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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Climate Week NYC

28 September 2023 - From September 17th to 22nd, government officials, corporate executives and civil society leaders from around the world came together in New York for extensive discussions at the UN on sustainability, international affairs and the road to COP28.

The week of talks, alongside over 400 climate events across the city, took place against a backdrop of a historic stretch of climate extremes, with 2023 on track to be the warmest year on record and the world entering a period of ‘global boiling’ with tipping points being crossed and cascading climate impacts.

Here are our three takeaways:

1. Fossil fuel phase out

The fossil fuel debate surfaced in discussions and announcements throughout the week.  

Climate-vulnerable nations pleaded for wealthier ones to quit polluting fuels and to invest in renewable alternatives. Many countries that produce or rely on fossil fuels emphasised the use of technologies to "abate" their emissions, rather than ending the use of such fuels completely.  

Support was signalled by 17 Heads of State  who called for a fossil fuel phase-out that limits the use of carbon-capture technology, as well as major corporations signalling their support for phasing out fossil fuels and shifting to clean energy through the WMBC Fossil to Clean campaign.  

China signalled that it intends to keep using fossil fuels for decades, whilst the US signalled its support for a phase out of unabated fossil fuels - while acknowledging some developing countries' plans to invest in them in the near term. 

Panama and Colombia (world’s 6th largest coal exporter) signed The Powering Past Coal Alliance which now has the support of 99 national and sub-national governments. 

At the Climate Action Summit President von de Leyen  called on major emitters to meet the EU’s ambitious emissions reductions goals ‘to ensure that global emissions peak by 2025 and unabated fossil fuels are phased out well before 2050.’ And at the COP28 Presidency Consultation on the Global Stocktake, the new Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal, Maros Šefčovič stated that the science is very clear on the efforts we need to do - “meaning decisively moving away from fossil fuels, tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 globally, doubling energy efficiency within this decade, drastically cutting methane emissions, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and taking ambitious mitigation measures in all economic sectors.”  

CLG Europe’s Energy Transition event, hosted by Ingka IKEA and their CSO Karen Pflug at their Action Speaks Summit, brought together Senior Sponsors and Chief Sustainability Officers from CLG Europe and our network, and revealed a common interest from companies to; act; collaborate; build skills; drive circular business models and call for the regulation & policy needed to drive the transition.  

"Businesses know that the future is clean – and renewables and energy efficiency solutions are scaling up faster than anyone imagined. But as just highlighted in the new IEA Net Zero Emissions Roadmap, we have work to do. This means, for example, no new. We need clear signals from governments in the coming months – and definitely at COP28 – and we must shift finance and business systems to phase out fossil fuels. To have a chance of staying within 1.5 degrees and mitigating the catastrophic risks of climate change for people and our society, we must now focus our investment and economies on clean technologies.” Ursula Woodburn, Director, CLG Europe 

2. The climate and nature nexus

Nature was firmly on the agenda, demonstrating the increasing recognition of the need to tackle the climate & nature crisis as one. 

CISL ran its Nature Positive campaign throughout the week, setting out the business case for nature positive action, alongside the ways we work with leaders to drive change.  

The Taskforce for Nature Related Financial Disclosures published new recommendations to help business disclose their nature related risks and impacts.  

CISL’s European Corporate Leaders Group published a briefing uncovering the dual benefits of nature restoration for both biodiversity and businesses. Business for Nature also published nature sector action guides to help businesses halt and reverse nature loss.  

The Forest and Climate Leaders Partnership, whose business partners include Corporate Leaders Group members, highlighted the new governments members who have joined and progress they are making in delivering against their mission. 

CISL hosted a number of nature focused events.  Its event on the alignment of nature and climate, hosted by Deutsche Bank, brought business and finance leadership to present examples of the economic and wider benefits of aligning nature and climate objectives to decision-makers, including key EU leadership. It included a key note speech from Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, EU Commission and a panel bringing together speakers from Deutsche Bank, CEMEX, The Nature Conservancy and TNFD. 

CISL’s roundtable, Driving nature positive transformation across business and policy, was hosted at IKEA’s Action Speaks Summit. It kicked off with contributions from TNFD, Business for Nature and Terviva. This open and engaging discussion explored recent trends in policy and business thinking around nature, identifying key areas for collaboration and areas where action can be accelerated in support of the Global Biodiversity Framework and wider nature targets. It was agreed that we need to meet the demand for action through building a strong community to deliver impact and share learning. 

“This year’s New York Climate Week is witness to a major shift in discourse. For years, climate and nature have been treated as distinct phenomena, each with their own distinct solutions. Such thinking has now gone full circle. Today, the close interconnectivity between climate and nature is moving from the periphery of the debate towards its centre to identify - where do the big wins with shared impact lie? And, most importantly, what are the best strategies for accelerating synchronised action?  

“The discussions taking place this year lay the path through to the first Global Nature Positive Summit in Sydney in October 2024, and the biodiversity COP (COP16) in late October 2024. If we are to reach the 2030 goals set out in the Global Biodiversity Framework agreed at the last biodiversity COP, it is vital we engage business and government in acting now in taking nature positive climate action.” Beverley Cornaby, Director, Policy & Systems Change Collaborations, and  for the UK Corporate Leaders Group 


3. From ‘why’ to ‘how’ to ‘who’

Much of the dialogue throughout NYCW and UN discussions focused on accountability, with the climate narrative slowly evolving from ‘why’ to ‘what we should do,’ and now to ‘who is responsible' for doing it.  

The key focus was the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), after a recent official stocktake confirmed that progress is only on track for 15% of related targets and indicators. 

Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, hosted the UN’s first Climate Ambition Summit during the UNGA to prompt more nations to come forward with “new, credible” plans for delivering their fair share of the Paris Agreement. Guterres expressed dismay at nations “greenwashing, backsliding and repackaging existing commitments”, barring major emitters including the US and China.  

The UK made an announcement that shocked those present who were pushing for greater ambition. During the week, the UK PM announced a series of green policy rollbacks as part of a more ‘pragmatic’ approach to meeting its 2050 net zero target.   

The UN published its SDG Summit Acceleration and Accountability Platform where Member States are encouraged to register their initiatives, actions, policies and commitments aimed at accelerating progress towards the SDGs and delivering the breakthroughs we need to transform our world by 2030. 

The resounding message we heard from companies at our events was this being the ‘time to act, not pledge and showcase the corporate rationale for driving action on climate and nature.’ 

“Change often happens at the national level following a signal from the international community. Although the UNFCCC’s Recognition and Accountability Framework is not binding, it clearly indicates that the world increasingly expects – or demands - businesses and governments should take responsibility for their part in the climate crisis.” Katherine Quinn, International Policy Lead, Senior Programme Manager Policy & Systems Change Collaborations Team, CISL 


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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