From the CEO of Starbucks to the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Global Climate Action Summit saw leaders from all sectors stepping up the fight against climate change.
More than 4,000 citizens, businesses, activists, and officials convened in San Francisco to learn how we can tackle climate change together — before it’s too late. It comes at a crucial time: We’re now at the halfway point between the adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement — the first international accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — and the year 2020, which scientists say is the deadline for preventing a catastrophic rise in global temperature. The summit underscores the complicated relationship between highlighting progress while pushing key industries and leaders to do the work necessary to save our planet.
In total, the event ushered in more than 500 announcements and billions of dollars in new commitments for climate action. Here are seven of the key actions and solutions we heard from cities, communities and individuals.
1. Empowering Young People to Fight for their Future
Today’s youth will bear the burden of an uncertain climate future, and their important perspectives did not go unnoticed at the Global Climate Action Summit. Prior to the summit, co-chair and UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake issued a video challenge urging youth to share why they care about climate change — and how they’re taking action in their own communities.
From organizing climate marches to raising awareness through needlework crafts, dozens of youth shared their inspiring responses on the interactive Step Up World live show, which brought the summit to the world and the world to the summit.
During her visit to the Step Up World studio, world-renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall shared how her career studying chimpanzees led to a passion for saving the forests. Goodall emphasized the power of youth to spark change — and the importance of positive reinforcement to gain momentum.
Her organization’s Roots and Shoots program, now in 80 countries worldwide, is teaching an entire generation of young people to become conservation-minded citizens in their daily lives.
2. Respecting Indigenous Rights
Indigenous leaders from the Amazon, the Arctic — and even local Native American communities in other parts of the state — traveled to San Francisco to take center stage in the fight for climate action. At the Rise for Climate March before the summit, Michael McGarrell, an indigenous leader from Guyana, shared how climate change is already impacting his community’s farming,
“You don’t know when to plant; you don’t know when to start farming…And this is a problem because you have communities being left without food…”
However, as many indigenous leaders echoed, transmitting ancestral knowledge about land protection and sustainability with others could hold the key to solving climate change. This need for respectful collaboration led to the creation of the Governors’ Climate and Forest (GCF) Task Force, which includes nine governors from Brazil, Indonesia, and the U.S. At the summit, leader Rukka Sombolinggi announced that the Task Force just finalized Guiding Principles for collaboration with indigenous communities.
3. U.S. States Step Up Commitments to Paris
Although the U.S. administration announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, many states have doubled down on their commitments. And the summit brought a slew of exciting new announcements demonstrating their progress.
The U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of 17 states committed to the goals of Paris Agreement, announced ambitious plans to channel $1.4 billion into driving down auto emissions and reducing harmful short-lived climate pollutants. Summit host and Climate Alliance founding member, California, also passed a bill to achieve 100% emissions-free electricity by 2045.
In addition, four U.S. states — Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, and Minnesota — joined the cities of Rotterdam, Honolulu and Los Angeles as the newest members of the Powering Past Coal alliance. First launched by the UK and Canada at the UN’s COP23 climate conference last year, the Powering Past Coal alliance seeks to phase out traditional coal-fired power plants, which produce almost 40% of global electricity, making carbon pollution from coal a leading contributor to climate change.
“We need to blow up the argument that somehow in some way doing the right thing for our environment is going to cost us jobs,” said Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy. “It is just the opposite.”
4. Pushing Businesses to Go Green
The Global Climate Action Summit sparked a vital conversation on social media about whether companies and politicians are really doing enough to save the planet — and taking responsibility for their role in this crisis.
Calling climate change a political challenge, an issue of justice and a question of power, Oxfam International’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima told the audience that climate change is the symptom of a broken economy. “The climate crisis is caused by the emissions of rich people, but it is poor people who are hit the hardest.”
That’s why changing the way the world does business will be crucial for tackling climate change. “We need to see a broad de-carbonization of our economy, sector by sector,” Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff said after announcing the Step Up Declaration, a new partnership with Mission 2020 to encourage businesses across the globe to make tangible commitments toward climate action. “Just as every CEO has to step up, every organization and company has to step up as well.”
5. The Momentum for Electric Vehicles Accelerates
The transportation sector is one of the largest drivers of harmful air pollutants and greenhouse gases — especially in cities. Thankfully, the shift to clean, electric vehicles (EVs) is accelerating. On Day 2 of the summit, ChargePoint committed to rolling out more than 2.5 million new charging stations for EVs by 2025 — that’s a whopping 50 fold increase.
“The time for transformative change is now, and broadly distributed, substantial and immediate investments in charging infrastructure are necessary to usher in the future of e-mobility,” Pasquale Romano, president and CEO, ChargePoint.
Bolstering this announcement from ChargePoint, 26 cities, states, regions and businesses also adopted new zero-emissions vehicle targets.
6. “The Forgotten Solution” Becomes Unforgettable
Although many only picture new technologies and policies when they think of “climate solutions,” natural climate solutions, such as forests, will be crucial to meeting our climate challenge. Research shows that nature can deliver 30% of the climate solution needed by 2030 — and these natural solutions are affordable, scalable and available right now.
To that end, a coalition of organizations called “The Forgotten Solution” released an open letter at the summit calling on world leaders “to do everything necessary” to harness forests and lands to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Walking tree people on stilts and real trees ordained with colorful sashes around the conference center served as striking reminders.
7. Record-breaking Investments for Climate Action
The summit prompted several hefty — and transformative — investments for funding a climate-smart future.
A total of 29 philanthropists pledged $4 billion over the next five years to fight climate change — the largest-ever philanthropic investment focused on climate action. New York City also stepped up, pledging to double its pension funds into climate solutions over the next three years to $4 billion.
And unexpectedly, the legal community also got on board, donating $15 million in free legal services in the next two years “to advance sustainability around the world.” This new initiative, dubbed “Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy,” includes nine major law firms that help nonprofits and businesses work on climate and sustainability issues.