Climate Week Reflections: Four Reasons for Optimism

September 25, 2014
  • Aron Cramer portrait

    Aron Cramer

    President and CEO, BSR

Aron Cramer, President and CEO, BSR

The great thing about Climate Week is that for a few days it feels as though the entire world is actively building the solutions we need for low-carbon prosperity. This year, the bottom-up enthusiasm of the People's Climate March and the top-down commitments articulated by government leaders at the UN Climate Summit further reinforced that feeling.

For all of us at BSR, that optimism carried even further—thanks in no small part to our joining with partners to launch We Mean Business, a unique collaboration with six other business networks focused on sustainability. Our launch event, which featured Apple CEO Tim Cook and IKEA Group CEO Peter Agnefjäll, aimed to highlight existing business leadership and to catalyze further corporate action on climate.

There were some truly remarkable commitments made this week as well. CERES, UNEP, and other partners organized a group of investors collectively worth US$24 trillion to ask governments for carbon pricing and the end of fossil-fuel subsidies. And the World Bank brought together 73 countries and 1,000 companies to call for a price on carbon.  Companies including BT, IKEA, and Mars committed to 100-percent renewable power by 2020 and are aiming to recruit 100 companies to pledge the same through the Climate Group’s RE100 campaign. Cities announced new commitments, while French President François Hollande committed US$1 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Even by Climate Week standards, this was a lot of great news.

The facts back in the “real world,” of course, tell a less positive story.

Global greenhouse gas emissions, which most agree need to peak by 2020 to enable the world to stay below a 2˚C increase, rose 2.3 percent in 2013, though many argue that the number would be higher if not for slowing economic growth in China, rather than any fundamental change in our trajectory. In the United States, emissions rose nearly 3 percent in 2013, reversing a trend of emissions reductions over the previous four years. Last week, the White House announced (mainly due to domestic political headwinds) that the administration would not commit a specific amount to the GCF.

So which is it: unbridled optimism, or a stiff drink to drown our sorrows?

On balance, I am walking away from Climate Week more optimistic, for four reasons.

First, there are signs that public opinion is moving—not massively, but still away from the head-in-the-sand approach that has stifled political action since the financial crisis and the letdown of the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009.

Second, and not unrelated, there are rumblings that China and the United States are getting serious about a bilateral set of commitments that could unlock commitments by others on the road to Paris 2015.

Third, corporate commitments are growing and deepening. Curtailing deforestation, addressing land use, switching to renewables, and adopting circular economy approaches are all gaining steam. 

Finally, there is a growing recognition that economic vitality actually depends on decisive climate action, rather than being threatened by it.  The New Climate Economy report, issued the week before, is just the most visible of recent economic surveys to make the point.

All this leaves me with a sense—unprovable but clear—that a tipping point may be nearing, and that every week will soon be climate week.

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