5 things to know for the UN Climate Action Summit and Climate Week 2019

Britt Groosman

As the world’s attention turns to the climate — from the Global Youth Strike for Climate on Sept. 20, to the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, to the 2019 Climate Week in NYC — it’s clear that this year feels different. The passion has been turned up to 11.

Here’s why:

1. The new generation of climate activists won’t take "no" for an answer.

As global leaders, nonprofits and corporations convene for climate talks, there is an inescapable movement underway, fueled by youthful determination to change the course of our future. We all need to stand with leaders like Greta Thunberg whose battle cry — “Act like our house is on fire” — is forcing the world to pay attention. For the first time, the United Nations is holding a Youth Climate Summit on Saturday the 21st, and we expect to see youth leaders participating in other Climate Week discussions. This is the generation who will palpably feel the effects of climate change. We owe it to them and their children to respond on a global scale.

2. The U.N. Climate Action Summit is the starter gun for global climate action.

The U.N. secretary-general has thrown down the gauntlet for this summit, challenging leaders to come forward with plans for real scalable actions, allowing for the transformation of economies and enhanced countries’ climate ambitions. This summit is not about (potentially hollow) ambition statements, but about defining road maps for meeting commitments. There is no better way to move countries toward increased ambition than to illuminate the stepping stones along the way. Nonetheless, it wasn’t easy getting to this point. At the stocktaking meeting in Abu Dhabi in July, it was clear the summit’s focus on solutions required that the U.N. and countries work closely with civil society and the private sector like never before.

Bring plans, not speeches.

António Guterres, U.N. secretary-general

This summit is about how, not what. The science is clear, in order to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis we need to achieve net-zero climate pollution — producing no more than we can remove — as soon as possible. Such a “climate neutral” world means that any remaining emissions need to be balanced by removing carbon dioxide from the air.

3. Countries and companies need to take strong action, now.

We can’t ignore the fact that climate change is making storms like Dorian more intense, more damaging and more frequent — increasing both human and financial tolls. We need countries to commit to stronger climate goals, and companies need to support smart climate policy: Their employees, customers and shareholders are demanding it. Climate Week was set up specifically so business, U.N., youth, state and governmental leaders would engage in a cross-sector and intergenerational dialogue to work on the needed scalable solutions.

4. Climate Week will drive scalable action from all sectors.

There is no silver bullet. Solutions need to address a wide swath of climate emergencies and offer action across multiple sectors and target areas. The U.N. is focusing on six action portfolios, including energy and industry transition; the role of nature based solutions, such as reduced deforestation; climate finance and carbon pricing.

United Nations six action portfolios

The United Nations is focusing on these six action portfolios.

At the summit, we are expecting to hear about big commitments made in each of these tracks by countries and companies, often convened by civil society such as EDF. We can foresee summit announcements ranging from use of finance and technology for decarbonization of the economy, to the importance of nature’s carbon sinks, to road maps for use of social dialogue to avoid political and social resistance to increased ambition.

5. The United States must move to a 100% clean economy.

Transitioning to 100% Clean entails shifting our entire economy — power plants, transportation, factories and more — to generate net-zero pollution overall. This means the U.S. and other advanced economies must transform the way energy is produced, bought and sold; finding faster and cheaper ways to reduce pollution; and deploying strategies to remove climate pollution from the atmosphere. By 2050, we can’t produce any more climate pollution than we can pull out of the air. That’s the goal consistent with what science says is necessary.

Turning passion into action

Human ingenuity has unlocked innovative solutions that have put humans on the moon and ushered in the digital age. In just the last decade, solar energy prices have dropped nearly 90%. Wind power has become almost 70% cheaper. Potential breakthrough technologies are on the horizon.

Now is the time for real political commitment to climate actions, to unleash that entrepreneurial spirit to create the 100% clean future that will protect our air and water, improve children’s health, and create millions of jobs for current and future generations.