Why Is the United Nations Climate Week Important Now?
Climate Week will take place as a virtual event during the week of September 21 through 27. This will be one of the few international climate events taking place in 2020. It is being jointly hosted by the United Nations and the City of New York. Among the organizations listed to host sessions during the week are the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), American Security Project (ASP) and the Nature Conservancy and Climate Group, with more groups being added each day. The list of corporate sponsors and partners is long and growing. At the time of writing, the event list includes:
- 47 finance, investment and jobs events,
- 35 food and land use events,
- 57 climate impact and adaptation events,
- 34 industry and built environment events,
- 31 nature and science events,
- 15 sustainable travel and tourism events,
- 37 transport and infrastructure events,
- 28 U.S. and international policy events,
- 28 youth, public mobilization and justice events, and
- 43 clean energy transition events.
To understand how history has shaped the agenda of Climate Week 2020, we need to consider the events that preceded it and how they laid the framework for this year.
The Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted on December 11, 1997. However, it took until February 2005 for it to be put into force. Currently, there are 192 parties to the Kyoto Protocol. It operationalizes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by committing industrialized countries to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but it only binds developed countries. The protocol’s emission reduction targets add up to an average 5 percent emission reduction compared to 1990 levels over the five-year period of 2008 to 2012 (the first commitment period).
The Doha Amendment
In Qatar in 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted for a second commitment period, starting in 2013 and lasting until 2020. During this second commitment period, parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18 percent below 1990 levels in the eight-year period from 2013 to 2020. However, as of this writing, the Doha Amendment is still not in force.
The Paris Agreement
At the UN Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris on December 12, 2015, parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. For the first time, this conference brought nations together for a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016. Since then, more countries have ratified—and continue to ratify—the agreement, reaching a total of 189 counties today.
The central aim of the Paris Agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by 1) keeping global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and 2) to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial investment changes, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework needs to be put in place.
Including Green Initiatives in Post-COVID Recovery Is Key to Combatting Climate Change
The United Nations estimates that over the next year and a half countries will invest over $20 trillion in COVID-19 recovery. How this investment is used will have a direct impact on the world’s efforts to combat climate change, as well as addressing the reduction of risk for future pandemics by rethinking and redesigning high-risk urban centers. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) clearly states that cities are key to a green recovery. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and it is estimated by the UN that over 95 percent of all reported COVID cases have been in urban areas.
Recovery plans with integrated green components will provide an opportunity to future-proof economies—for cities to clear their air, to create more open spaces and adopt solutions that help reduce resource use and related impacts on ecosystems, while creating new jobs. In a white paper published by the Oxford University Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment in May, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz and other economists noted that unemployment recovery from COVID-19 will require investment in education and training, coupled with a shift to sustainable jobs based on new and environmentally sensitive business models in order to achieve economic recovery combined with climate action.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs created a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda identified the most critical global issues, now known as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When this was created in 2015, the target of 2030 seemed a long way off. Now, through the experience of a global pandemic, we have seen the telescoping of time frames. Work-from-home planning that was targeted for 2030 was achieved in six weeks. Urban designers were catapulted into plans for open streets and outdoor dining and family-friendly walkways and bike ways that were little more than conversation starters five months ago. Health considerations of vulnerable populations have sharply highlighted the need for change that will drive healthier lifestyles for everyone.
The SDGs need to be integrated into the strategic planning of business leaders at all levels, from global to local. As companies engage and integrate them into their cultures, and processes, the SDGs are anticipated to generate at least $12 trillion worth of market opportunities by 2030. By identifying and mitigating risks to people and the environment, and by providing new products and services that support sustainable development, businesses can reap benefits for themselves and for their supply chains. Leaders will need to align their company strategy and allocation of resources to support them reaching their SDG targets. The UN Global Compact has developed a practical guide for companies that clearly identifies how to use the global goals as a template.
SDG Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals
Obviously, no single entity can do this alone. Not a government, not a company, not an individual. This takes partnerships, shared resources and collaboration. To date, the UN Global Compact for the goals has over 12,000 signatures from over 160 countries. If partnerships are the key to collective action, then amplification is the catalyst needed for action. To date, there are 1,152 separate partnership initiatives working on Goal 17. Companies can either join one of the existing partnerships or start a new one that is aligned to their company’s strategic objectives. Working through a board’s corporate governance or strategic planning committee, each company could be including Goal 17 in their strategy.
Climate Week runs from September 21 to 27. Access to previous year’s events at Climate Week was limited. This year, the pandemic has provided us with a silver lining that is unique. We all have an opportunity to join the 2020 virtual sessions, learn more about what is already being achieved and find out how we and our businesses can add our own actions to the goals.