Silicon Valley Drives “Climate Smart” Solutions
Political leaders, scientists, and activists are gathering this week at the Global Climate Action Summit in California to tackle head-on the world’s climate emergency. These leaders are focusing specifically on maximizing their investments in bold and transformative climate action.
Climate action is central to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an ambitious global agreement launched in 2015 wherein all 193 UN Member States committed to a series of actions on time-bound, measurable goals to equitably promote human prosperity while protecting the planet.
The climate emergency is, in fact, an equity and justice issue. Industrialized nations have emitted far more greenhouse gas emissions than the developing world and have benefitted economically from their ability to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. America’s 330 million people (5% of the global population) contribute 30% of global greenhouse gases. The American contribution to the global climate crisis is directly causing a mass extinction of multiple species — including many mammals — and threatening the survival of us all.
Meanwhile, the poorest people in the U.S. and globally suffer disproportionate harm from the ill effects of climate change. Low-income communities and communities of color experience climate change as a complicated environmental issue stacked on top of historical pollution, disinvestment, and discrimination. Climate justice aims to level the field through robust engagement with vulnerable communities, creation of job opportunities, and the rapid expansion of programs that equitably reach these communities.
Bold leadership is underway in Silicon Valley. For example, the City of San Jose is taking concrete, forward-thinking steps as a trailblazer in this field, committing to a community-driven climate strategy that is distinctly local in its approach.
The Climate Smart San Jose (CSSJ) plan, approved unanimously by the City Council on February 27 of this year, calls upon and relies on residents, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and faith-based organizations to work with city government to make measurable progress against locally agreed upon milestones and targets. What makes CSSJ most unique is that it aligns directly with the Paris Climate Treaty goals and the SDGs (with a focus on SDGs 6, 7, 11, and 13) and presents an economically viable decarbonization approach.
While there is palpable momentum and political will to make progress against the CSSJ goals, several challenges still remain. Broad-based “community activation” to spur a community-wide movement is urgently needed to drive bold action.
We also seriously need to advance the data revolution for climate action to ensure open access to information and learnings from local governments and the private sector as they make progress against agreed-upon targets.
Finally, there is a need to leverage additional funding beyond the current city budget and other supplementary funds. Climate equity will require targeted efforts to identify vulnerable populations and then engage, incentivize, and empower these individuals to change the future of their lives and their communities.
Achieving climate justice and the SDGs are not for governments to do alone. As cities in Silicon Valley lay their own paths, it’s essential that the private sector seizes a major role. Tech companies, large and small, can and must contribute locally to reaching the SDGs in the towns where they live and work. Their success in their backyards, and the example they set, can quickly catalyze bold action around the world as we race for climate smart sustainable development.
The future of the Earth lies entirely in our hands and minds. Through creative, fertile partnerships, we will map a road to climate smart sustainable development in Silicon Valley. It is up to each one of us to ensure that the journey is successful, no one is left behind, and together we can join forces in waging climate justice for all.
Dr. Zeitz is a physician, an epidemiologist, and award-winning advocate for global justice and human rights. He is Co-Founder of SDG Compacts & the Sustainable Development Games at the Global Development Incubator and author of the 2018 memoir Waging Justice: A Doctor’s Journey to Speak Truth & Be Bold.