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What should we make of climate week ?

Kevin Moss | October 10, 2014

What should we make of Climate Week, held in New York at the end of September 2014?  

Climate Week is a comprehensive set of formal and informal, open and closed events anchored by a UN General Assembly (UNGA)   meeting. The week includes events for governments, businesses, activists and the general public. And sometimes we even get to speak with each other in the same room!

The importance of Climate Week this year was the proximity to the all-important COP 21 due to be held in Paris in December 2015.  It may not seem that close, but in order to reach binding agreements, governments need national mandates.  To get those mandates in place, governments need to have a pretty clear idea of what they want to agree a year in advance. That would be by COP 20 in Lima in early December. Early socialisation of anticipated positions greases the process and was the role of the UNGA meeting in New York.

And what were the rest of us doing there?    Interested citizens and businesses were there to demonstrate their support for our respective governments to reach agreement for ambitious and progressive targets.     A record number of people joined the People’s Climate March and businesses took part in the Opening Day of Climate Week .

Ban Ki-moon UN Secretary General speaking at the opening day of Climate Week in New York

(Ban Ki-moon UN Secretary General speaking at the opening day of Climate Week in New York)

Some big things happened at Climate Week.  The narrative shifted from bargaining between carbon allowances to a market growth based approach, in which carbon pricing is seen as a critical supportive signal.  As captured in the New Climate Economy Report, launched in the run up to Climate Week,  and emphasised by UK Prime Minister David  Cameron and US President Barack Obama;  we no longer need to choose between growth and climate.

As with any big event, interpretations of the outcomes vary, ranging for example from  Jennifer Morgan and the team at WRI taking a fairly optimistic note “Momentum for actions took a massive leap forward” to Marc Gunther’s less than happy conclusion “looking at the yawning gap between the rhetoric at Climate Week events and the reality that the world is losing the battle”.   My own take in the midst of the action was at the optimistic end of the spectrum and I am much more encouraged than I was a year earlier and feel that we might be at a turning point in action on climate change. I had the opportunity to speak informally to some actual negotiators and heard some nervousness as to whether the momentum created at climate week could be maintained. There was a bit of a ‘we have seen this all before, let’s see what happens when they all go home’ pessimism in the air.

This is where the ICT sector and GeSi members have a key role to play - to maintain and build momentum.   As we know from Smart 2020 and Smarter 2020, our vertical is the lynchpin to create a transformation in the way that society uses resources. Rather than seeing our homes, businesses and communities as a burden to be minimised, the implementations of ICT enabled transformative solutions can make these units of our lives into net positive contributors to carbon reduction.

At BT, to support our 3:1 Net Good goal we have a number of pilots in place such as this smart city initiative in Milton Keynes ; we have signed up to a number of  commitments for which the NGO community is seeking partners, including calling on government to set a price for carbon and supporting the call for science based carbon reduction targets;  we very recently announced the development of a 8MW solar installation directly powering  our research and innovation centre at Adastral Park; and most recently we have created  Collectively  (GeSi member Microsoft is also involved) - one way a cross sector range of companies are building momentum for change amongst Millennials.

Business has a big opportunity, I would even say a duty, to reach out and be a catalyst for change in society. Let’s address the justifiable worries of the negotiators at the epicentre of the negotiations by developing and implementing inspirational examples of smart solutions for cities, homes and businesses. That way we will continue to build momentum on the road to COP 20 in Lima and onward to COP 21 in Paris in December 2015.   

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