“I get hope from watching a moment become a movement,” said Van R. Johnson, II, mayor of Savannah, Georgia, one of a group of U.S. mayors and governors participating in a Breakthrough Climate Policies discussion on the first day of Climate Week. The panel included California governor Gavin Newsom and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, plus leaders from the World Resources Institute, Tesla, and the Rocky Mountain Institute, who explored ways to halve carbon emissions by 2030. “This is intergenerational, intergovernmental, and interdisciplinary. With focus and dedication we can do anything,” said Johnson.
That upbeat cry to forge ties in our push to solve climate change and other seemingly intractable problems echoed across the official UN General Assembly (UNGA) and remote parallel talks. The latter side meetings, organized by nonprofit the Climate Group, were strategically planned to overlap with the UNGA to identify concrete ways to cut emissions in advance of COP26 in November.
A number of novel partnerships and multidisciplinary coalitions were either launched or mentioned on this first day of UN and Climate Week, including:
- Two programs to tackle U.S. green energy supply and demand issues announced by U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry at a Summit organized by the Concordia Group:
- The Climate Entrepreneurship for Economic Development Initiative with LinkedIn, a platform and drive to share insights, data and talent among its over 800 million users so that those with promising sustainability ventures can quickly find the guidance, talent and funds they need to start and scale up their innovations.
- The Clean Energy Demand Initiative with Apple, to help companies and organizations wade through green regulations and offerings to find the right solutions for affordable, abundant and accessible energy.
- A partnership between Tesla and Portland Community College to train a diverse set of students to be sustainable energy technicians, installers and recyclers, which was highlighted at the aforementioned ‘Breakthroughs’ meeting.
- GIGA, a GAVI-like push led by UNICEF and the International Telecommunications Union to connect schools across the world, in partnership with Ericsson, the Musk Foundation, and Boston Consulting Group, among others. “It’s a large amount but we can do it in granular chunks,” said advisor Bill Taiat the UNGA, of the funds needed for such an ambitious endeavor. Tai, a GIGA advisor and venture capitalist, says the economic payback will be like that of the railroads in the 1800s, with each connected school becoming a budding economic center.
- Public-private partnerships to boost gender equality and the economic progress of women and low-income communities, such as that of Kenyan childcare microbusiness Kidogo. Incomes for the roughly 12,000 women in Kenya who used the service during the pandemic soared, on average, 24%, said Melinda French Gates in a UNGA discussion.
The encouraging mood at the mayors’ session and news of successful partnerships contrasted starkly with the more somber tone of the UN General Assembly’s start, where UN Secretary General António Guterres warned of the dire cost of inaction on climate change or only local efforts – a sentiment seconded by many national leaders in Africa who followed his early remarks. He and they called on the wealthier nations of the world to help finance the low-income country shift from fossil fuel dependence to green alternatives so they too can speed up economic and social progress that hinges on energy abundance.
Tuesday’s Concordia discussions will, among other topics, focus on technology, cooperation, and health—and climate, of course.