Climate Week NYC 2019: 3 Takeaways for Corporate Sustainability Leaders

For those of us working on sustainability issues, Climate Week is a big deal. As one journalist put it to us this year, it’s “like Christmas/Valentine’s Day/New Year’s/Super Bowl combined in our space.” Taking place during the United Nations General Assembly in late September each year, Climate Week consists of events across New York City that bring together government officials, corporate executives, nonprofit leaders and more to discuss global action on climate change. This year, the event was bigger than ever, with heightened attention because of the global climate strikes on September 20 and the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23. We were on the ground in NYC during Climate Week and compiled some key takeaways from a corporate sustainability perspective.

Expectations for Corporate Action Have Gone Up

Whether in speeches, media interviews or informal chats, the message for companies at Climate Week was clear: governments are not doing enough, and many observers expect corporations to take more expansive and ambitious action on climate change. This anecdotal takeaway is backed up by survey data, too. In a poll this summer, The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly three-quarters of respondents believe businesses are not doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This means companies that aren’t yet doing enough have to be prepared for tough questions from journalists, consumers and even the United Nations.

Collaboration is the Name of the Game

As they work to address climate change, more and more companies join forces with one another and with governments and nonprofits, opting for broader initiatives over standalone action. The most visible of these efforts is the push for companies to align their emissions reductions with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Organized by the United Nations Global Compact, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and the We Mean Business coalition, this initiative now counts close to 90 companies among its supporters. But there were also lots of other collaborations announced during Climate Week, covering everything from zero-emissions shipping to reducing the climate impacts of food.

Growing Pressure from the Financial Sector

Climate Week underscored that more and more investors are committed to using their financial power to bring down GHG emissions. For instance, pension funds and insurers with more than $2 trillion in assets launched the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance and announced they would move their investment portfolios to net-zero emissions by 2050. Last week, a separate coalition of investors with more than $35 trillion in assets under management said it would continue to push 161 major global companies to set net-zero targets and take other climate actions. In some circles, there is still a debate over whether shareholder value or environmental and social good should rank higher for businesses. But for a growing share of investors, these priorities aren’t seen as separate anymore.

Now that Climate Week is over, the work begins on executing the many, many commitments that were made. Achieving them won’t be easy, but it would mean significant benefits for corporations, the planet and all of us who call it home.

Climate Week NYC 2019: 3 Takeaways for Corporate Sustainability Leaders

For those of
us working on sustainability issues, Climate Week is a big deal. As one
journalist put it to us this year, it’s “like Christmas/Valentine’s Day/New
Year’s/Super Bowl combined in our space.” Taking place during the United
Nations General Assembly in late September each year, Climate Week consists of
events across New York City that bring together government officials, corporate
executives, nonprofit leaders and more to discuss global action on climate
change. This year, the event was bigger than ever, with heightened attention
because of the global climate strikes on September 20 and the UN Climate Action
Summit on September 23. We were on the ground in NYC during Climate Week and compiled
some key takeaways from a corporate sustainability perspective.

Expectations for Corporate Action Have Gone Up

Whether in
speeches, media …

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