"It doesn't cost more to deal with climate change. It costs more to ignore it.” - Powerful leaders share will for action at #CWNYC

Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 5 minutes
23 September 2014

NEW YORK: Today influential figures from worlds as diverse as foreign affairs and national security, to tech giants Apple and HP, came together to share their united call for assured climate action and low carbon prosperity, at the Opening Day of Climate Week NYC 2014.

Starting the biggest ever Climate Week NYC, which boasts a record 140+ affiliate events and an official role as the collaborative space for all events in support of the high-profile UN Climate Summit tomorrow, the day began with a speech from Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group. He explained this boosted recognition coincides with the mass mobilization seen in yesterday’s People’s Climate March: “None of you need to be told how important it is that we act now on climate change – 310,000 made that message pretty clear to us yesterday on the streets around the city.”

Standing alongside each other, Paul Simpson, CEO, CDP, sparked a similarly positive mood by breaking news a record 5,000 companies reported to his organization on their climate actions this year. Pointing to research showing such actions yield an average return on investment of close to 30% which is “far higher than average corporate ROI”, Paul affirmed: “In short, climate leadership delivers financial returns.”

Mark Kenber reeled off further striking facts proving the low carbon economy is bringing impressive gains to companies and governments alike, stating: “It’s THE growth market.” He candidly urged the audience to convince 10 peers of the same, because without action from everyone, “we’re going to be in trouble.”

John Kerry, US Secretary of State, too, warned of the imperative to act swiftly in his personal keynote speech. He said climate change should be grouped with economic, public health and security challenges, controversially linking it with terrorism.

But while Secretary Kerry called climate change “one of the most serious problems we face” that despite scientific consensus we’re still allowing to worsen, he commended President Obama’s fuel efficiency standards, power planet emission limits and Climate Action Plan, which has set the US “well on our way to meeting our international commitments to seriously cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.” Since Obama took office, Kerry pointed out the US upped its wind energy production more than threefold, and solar energy production by more than tenfold.

Kerry announced the US government is contributing US$15 million to kick-start the World Bank’s new pilot methane auction facility, which will set up a guaranteed price for each ton of methane that companies cut from their facilities. Methane is 20 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide.

Spotlighting the massive opportunity in America’s lack of a national grid in the shadow of a lofty US$90 trillion said to be earmarked for infrastructure development and a potential US$6 trillion future energy market, he confidently called the low carbon economy a “win-win-win-win-win”, concluding: “It doesn’t cost more to deal with climate change, it costs more to ignore it.”


Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC picked up on the triple win concept in the ensuing panel, where she welcomed the business benefits of low carbon growth, which she said is bolstered by supportive government. She cautioned: “We have 15 months – I am counting on every single one of you.”

She can certainly count on Philip K Ryan, Chairman, Swiss Re America Holding Corporation, who remarked: “Climate IS in our business plan”, and said the reinsurance company is “working hard to make low carbon less of a vision, and more of a reality.”

Welcoming technological innovation despite lag from many nations that have become ”complacent with their abundance of energy” supplies, Dr Ray Johnson, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Lockheed Martin returned the conversation to national security, saying: “You think people fight over oil? Imagine what they’ll do for food and water. This is why we must drive climate to the top of nations’ agendas.”

However, Gabi Zedlmayer, Chief Progress Officer, HP suggested technology “isn’t the answer to everything”, but should be seen more as an enabler for decarbonizing supply chains instead. She explained HP was one of the first major IT companies to share its whole carbon footprint, and has since succeeded earlier emission reduction goals; the leading tech company is currently on track to hit a 40% cut by 2020.

Shifting focus from the world’s top companies to its biggest economy, Robert Rubin, Co-Chairman, Council on Foreign Relations, Former US Secretary of Treasury, proposed we shouldn’t have to pick between protecting the environment and the economy, urging the US to include low carbon investment and climate risk in fiscal projections, to ensure future security.


Further welcoming talk of low carbon business in light of its influence on progress at tomorow's UN Climate Summit, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, UN remarked: “Tomorrow world leaders will gather for the Climate Summit. They need your continued encouragement to keep momentum.” While buoyed by the fact most technology solutions to climate change exist now and more are being developed, Ban Ki-moon stressed collaborative approaches are vital for truly effective climate action. He said solemnly: “If we can’t all swim together, we will sink. There is no plan B, because there is no planet B.”

Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank followed, stating carbon pricing as a key foundation for building a strong low carbon economy. He also applauded the work of We Mean Business for nudging carbon price adoption through its powerful coalition of business leaders.

While business took the limelight for a large portion of the day, the onus also remains on sub-national governments, as Québec Premier Philippe Couillard is well aware. He outlined the leadership of the States & Regions Alliance for its role in pushing progress ahead of global climate talks.

The host city for the talks where a global deal is expected next year is Paris. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reiterated ambition for a binding agreement, proudly stating: “France will spare no effort in helping the climate talks deliver success.”


Chaired by Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, the next session saw Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever, Professor Muhammad Yunus, Founder, Grameen Bank and Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group discuss the importance of doing business in a way that is better for communities.

The panel that followed saw the launch of the We Mean Business coalition and report, with Aron Cramer, CEO and President, BSR, Christiana Figures, UNFCCC and Peter Bakker, President and CEO, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Tim Cook, CEO, Apple made several refreshing statements in his rare public appearance, including the fact Apple is the largest private solar owner in the US. He also said the new Apple HQ will be the greenest building in the world, a signal to the rest of Silicon Valley to follow suit. Peter Agnefja?ll, CEO, IKEA took part in the discussion too, calling for bold government commitments to hasten low carbon growth.

Tim Cook delivered his inspirational speech at Climate Week NYC: "The time for inaction has passed. Core value for us is to leave the world better than we found it".

A separate yet equally compelling business collaboration was launched during the next panel. Philip K. Ryan, Chairman, Swiss Re America Holding Corporation, Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA Group and Kevin Rabinovitch, Global Director of Sustainability, Mars, Inc., talked about the RE100 initiative, backed by The Climate Group and CDP, which will spur companies to go 100% renewable.


Over lunch, Krishnan Pallassana, India Director, The Climate Group, Marieke Van Schaik, Managing Director, Dutch Postcode Lottery and Namita Vikas, Senior President & Country Head, Responsible Banking, YES Bank celebrated Bijli – Clean Energy for All, where a new video was a premiered.

While Bijli connects rural communities to clean energy, the next panel saw heads of huge regions from around the world debate their low carbon futures; Governor Peter Shumlin (Vermont), Premier Philippe Couillard (Québec), Mayor Eduardo Paes (City of Rio de Janeiro) and Lord Mayor Frank Jensen (City of Copenhagen), moderated by Dan Esty, Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University.

Looking once more to innovation, Andrew Shapiro, Founder & Partner, Broadscale Group; Founder, GreenOrder & GO Ventures, Niall Dunne, Chief Sustainability Officer, BT and Silda Wall, NewWorld Capital Group discussed emerging clean technology, during which Niall Dunne announced BT is launching the largest solar power plant in the UK, with 35,000 panels.

Rounding the day was a refocus on security. Major General Muniruzzaman (Ret), Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti (Ret) and Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, USMC (Ret), discussed how militaries around the world are preparing for the threats posed by climate change, a lively session which was moderated by Kathleen Frangione, Executive Vice-President, McBee Strategic.

Then a special video message showcased the inspiring and broad support for climate action from across sectors and around the world. HRH The Prince of Wales, poignantly explained the battle against climate change is the "most turbulent challenge of our time", stating: "We must win the battle against climate change to secure our future and that of our children."

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of Environment for Peru and UNFCCC COP 20 President ended the Opening Ceremony of Climate Week NYC, with a final call for ambitious climate commitments from nations ahead of global talks in Lima, Peru, at the end of the year, in order to achieve real progress toward a deal in Paris. He declared: "Don’t come to Peru, if you do not want to change the world.”

As Co-convenors of Climate Week NYC 2013 Opening Day, Paul Simpson, CEO, CDP and Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group closed the day-long event, with both keen to keep the buzz around climate action going ahead of Lima and Paris. Mark Kenber ended by urging the audience to encourage their networks to embrace the clean energy revolution: "We have got a journey ahead of us, but it's up to us. We must not just go home and feel good about ourselves, but to tell everyone else. That’s what Climate Week NYC is all about. To convene people to communicate success and give people confidence. What we are saying, we must do. We can do.”

While it is crucial Mark Kenber's message resonates, the diverse and powerful guests who spoke so passionately today proves we really have reached the tipping-point on climate action. The next 15 months, though sure to be tense, look set to bring renewed optimism for a future that is safer - and better - for all.

See what's happening near you at ClimateWeekNYC.org or follow the global conversation on #CWNYC.

See key photos of the Climate Week NYC Opening Day here:


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