Net zero should be “North Star of our sky": Track 0 launched at Climate Week NYC

Clare Saxon Ghauri
26 September 2014

NEW YORK: Leading voices from the international climate dialogue met to discuss zero carbon buildings high up in the appropriately retrofitted Empire State Building this week, at the launch of new initiative Track 0.

Panelists included Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Farhana Yamin, Founder and CEO of Track 0, Rachel Kyte, Special Envoy for Climate Change and Vice President of the World Bank and Sandrine Dixson-Declève of the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) who hosted the session, which took place as part of Climate Week NYC 2014, organized by The Climate Group.

The eminent climate leaders shared ideas on getting the world's built environment on the right path to becoming ‘net zero’, by phasing out carbon pollution to zero by 2050. Track 0 is a new framework to achieve net zero by aiming to keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees, phasing out greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the use of renewables by 100%.

Sandrine Dixson-Declève of CLG suggested the discussion would be a way of “translating what we’ve heard at the UN Climate Summit and Climate Week NYC into reality”, especially since many who have been working in the sector for a long time had been positively shocked by the many new actors who became visibly involved in tackling climate action over the past week.

The UN Climate Summit boasted over 100 heads of state creating the largest ever climate summit, beating attendance levels at the high profile COP15 climate talks in 2009, in Copenhagen. The global People’s Climate March on Sunday also attracted record numbers, with half a million people taking to the streets around the world, and estimates of up to 400,000 having marched in NYC itself.

Kick-starting the conversation on ‘net zero’ buildings, Rachel Kyte, the World Bank said urban areas should be the focus: “We won’t get to net zero without working differently in cities.” She pointed out there is “big demand” for supporting green buildings around the world, with low-income housing and commercial real estate being a “good starting point” for development of the concept.

Sandrine agreed that cities are taking the lead rather than national governments for various reasons, not least in Europe which is currently facing a gas crisis, so energy efficiency brings better energy security on top of the other cost and emission-reduction benefits.

Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC applauded CLG and Skanska for hosting the event in the Empire State Building which has had an entire retrofit, stating: “What could be more symbolic of a city’s net zero efforts?” The Executive Director outlined benefits of urban areas becoming zero carbon, such as the fact building retrofits can add 10 million jobs for cities.

Christiana Figueres also said the Durban Platform agreed in South Africa two years ago – a single track negotiation process that is meant to commit leaders to agreeing a new global treaty by climate talks in Paris 2015 – points to the “bull’s eye of where we need to be: cutting out greenhouse gases by 2050. Everything we do must lead to this goal.” Of achieving this goal, she confidently declared: “I’ve no doubt we’re going to get there WAY before 2050. It’s amazing what human ingenuity can do if we set our minds to it.”

The UNFCCC recently introduced the idea of ‘carbon neutrality’, which the Marshall Island’s Foreign Minister representative who was also speaking on the panel said engages more people than the “2 degrees” conversation, and should therefore be the “guiding light” for global talks in Paris. Carbon neutrality means reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero and then ‘offsetting’ an equal amount of any remaining emissons.

One panel guest who certainly understands how to engage people on a huge scale is May Boeve, Executive Director, 350, who attended fresh from having organized the Climate March, which was the largest climate march in history. She said the key adjective that sums up the march for her was “unity”, explaining that as more progress is made in the UN, at global talks and across business and finance, people will continue taking to the streets, but that “we can all work together” at every level to curb climate change.

Farhana Yamin, Founder and CEO, Track 0, outlined the idea for the new Track 0 initiative that aims to set a framework for achieving 'net zero' carbon, echoing all of the speakers that net zero is the pathway to follow, calling for it to be the “North Star of our sky”. Christiana too, affirmed the onus should be on the end point, joking that her cab driver had the answer when he told her: “If you know where you’re going we’ll get there quicker, more efficiently and cheaper.”

While the majority of the panel have long worked together on climate action which created a warm and relaxed conversation which was unique to witness, the objective of all speakers was clear: we must not simply reduce carbon emissions but cut them out completely by 2050, so just like the Empire State Building, all buildings, businesses, cities and communities can achieve net zero carbon emissions.

Climate Week NYC is the collaborative space for all related events in support of the Summit. The Opening Day took place on Monday September 22, and was marked by the lighting of the Empire State Building's LEDs glowing green.

For a full list of Climate Week NYC events, please visit and follow the conversation on Twitter using #CWNYC.

You can also see our Climate Week NYC media resources for press releases, contacts and more info.

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

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