With hundreds of government officials, business executives, climate experts and activists at last week’s summit, a few common themes emerged: Nature is being taken more seriously as a climate solution — and leaders are making big investments to end the climate crisis.
Here are three key takeaways from Climate Week.
1. Climate funding got a major boost
From transitioning to renewable energy to protecting tropical forests, the strategies for reducing emissions and keeping temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) are well known and readily available.
The issue? They require an upfront investment — and climate solutions have historically lacked adequate funding.
At Climate Week, several countries, businesses and other organizations announced they are stepping up to the plate — and opening their wallets — to help fund climate action.
U.S. President Joe Biden committed to providing more than US$ 11 billion in climate aid annually by 2024, doubling the amount of public climate financing available from the U.S. to help developing nations adapt to extreme weather and rising temperatures.
“The United States is the largest historical greenhouse gas emitter, so this pledge to dramatically increase funding for climate action is a huge step in the right direction,” said Shyla Raghav, the vice president of climate strategy at Conservation International. “This announcement should inspire other countries to ramp up funding for climate mitigation and adaptation.”
Another unprecedented commitment came from nine major philanthropic organizations — including the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation, Nia Tero and the Rob and Melani Walton Foundation — which pledged US$ 5 billion over the next decade to support the creation and expansion of protected areas, sustainable management of the world’s oceans and Indigenous-led conservation. Known as the Protecting Our Planet Challenge, this effort is the largest-ever private funding commitment to biodiversity conservation.
But just as notable as the funds going into climate action are the investments leaving the fossil fuel industry.
In an address at the United National General Assembly last week, China’s President Xi Jinping announced that the country would move away from financing coal projects abroad — joining other top economies around the world that have committed to ending financing for overseas coal plants.
“Divesting from fossil fuels and redirecting finance to promoting a green economy is instrumental to reaching net-zero emissions,” Raghav said. “China’s decision will help the world build back stronger and more resilient following the pandemic.”
2. Nature took center stage
This year’s Climate Week theme, “Getting it done,” focused on fulfilling and increasing commitments made by businesses, governments and organizations to tackle climate change.
And when it comes to reducing emissions, nature truly gets it done. Research shows that protecting and restoring carbon-dense ecosystems such as mangroves and tropical forests can provide at least 30 percent of the total emissions reductions needed to meet Paris Climate Agreement goals.
Natural climate solutions can also help diversify local economies, improve rural livelihoods, and support health and educational services in Indigenous and local communities — the groups most impacted by the climate emergency and the economic turmoil of COVID-19.
Several high-level Climate Week events organized by Conservation International, the lead of the conference’s Nature Program, centered on the link between protecting nature and human well-being. A panel led by Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan zeroed in on the importance of increasing investments in forests — and the carbon they store — to support climate action and social justice.
Among the experts included on the panel were Mark Carney, the UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance, and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an Indigenous leader and senior fellow at Conservation International, who discussed the ways that carbon offsets can benefit local communities — if they are done right.
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“Indigenous peoples suffer from deforestation, climate change, biodiversity loss, but we are still the guardians of many ecosystems,” said Ibrahim on the panel. “[Carbon offsets] could be big solutions when the funding goes directly to where Indigenous peoples are.”
For example, in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, the sale of carbon credits has allowed local communities to generate enough revenue to renovate schools, increase food security and hire rangers to tackle poaching in the region.
“Conservation works best from the bottom-up, starting with local communities,” said Raghav, who was not involved in this panel. “One of the most effective ways to scale-up natural climate solutions is to support Indigenous leadership and engage with local communities from the onset of any conservation project.”
3. Countries and businesses committed to ambitious targets, but action must follow
While governments and businesses announced plans to reduce emissions in the coming years, they must now find ways to transform their ambitions into tangible actions, Raghav stressed.
“Humanity has less than a decade left to prevent the worst impacts of climate change,” she said. “There is no time for incremental actions or empty commitments — countries and companies must make transformational changes at national and industry levels.”
A recent UN Report stated unequivocally that “human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land" — and that global temperature rise will almost certainly reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next 20 years unless humanity acts now. According to the report’s authors, countries must cut global emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by the middle of this century, which can be done by investing in clean technology and natural climate solutions.
World leaders are set to convene again in November at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow to chart a course for stopping climate breakdown.
According to Raghav, countries must follow up on Climate Week commitments with higher emissions reductions targets to avoid climate catastrophe.
“Countries' responses to climate change need to match the urgency of the crisis,” she said. “This will require more tangible plans to reduce emissions across entire economies. Humanity can still get it right with transformative and decisive action, but there is no time to waste.”