Highlights from Climate Week NYC 2016: another year of bold climate action

Reading time: 13 minutes
29 September 2016

by Amy Davidsen, Executive Director, The Climate Group

As we all catch our breath after an exhilarating Climate Week NYC, I want to reflect on the recent steps forward in our journey to secure a prosperous, net zero emissions economy. 

While we must move ever faster and farther if we are to fulfill the Paris commitments of keeping global warming at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius, there is a much greater sense of momentum and commitment than ever before. This is due to the success of the Paris Agreement but also the growing community of climate leaders who gather each year for Climate Week NYC. Each year, leaders come to collaborate, agree joint action, announce new commitments, and push for greater ambition in our shared goal of transitioning to a net zero emissions global economy. It is a special moment to track progress and aim higher.

This year, Climate Week NYC served as the collaborative space for all climate events in support of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, and once again kept the spotlight on the urgent issue of climate change. 

It was a remarkable week with nearly 100 diverse Climate Week NYC affiliate events throughout the city. You can catch up on all of our announcements via our news section, but my 2016 highlights are below.

AMERICA MEANS BUSINESS

Our Opening Ceremony set a very clear and ambitious tone to the week, with the theme ‘America Means Business: US Leadership in a post-Paris World’. Just seven weeks ahead of a pivotal US Presidential election, this year’s Opening Ceremony focused attention on the critical importance of continued North American leadership on climate, clean energy and innovation.

A moment of the high-level discussion "America Means Business: US Leadership in a post-Paris World"

From the business side, Andrew Plepler, Environmental, Social and Governance Executive, Bank of America, announced on stage that they would join RE100, our campaign working with corporates committed to achieving 100% renewable electricity across their global operations. Andrew Plepler gave a clear business case for Bank of America’s investments in renewable energy and green bonds, by stating, “It’s both good business and good for the future of a global economy”.

Tech giant Apple also announced they would join RE100, with Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, unveiled a series of commitments, including their commitment to 100% renewable power which they are beginning to extend to their supply chain. In her keynote she said, “It's clear that there is the will and the motivation across global markets for a large scale energy shift...it continues to be important that we act now. Together we have the tools we need to maximize the economic opportunities of the green energy economy and protect our planet from the worst impacts of climate change. Let's do that together.”

Our first climate conversation of the morning, ‘Innovating for a Clean Economy’, included Eric Rondolat, CEO, Philips Lighting; Susan Aplin, CEO, Bambeco; Nancy Pfund, Founder DBL Investors; Andrew Plepler; and Philippe Couillard, Premier of Quebec.

Moderated by Andrew Shapiro, Founder of Broadscale, the conversation focused on near and long term goals for increasing access to existing technologies, improving efficiency, and reducing costs of products in the pipeline. Premier Couillard’s team also showcased the results of their progressive clean energy policies with an electric school bus parked in front of The TimesCenter – the venue of the Opening Ceremony.

The panel "Innovating for a Clean Economy"

Later in the morning, the second conversation, “Challenges and Opportunities of the Clean Energy Transition” opened with a key note by Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta, who shared the province’s climate leadership journey including putting a price on carbon and a phase out of coal electricity generation over the next 15 years.

She then joined a discussion with Dr. Jonathan Pershing, US Special Envoy for Climate Change, US Department of State; Roland Busch, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and Chief Sustainability Officer; and Jonathan Bass, Chief Communication Officer, SolarCity, all deftly moderated by Dan Esty, professor at Yale University.

The conversation covered the role of the private sector in creating solutions that customers want, mobilizing greater financing, and encouraging governments to create stable and enabling policies. Dr. Jonathan Pershing, reinforced the link between innovation and a clean energy transition, stating: “What's next for innovation? Real business opportunities and real social benefits. And hold onto your seats because it's coming fast, which is a good thing because it's crucial to solving the climate problem.”

Providing the international context, Hakima El Haité, Minister Delegate in charge of the Environment to the Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and the Environment of Morocco, looked ahead to COP22, and inspired further swift action by reminding the audience that, “Paris is behind us and Marrakech is in front of us and people are waiting for us…we need leaders to come and to commit that they are changing policies…we need leaders to commit on actions.” All reinforcing the fact that we have moved from negotiation to implementation.

And capping off the morning, Tim Pastore, President of Original Programming and Production at National Geographic Channel, our partner, shared Nat Geo’s deep commitment to amplifying global debate on climate change impacts and the actions people around the world can take. The audience was treated to a sneak preview of Fisher Stevens’ latest film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘Before the Flood’, as well as a short, specially produced clip of the upcoming “Years of Living Dangerously” Season 2, which will air on October 30. 

Lastly, before Damian Ryan, our Acting-CEO closed the morning, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, addressed the audience via video recording - his final address to Climate Week NYC as Secretary-General of the UN. Throughout his tenure, his support of Climate Week NYC has been critical to our successful partnership with the UN, helping to engage the voices of non-state actors directly in the international conversation.

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Following our Opening Ceremony, we also supported Philips Lighting and the World Green Building Council in hosting a special afternoon event that included a call for all new buildings to adopt energy efficient LED lighting by 2020 and for all existing buildings to use LEDs by 2030.

Philips Lighting also launched its ‘Brighter Lives, Better World’ sustainability initiative, that includes the target of achieving 100% carbon neutral operations by 2020.

  • Missed the Opening Ceremony? Don’t worry – you can watch each session or the entire morning again on the Climate Week NYC website here, or on YouTube here.

BIG BUSINESSES ARE USING CLEANER, SMARTER ENERGY

Major announcements also came from The Climate Group’s two leading corporate energy campaigns during Climate Week NYC – RE100, the global initiative run in partnership with CDP that works with companies committed to transitioning to 100% renewable electricity across their entire operations; and EP100, a new global initiative run in partnership with the Global Alliance for Energy Productivity that works with businesses committed to doubling their energy productivity.

Starting a series of announcements from the RE100 campaign, General Motors announced their commitment to 100% renewable electricity across their operations the week before Climate Week NYC formally kicked off, with Mary Barra, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, GM, saying in a statement that the company was doing this to “strengthen their business through lower and more stable energy costs.”

Following Bank of America and Apple’s announcements at the Opening Ceremony, Amalgamated Bank also announced they would join the campaign. Finally, during energy day, the campaign also announced a further eight companies, including Facebook, Wells Fargo & Co., Rackspace Inc., VMware Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), VF Corporation, Diageo and DNB.

These 12 new RE100 companies alone are helping to drive demand for over 19.3 terawatt hours (TWh) of renewable electricity, almost enough to power the whole of Long Island [21.6TWh].

We also saw businesses recognize the opportunity of energy productivity, and the economic benefits that smarter energy choices bring. Research shows that in the US alone, doubling energy productivity by 2030 could save US$327 billion annually in energy costs and add 1.3 million jobs to the economy.

Given these opportunities, we were delighted to announce four new members that joined the EP100 campaign during Climate Week NYC; including Dalmia Cement, Mahindra Holiday and Resorts India, Danfoss Group, and Hongbo Group.

  • To learn more on both the RE100 and EP100 announcements, read our press release here.

STATE AND REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS CONTINUE TO BE THE DRIVERS OF CHANGE

For over 10 years, The Climate Group has been driving the global transition to a low carbon economy with the world’s most influential state and regional governments that make up the States & Regions Alliance. Since the launch last year of the Under2 Coalition, over 130 jurisdictions representing a quarter of the global economy have committed to reduce their emissions by at least 80% or a limit of 2 tons CO2e per capita by 2050 – making it one of the most powerful and ambitious climate coalitions in the world.

As leaders from our State & Regions Alliance and Under2 Coalition gathered in New York City, The Climate Group also released a new report that showed the crucial role of subnational governments in accelerating climate action and helping to deliver the Paris Agreement. The report, Power to Act: How subnational governments can tackle climate change together, was launched on Wednesday as part of States & Regions day by The Climate Group.

As well as our report, we also saw some new interim figures come from the Compact of States and Regions. The Compact, which was launched two years ago at the UN Climate Summit by the UN Secretary-General, now has 61 governments, spanning 6 continents and 22 countries, voluntarily reporting annually on their climate strategies.

The initiative, driven by The Climate Group and CDP, has become the global benchmark for transparency and accountability on climate change mitigation. You can read more about this announcement from the Compact of States and Regions here.

Accelerating Adoption and Scale up of LED Lighting in cities

On Thursday September 22, The Climate Group convened a meeting of our partners on LED initiatives in two closed door conversations at PwC to discuss two key topics that are affecting the speed of LED roll out in cities; availability of attractive LED financing, particularly in developing countries, and incentivizing key stakeholders to adopt LEDs – particularly utilities that are investor-owned, and which face commercial challenges making the transition to LEDs in the existing tariff and regulatory market.

With the unprecedented and proven energy savings of up to 50-70% from LEDs, the urgency for large-scale global roll out is clear. The adoption barriers are no longer technical; and these roundtables allowed us to convene key stakeholders to brainstorm routes and solutions that could ultimately serve as the basis for driving similar scale-up of future low carbon technologies.

  • To learn more about our LED work, click here.

PROGRESS TOWARDS THE PARIS AGREEMENT AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS

During the first UN General Assembly since COP21 and last year’s SDG summit, Climate Week NYC continued to act as the collaborative space for all climate events in support of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.

The announcement of 31 more countries joining the Paris Agreement at a special event hosted by Ban Ki-moon during Climate Week NYC was a momentous occasion of the week. Reaching this critical milestone of 60 countries brings us much closer to the deal entering into force. The Agreement is on the cusp of coming into force - as I am writing this, India has ratified the agreement and we expect the European Union to ratify shortly, which will exceed the target of countries representing 55% of global GHG emissions - a much faster trajectory than any of us expected back in December in Paris.

YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY RETURNS

In an exciting addition to this year’s Climate Week NYC, we also partnered with National Geographic Channel for the world premiere of Season 2 of the Emmy award- winning series, Years of Living Dangerously, which focuses on solutions to climate change.

At the beautiful American Museum of Natural History, celebrity correspondents walked the National Geographic ‘Yellow Carpet’ – including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joshua Jackson, Cecily Strong, America Ferrara, Bradley Whitford, Ian Somerhalder, Nikki Reed, Aasif Mandvi, and Gisele Bündchen with her husband, Tom Brady.

Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Channel, announced that the series release on October 30 will be timed to coincide with Earth Week, a new scheduling initiative to highlight climate change through a mixture of documentaries, films and programs intentionally timed before the US Presidential election. More information about the premiere and Earth Week can be found here.

SO, WHAT NEXT?

With all of the announcements, progress and commitments we saw throughout this year’s Climate Week NYC, the question remains: where do we go from here? 

The Climate Group remains as committed as ever to supporting our network of business and policy leaders in continuing our collective action. The world sits at a critical turning point in its journey to addressing climate change, and only with the type of leadership that we saw throughout Climate Week NYC, can we secure the future we all want – a clean, safe, just, healthy, and prosperous future for all.

As always, a big thank you to all of our partners, sponsors, and contributors that made this year’s Climate Week NYC yet another incredible success. Specifically, we’d like to thank: Philips Lighting, Siemens, Bank of America, Bambeco, SolarCity, JPMorganChase, SunPower, EcoAct, Bank of the West, Pfizer, Strata Solar, the International Copper Association, and Conservation International/Starbucks Sustainable Coffee Challenge.

Continue to follow our news and updates, as well as watch special Climate TV interviews recorded at this year’s Climate Week NYC, by following #CWNYC and @ClimateGroup.

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