Climate Leaders Made History Last Week

Here’s why we left the Global Climate Action Summit feeling hopeful.

Elijah Nouvelage for NRDC

Leaders from around the world came together in San Francisco last week to announce they weren’t just still in the Paris Agreement—they were raising the bar. The Global Climate Action Summit, a three-day event preceded by a 30,000-person march in the city (and hundreds of events in sister cities across the world), was a chance to share successes, announce new initiatives, and recapture the spirit of Paris. Here are four exciting takeaways.

Businesses are jumping to go green.

The idea that business is inherently at odds with the environment has never been more false. A wave of corporate leaders made pledges to prioritize their climate impacts by reducing their own sizeable emissions and sending powerful market signals.

For example, tech giant Sony joined the RE100 Initiative, a group of global corporations that have set 100 percent renewable energy targets.

And Scandinavian superstore IKEA promised zero emissions delivery vehicles by 2025.

In other big news, a group of nearly 400 investors announced plans to scale out projects that fuel climate action.

Local leaders are taking matters into their own hands.

The summit was chock-full of more than 500 wide-ranging commitments, from efforts to build heat resilience in India to California governor Jerry Brown’s announcement for a plan to launch the state’s “own damn satellite” to better track pollution sources.

Nearly all summit commitments came from empowered mayors, governors, CEOs, indigenous leaders, and philanthropists ready to sidestep U.S. federal inaction. “Think globally, organize locally” was the week’s mantra.

Some of the biggest moves came from forward-thinking governors, like New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, who is ramping up his state’s production of wind energy.

In a plan backed by industry, New York, California, Maryland, and Connecticut announced they would be setting new standards to limit the use of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators—a greenhouse gas with hundreds to thousands of times the warming power of carbon dioxide. 

And California governor Jerry Brown officially signed Senate Bill 100—a commitment to get 100 percent of its power from clean sources by 2045.

The fight is bipartisan.

The biggest moment of across-the-aisle teamwork came when 17 bipartisan governors, acting as the U.S. Climate Alliance, announced a set of new policies that target the Trump administration’s ever-escalating rollbacks. Most notably, the coalition announced $1.4 billion in electric vehicle investment and closer collaboration with Canada and Mexico. The group includes three popular Republican governors: Maryland’s Larry Hogan, Vermont’s Phil Scott, and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker.

As the Republican mayor of Indiana, James Brainard reminded us: Environmentalism has not always been a divided issue, and shifting the politics of climate action is the only way we’ll make real strides.

The call for escalated action around the world is loud and clear.

The summit culminated in a formal call to national leaders for global climate action—both those who have lagged behind their Paris Agreement goals and those actively reversing critical environmental policies.

The call to action asks world leaders to step up ambition, chart a clear path toward a zero-carbon future, and empower bottom-up climate action. It calls out two checkpoints—the Talanoa Dialogue at COP 24 and the U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in 2019—as critical markers, before which we all must work together to “transform our politics, our way of thinking, our values, and our way of life.”

If this week was any indication, we’d say we’re on our way.

“Climate Change is Real,” a light installation by Andrea Bowers, commissioned by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for the Global Climate Action Summit

Elijah Nouvelage for NRDC

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