Burge | September 21, 2021

We are almost out of time to limit temperatures to 1.5C and urgent – and collective – action across the whole economy is required to keep the promise Paris alive, impassioned panellists agreed at the opening day of Climate Week NYC.

In a session organised by the UN-backed campaigns, Race to Zero and Race to Resilience panellists, that included business, political, Indigenous and youth leaders, called for a rapid acceleration of pace in the race to a cleaner, healthier, fairer and more resilient world. Crucial to this transition, many panellists also agreed, was the integration of nature into the heart of climate discussions.

Kicking off the session, COP26 President, Alok Sharma said, “We are almost out of time to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5C, the vital goal established in the Paris Agreement.”

“In the delicate system that is the world’s climate, every fraction of a degree matters.” He referred to COP26 as “our last chance for 1.5C”. He also said the “need for climate adaptation has never been more acute,” underlining that developed nations must deliver the $100billion a year “they promised developing countries for adaptation.”

Reiterating these points, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, said: “As we’ve seen from climate disasters throughout the world, and what the science has made clear, we have no other choice but to make [COP26] a success.”

She said inclusive multilateralism “remains fundamental to reaching our climate goals…Billions are looking for bold and courageous decisions to get humanity off its current path of destruction. We cannot let them down.”

UN High Level Champion for COP25, Gonzalo Munoz, chaired the first panel discussion, reiterating the IPCC report’s “loud and clear code red for humanity.”

He asked Susan Chomba, Director of Vital Landscapes for Africa at the WRI and Race to Zero and Race to Resilience Global Ambassador, as well as Elizabeth Wathuti, Youth activist and founder of the Green Generation Initiative, what they thought needed to happen to turn hope into confidence.

Chomba said she was hopeful for three reasons: “the big restoration movement we are witnessing in Africa and other parts of developing world…what we’ve witness under the UN Food System Summit…and the push towards a just transition; the recognition we are not going to solve the climate crisis if we’re not acting together.”

“No transition is fair and just if we forget about Indigenous communities and smallholder farmers…we might be in the same storm with the climate crisis but we are definitely not in the same boat,”  she said, adding:

“We must put political bickering aside. We have one single shot…It’s time to put our money where our mouths are.”

Wathuti said “young people have a right to be angry. We’re not just reading about climate change, we’re watching it in front of our eyes.”

She spoke of the environmental defenders who “have been killed every week”. Speaking of her despair she said, “I fight because I care about this planet, nature, future and our beautiful landscapes that have been degraded. The natural wild has changed before our eyes.”

She said nature must be put “at the heart of climate conversations” and called for the end of fossil fuel investment “for the survival of our species.”

“This moment is calling us to keep every single bit of nature intact and this is what’s going to keep me and every single young person hopeful.”

Virtually every company in every sector needs to transform its business model – Mark Carney

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President of the Association of Peul Women and Autochthonous Peoples of Chad, who moderated the next panel discussion, echoed Wathuti’s call for nature to be centred within climate discussions.

“We’ve heard about urgent actions underway specifically to cut emissions at pace, but we know we need more than that: we need to preserve our natural sinks and humanity’s health to achieve this better, greener, healthier future,” she said before introducing Roberto Marques CEO of Brazilian beauty company, Natura & Co.

Marques said his company had been working in the Amazon for over 20 years and in that time has preserved 2 million hectares of forest. While working alongside the local communities, he said Natura & Co in the last five years has invested over $400m for this purpose.

He said the Race to Zero was a “call to action for everyone to work alongside local communities to establish those goals and deliver and be held accountable against those targets.”

He said while we make sure we have a path to zero emissions, we must also think about protecting and regenerating nature. “When we protect nature, we’re protecting our own health. We need an integrated approach for nature, health and climate,” he said.

Emma Walmsley, CEO of GSK, said that the protection of nature and the preservation of health were interlinked. “The science is clear: nature loss and climate change are already harming human health, from air pollution, to threats to water security, to the spread of new infectious diseases.” She said we must “act now to protect people’s health,” and highlighted examples of how GSK is decarbonizing at pace.

Other speakers on the day included Mark Carney, UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance. “If we overshoot 1.5C, the results will be catastrophic. We need a net zero economy by 2050, and rapid decarbonization from today. In just a few weeks’ time in Glasgow, the world has an opportunity to begin securing a 1.5C world,” he told the virtual and physical audience, adding:

“We are building commitment to a whole economy transition because we know we won’t get to net zero in a niche. Rather, virtually every company in every sector needs to transform its business model, requiring investments of over $100 trillion in the next three decades.”

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), which is anchored in the Race to Zero , was created to meet those needs, he said. So far, the Alliance has brought together over 250 financial institutions responsible for almost $90 trillion of assets.

“To achieve our net zero targets and create rapid systemic change – we need to ensure the whole of the financial system is supporting the transition. That means embedding commitment, alignment and engagement on net zero across the financial sector,” said Carney.

Nigel Topping, UN High Level Champion for COP26, reflected on the NDC synthesis report that showed the “current cumulative level of ambition of submitted NDCs put us on track for a disastrous 16% increase in global emissions by 2030.”

The good news, he said, was that momentum was building amongst non-state actors for a decarbonized and resilient world. As well as celebrating the news that four new initiatives have joined the Race to Resilience, Topping applauded the news that at least 20% of the major companies by revenue from 15 sectors, that include clean power and concrete and cement, are aligning around sector-specific 2030 goals. This includes targets such as 60% renewable generation in the energy sector and 5% zero-emissions fuel in the shipping sector.

Reflecting on the importance of the Race to Resilience campaign, Harry Bowcott, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, said that while the Race to Zero has generated momentum on mitigation, adaptation and resilience must be invested in “with the same urgency.”

“Climate hazard is a near term humanitarian challenge. By 2030, 900m more people around the world could be exposed to high severity climate hazard if we are at 1.5C and on a path to 2C by 2050. In this scenario, almost half the world’s population will be exposed to climate hazard by 2030,” he said.

The Race to Resilience campaign, which is commited to making 4 billion people from vulnerable communities resilient to the impact of climate change by 2030, he said “offers a narrative, a community of expertise and a way of keeping score that we think will be a powerful way of galvanising non-state actors around the world on this critical humanitarian issue.”

Al Gore wrapped up the event, calling on everyone to “act with urgency and determination to drive transformative and systemic changes.” He pointed to the “lack of transparency and accountability in emissions data” to being the major reason why climate action to date has not been ambitious enough.

“Clearly we’ve run out of time for half measures…mother nature is sounding the alarm,” he said.

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