Why this Climate Summit may be different

Nat Keohane

On September 21, I marched with my wife, two daughters and more than 300,000 others in New York City to call for climate action. 

Working day in and day out tackling climate change as I do, there are times when the magnitude of this environmental challenge feels daunting: Emissions continue to increase and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere shows no signs of slowing down.

Watching hundreds of thousands of people march in the biggest climate rally to date renewed my optimism and belief that action is possible.

Action will also be the rallying cry at this week’s Climate Week and its centerpiece event, the United Nation’s Climate Summit. In fact, the most important and remarkable thing about the summit is that it’s not really about the U.N. at all – or, for that matter, about the next round of global climate talks it will lead in Paris in 2015.

Rather, the one-day summit is about what actions national and local governments, cities, intergovernmental organizations, businesses and civil society can take to get the ball rolling.

The September 23 conference will be a launching pad for new initiatives in key action areas where significant, immediate progress can be made with mitigating climate pollution.

Bold steps in the right direction

Consider four initiatives that Environmental Defense Fund has been involved with together with our partners from governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society:

    • A public-private partnership to address methane emissions from oil and gas production - the second largest manmade source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes about one third of the radiative forcing the world will experience over the next two decades from current emissions.
  • A global alliance of governments, development banks, businesses, farmers’ organizations and civil society to promote “climate-smart” agriculture practices that increase food security, build resilience to climate change and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
  • A coalition to curb emissions from deforestation that is forging a unified vision from three previously disparate threads: public policies to protect tropical forests and the communities that depend on them, results-based financing for countries and jurisdictions that reduce emissions from deforestation, and corporate commitments to zero deforestation in their commodity supply chains.
  • A push to put a price on carbon. A growing number of governments, businesses and organizations are joining together to express support for policies that make a price on carbon a key step for achieving the limits on carbon pollution we need to avoid catastrophic climate change and put the world on a path to low-carbon prosperity.

These initiatives, which will be discussed during high-level sessions at the summit, are not panaceas and they’re not sufficient by themselves. Limiting methane emissions, for example, will ultimately require smart regulations by governments, something we at EDF are pressing for on the state and federal levels in the United States.

But initiatives like these can make an important contribution to climate action by showing what’s possible and help build broader momentum for more ambitious action - while securing valuable emissions reductions in the meantime.

Some of our efforts will fall short of expectations. Some will be home runs. And some will start small and grow over time.

The point now is that we need everyone on deck to tackle the biggest challenge of our lifetime. And that is exactly what U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had in mind when he called for the climate summit to be held in New York on the margins of the annual United Nations General Assembly.

“There is no Plan B for action,” he said after marching with us in New York on Sunday, “because there is no Planet B.”

We know we’re not going to solve climate change in one day. The Climate Summit is a beginning rather than the end as we seek to reverse the rise in global carbon emissions and turn the corner toward climate stability.