Climate Week NYC: What happened on day one?

The five days of events will be held digitally for the first time in Climate Week NYC's history

The Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC annually since 2009, attracting hundreds of representatives from policy, business, science, academia, thought leadership and the third sector. This year, the event will be a little different. It has been moved online due to Covid-19 and, with COP26 postponed until November 2021, is believed to be the largest international climate event of the year.

This year’s opening ceremony was delivered by Prince Charles – famed for his dedication to furthering business action on climate change. He provided both scathing criticism of action to date and motivation for all attendees to help their organisations go further and faster on tackling the twin climate and nature emergencies. A panel featuring representatives from Unilever, Engie, LONGi and Harvard Business School then took to the stage, answering key questions about topics ranging from emerging innovations to communicating sustainability.

Audiences around the world can be sure that the next few days will be a busy time for new corporate commitments, research publications and high-level discussions.

Here, edie rounds up all the key happenings from day one of the event.

Prince Charles criticises past inaction on climate crisis

In a pre-recorded keynote speech, the Prince of Wales said that climate change has been “decried, denigrated and denied” for “far too many years”.

Building on his speech at Davos in January, where he advocated for a radical shake-up to economic policies to help spur the net-zero transition, the speech saw the Prince call for a “reset” in approach that will bring about a green recovery from the pandemic.

He called the pandemic a “wake-up call which we cannot ignore”, which will be “dwarfed” by the impacts of climate change in the decades to come without a radically different approach from policy and the private sector.

“Billions of people around the world are waiting and longing for concerted action to right the balance of this planet that we have so rashly disrupted,” he said. “Millions of younger employees of countless companies and corporations and desperate for action and not more words.”

On the Prince’s latter point, one study from Deloitte found that 49% of millennials will not work for companies which do not act in line with their ethos on environmental and social sustainability. Employee protests against the approaches of companies like Amazon and Google have been led by members of this generation.

Research reveals surge in net-zero targets as Walmart sets 2040 deadline

We’ve all seen the swathe of net-zero commitments to have been announced by businesses in the past year –

New research from Data-Driven EnviroLab and the NewClimate Institute proves just how rapidly the corporate net-zero movement has taken off. The organisations’ ‘Accelerating Net-Zero’ report reveals that 1,541 businesses globally have set net-zero targets of some kind, up from 500 in December 2019. During the same time period, the number of regions with net-zero targets rose from 11 to 101, and the number of cities from 100 to 823.

Key figures including the UK’s Business Secretary Alok Sharma and the UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa reacted to the report by urging those with net-zero targets to immediately start work to deliver against them, closing the gap between ambition and action.

The research came as Walmart committed to becoming a net-zero business by 2040. The retail giant will not use offsetting, but it will invest in insetting activities to promote regenerative agriculture, nature restoration and renewable energy across its global supply chains.

UK Government launches COP26 Energy Transition Council

BEIS has announced a number of changes to energy policy in recent months, in light of the 2050 net-zero target and the impact of Covid-19 on energy demand and investment. The Department slashed its forecasts for offshore wind energy costs through to 2030 by more than half in August and then, earlier this month, began reviewing whether its plans for the future oil and gas licencing regime are “aligned with tackling climate change”.

Building on these moves, it has announced plans to create an Energy Transition Council consisting of leaders from business, politics, finance and technology. The representatives will work to develop, recommend and implement measures to help developing nations transition from coal to renewables, backed by a new £50m Clean Energy Innovation Facility overseen by the UK’s International Climate Finance arm.

UK Export Finance (UKEF) could also see its mandate changed as a result of the Council’s work.  96% of the £2.6bn spent by the body to support energy exports abroad between 2013 and 2018 was funnelled into fossil fuel projects, mostly in developing nations.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma later took part in a panel discussion on COP26 and the UK Government’s wider agenda for green growth and net-zero, featuring Michael Bloomberg and representatives from the likes of L’Oreal, Microsoft and Ford.

Facebook and Ford among new Race to Zero members

At the UN General Assembly, held adjacent to Climate Week NYC, businesses including Facebook, Ford and PayPal signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign. Other new business signatories include Mastercard, Mercedes-Benz, PVH, General Mills, Brambles and The Guardian, which set a 2030 net-zero target last year.

Also signing up to the campaign this week are the governments representing Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and New South Wales.

In total, organisations representing $11.4trn of annual revenue are committed to the initiative – 22 regions, 452 cities, 1,128 businesses, 45 investors and 549 universities.

In a drive to get more SMEs involved in the net-zero discussion, the Exponential Roadmap Initiative (ERI) has also launched an SME Climate Hub – a platform which will provide smaller businesses, including suppliers, with information and tools centred around lowering emissions and building resilience.

Banking giants report on Paris Agreement alignment

At COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in 2018, banking giants BBVA, BNP Paribas, ING, Société Générale and Standard Chartered pledged to develop a methodology to ensure their activities were in line with the Paris Agreement. This methodology should then be made open source, to help the global finance sector contribute to tackling climate change, the banks agreed.

Now, the banks have published a joint report detailing the challenges and opportunities of implementing the framework, called  the Paris Alignment Capital Transition Assessment (PACTA).

The report confirms that the banks will each reveal the extent to which they are Paris-aligned and the steps they must take to ensure complete alignment during 2021. This will enable them to develop pathways to carbon neutrality.

Formula E goes net-zero

While other sporting events have set net-zero targets – including Formula 1 (F1), which has worked with Futerra to develop a pathway to net-zero by 2030 – Formula E became first to be certified as net-zero for all series today (21 September).

The company has measured the emissions associated with all six of its series and has, as such, been able to purchase carbon credits to offset the equivalent. Credits are verified by REDD and the UN and support projects in the wind, biomass and biomethane sectors.

Sarah George

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