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It’s a make-or-break decade for action on climate change

Rachel Kyte's picture


Photo: Climate Group 

As world leaders descended on Manhattan this week for the UN General Assembly, the blocks around 44th street got ever more gridlocked and noise decibels from the omnipresent motorcades tested the patience of locals and visitors alike.

Away from the main hubbub, Monday I joined Tony Blair, Prince Albert of Monaco, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and a number of Chairman and CEOs from top companies to talk about climate change and efforts to get the world onto a cleaner growth path.

Tuesday, hosted by Bloomberg L.P., I was in conversation with Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Cristiana Figueres. The discussion covered the role of the UNFCCC past, present and future in what has happened and needs to happen to arrest climate change. From the need to change the narrative, accounting systems, risk appetites and ambition, to whether the convention is an umbrella for action, or should encourage actions outside its framework, to where will the funding come from for adaptation and resilience as climate change bears its teeth, it was a great conversation showing sensible hope.

Climate Week, an annual event here in New York City organized by The Climate Group is calling for an American “Clean Revolution.” At their opening session they issued a report saying such a revolution could grow the US economy by $3 trillion. 

While climate change seems to be a “non-issue” in the US election, jobs and competitiveness are not. Competitiveness in the global green economy is not an issue for the US alone. 

Faced with conclusive scientific evidence of the impacts of climate change, especially on the world's poorest, and a new global agreement some years off, we're in a ‘make-or-break’ decade for action on global climate change.

And, it’s going to be developing countries that will be hardest hit by changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, major impacts on food supply, increased health risks that come from deepening poverty and more natural disasters.

Current emission pledges place the world on a trajectory for a global warming of well over 3°C. If these pledges are not met then there is a high likelihood of 4°C or above. The transformations in a 4°C world, both gradual and extreme, will be profound. 

Therefore, we have to start thinking, and planning for, the unthinkable. Not from the risk perspective, but more from the opportunities that flow from turning the pathway of growth to one that is green and inclusive.

Time is not our friend. But there is progress. In the 130 countries where the World Bank Group works on climate change, we’re starting to see examples of smart packages of policy reforms and public funding leveraging private sector investment. But, actions are not yet at the pace or scale we need to meet the challenges ahead.

Unlocking private sector investment is key. 

Smart companies, many of them in the room at Climate Week, are not waiting for an international agreement. We can see market leaders in almost all sectors storming ahead in the way in which they think about operating in a world where we need more mitigation action, but also increasingly thinking through the risks of adaptation to their business models in every sector of the economy

Going forward, it’s important that we find the best examples of regulation and legislation that really support risk taking and innovation in the private sector, celebrate it, and reward it, in real time, here and now, with access to long term affordable capital. 

This is where I believe the ideas and alliances formed by the Climate Group’s Clean Revolution campaign can really help.

At the Bank, climate finance is being ramped up. Last year, we doubled our financial lending that contributes to adaptation. While the Bank administered $7.2 billion Climate Investment Funds are now operating in 48 countries, leveraging investments on average by 12:1 and generating some $80 billion in clean investment.

We’re supporting action on the ground to finance the kind of projects that help the poor grow their way out of poverty, increase their resilience to climate change, and achieve emissions reductions.

In this city that never sleeps and where Mayor Bloomberg has done much to lead with action at home and with convening abroad, the question is will the message from Climate Week break through the cacophony. Whether it does or not, the need for a radical center of business leaders, political leaders, civic and religious leaders has to come forward here as it has in other countries of the world to spur change.

The world – and the poor in particular – cannot afford for us to kick the climate action can down the road!