Climate Week Call to Action

It’s a big week for the planet, as Climate Week NYC 2023 and the United Nations’ General Assembly take place in New York City. 

Drawing together elected officials, business executives, scientists, policy makers, and activists, Climate Week NYC 2023 kicked off on Sunday with the express goal of advancing public and private sector climate action. 

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In her opening remarks, Climate Week NYC CEO Helen Clarkson offered a passionate call to action: “It's like every time we think we are going in the right direction, the planet kicks us right back into reality: ‘You’re not even close to where you need to be.’ How do we counter that? There’s only one answer: relentless determination. We have the means, we have the scale, and we largely have the solutions. Now it’s up to our determination.”

As she spoke, tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of New York City, demanding enhanced climate action as the planet endures what is expected to be the hottest year on record.

The protesters issued an open letter to President Biden that implored him to terminate fossil fuel extraction and production, calling out his 2020 campaign promise to stop the permitting of all new drilling projects on federal lands and waters—a promise that has proven challenging to implement.

As the crowds chanted “We want you to panic. We want you to act. You stole our future, and we want it back,” 17-year old activist Emma Buretta of the youth protest group Fridays for Future aimed incensed remarks at Biden: “We hold the power of the people, the power you need to win this election. If you want to win in 2024, if you do not want the blood of my generation to be on your hands, end fossil fuels.”

UN Climate Action Summit

Climate Week NYC coincides with the United National General Assembly, which will set the stage for the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference scheduled to take place later this year in Dubai.

At the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General António Guterres hosted a Climate Ambition Summit, during which he laid out clear criteria for how governments, businesses, and investors can participate in climate action. His plan focuses on “first movers and doers” that are willing to develop and scale innovative solutions that will help meet net zero commitments and keep the planet under the 1.5 degree Celsius warming threshold.

Guterres only invited world leaders with concrete climate plans to present at the Summit. Notably missing were fossil fuel CEOs—perhaps in response to the blowback from critics who claim that fossil fuel interests have taken over recent COP meetings—as well as heads of state from many of the world’s top polluting countries, including the U.S., China, India, Russia, and the U.K.

One bright spot of the summit was Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s announcement that the country is recommitting to cut both greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation rates in half by 2025.

Climate Hot Topics

One of the weightiest topics at the Climate Ambition Summit and other meetings taking place this week is “loss and damage,” the prickly matter of how industrialized countries will support and compensate developing nations for the acute impacts of a rapidly changing planet.

On the national front, the Biden administration announced $4.6 billion in new funding for state, local, and tribal clean energy projects, as well as the American Climate Corps job training program designed to develop careers in clean energy and energy efficiency.

In other Climate Week news, business behemoths including Microsoft and U.S. real estate developer Trammell Crow announced that they are banding together to propel North American steelmakers to decarbonize the sector by adopting more sustainable manufacturing practices.

The group, named the Sustainable Steel Buyers Platform, committed to place orders for 2 million metric tons of “near-zero emissions” steel in an attempt to shift the industry towards greener production by aggregating demand.

Another major announcement came from California Governor Gavin Newsom, who committed to signing the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act, requiring that corporations doing business in California earning $1 billion or more disclose their carbon emissions and environmental impact in all parts of their supply chains and investments.

The bill also requires complete Scope 3 disclosures for privately held companies. Assuming the bill passes as Newsom plans (it’s facing strong opposition), disclosures would begin in 2026 and annual reports on Scope 3 emissions would be required by 2027.

Newsom’s declaration about the bill follows the State of California filing of a lawsuit last week against the world’s largest oil companies, claiming that they are responsible for billions of dollars in damages for misleading the public for decades, downplaying the risks of fossil fuels, and continuing to maintain status quo despite having explicit knowledge of the harmful environmental impact of their operations. Both moves send strong signals that major change is afoot.

Who Cares About Climate Change?

Millennials and Gen Zs, who turned out in droves for the Climate Week NYC 2023 protests, are perhaps the most eager to learn the outcome of the week’s meetings. According to COGNITION Smart Data, 87% of these younger individuals report that they are worried about climate change and 56% believe that humanity is doomed because of climate change.

These individuals are making their voices heard, namely because 75% of these younger individuals report feelings of sadness, anger, powerlessness, and helplessness when it comes to mitigating the impacts of climate change. Nearly 50% have felt ignored when trying to express their climate anxiety to older generations, so it’s no surprise that they’re demanding action.

We can only hope that this week’s meetings and events will lay the foundation for expedited and significant transformation, enabling us to claw our way out of crisis.