Investors at a pivot point for speeding clean transition, writes summit organizer Climate Group’s Davidsen
  • Climate Week NYC 2020, the world’s biggest climate summit this year, kicks off today, though because of the COVID-19 pandemic it will be all-virtual. That change has allowed organizers to expand programming in hopes the event will continue momentum toward cleaner energy usage.

Climate Week NYC 2020 will be the biggest climate summit this year, though because of the COVID-19 pandemic it will be all-virtual for the first time. Unlike previous years, where environmental experts gathered in New York at the same time as the U.N. General Assembly, this year’s event will rely on technology to bring people together. Before Climate Week NYC kicks off today, we asked Amy Davidsen, executive director, North America, for The Climate Group, the international nonprofit and organizer of the summit, about this year’s plans.

What are the most pressing issues facing Climate Week NYC attendees as they gather this year?

The 12th annual Climate Week NYC will be held in an all-virtual format — to ensure that the broader global community can continue to drive ambitious change to address the climate emergency. What we’re seeing in this new digital age is a greater ability to connect, share and learn from other climate leaders and changemakers from around the world.

What is the most important work to be done during the week?

We are nearing the end of the first year in the Climate Decade — and we know the world needs to radically accelerate climate action if we are to meet the 2030 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by half and to get to net zero emissions by 2050. 

Climate Week NYC serves to energize the global community to continue to drive ambition and innovative solutions. The stakes could not be higher for our planet, our economy and our health. We have a critical U.S. election coming up which will determine if the U.S. leaves the Paris Agreement or stays in. COP26 has been postponed for a year, yet we must not lose the global momentum towards climate action, regardless of what U.S. voters decide. That’s why Climate Week NYC will focus on how we achieve a net zero future that leaves no one behind. 

We will highlight the solutions that are working today and focus on the opportunity to build a better future. We’re experiencing the greatest human and economic tragedy of a generation — on top of the climate crisis — and by choosing to invest in climate action through a green recovery, we will create jobs, economic opportunity and a healthier and more prosperous society for all. 

What are you hoping will be on everyone’s mind as Climate Week NYC begins? 

Every year we say, “For New York, for the world” and this year we have expanded our programming so anyone can participate, given it’s a digital platform. We hope that everyone will think of the millions of young people around the world who are calling for urgent climate action by their political leaders — and looking to us to help make this happen. 

Climate Week NYC showcases the leadership and actions of CEOs, governors and mayors — many of whom have made commitments to net zero — showing that we have many of the solutions we need today. Yet, the scale of the climate crisis is such that businesses and subnational governments cannot drive the full decarbonization of the global economy without international leadership and supportive national policies. 

How does the future, from a climate perspective, look this year compared with last year? 

Of course, everyone is thinking about what COVID-19 means for the economy and for climate action. We work with over 300 of the largest businesses in the world and we are reassured that the climate agenda will continue moving forward. We recently conducted a business survey of our 300+ members, who have shared that COVID-19 has not impacted their sustainability goals. In fact, they are even more committed to achieving a greener and cleaner future, as can be seen by the high-level speakers throughout the week.

What are some successes you can point to as a result of the Climate Week NYC gatherings? 

Now in its twelfth year, Climate Week NYC has had many key moments. It has become the time and place where government and business leaders, civic society, and the entire global community gathers to accelerate climate action and discuss how to do more.

Last year was our biggest year yet — with over 350 events across New York City and the biggest commitments from our members. Over 20 new members signed up for Climate Group’s corporate leadership initiatives on renewables (RE100), electric vehicles (EV100), and energy productivity (EP100). Climate Week NYC has become the place for business and governments to make bold commitments and show the world how they are leading in the fight against climate change.

Was enough action taken in 2020 to change the direction of the planet’s rising temperature?

No. There is much more work to be done. In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C/2.7°F, we must continue to drive bold action and innovative solutions. To put the challenge in perspective, it’s estimated that the devastation that COVID caused to the global economy may have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 6% — however, in order to reach our goal of 1.5°C — emissions need to fall annually 7.6% by 2030. Clearly, halting the global economy is not a path that makes sense — rather we need to develop zero emissions solutions to produce and transport the food, goods, and energy we consume to ensure a climate safe planet and future for all.

Any messages for impact investors? Any thoughts on how capital should be deployed going into 2021?

I think we’re reaching a pivot point for investors — they are recognizing that there is an inevitable shift to a cleaner, healthier future underway, and those who continue to invest in companies or sectors unable or unwilling to transition to a net zero pathway, will be left behind. My message to investors is to be active, not passive — to use your voice, too, to help hasten the clean energy transition.

Amy Davidsen is Executive Director, North America for The Climate Group, the international nonprofit and organizer of Climate Week NYC 2020, which kicks off today. Follow her at @AmyDavidsen on Twitter.