On a Monday night two weeks ago, I found myself wedged among 1,000 people in a multi-level club in the lower East Side of Manhattan. But this wasn’t your average club night – it was a Climate Tech Cocktails event, one of nearly 600 official climate-focused events all taking place at the same time in New York City as part of Climate Week NYC. The purpose of this club night was, ostensibly, networking.
What began a decade ago as a small effort to create a moment alongside the UN General Assembly meeting for climate advocates and activists to draw attention to the problem, Climate Week NYC is now one of the biggest climate events of the year, drawing hundreds of thousands of attendees to events that span from start-up pitch nights in Chelsea warehouses to business roundtables focused on the voluntary carbon market to environmentally conscious drag shows.
Here are four key takeaways for those that missed it.
1. The “climate tent” has gotten big – and that’s a good thing.
To borrow a phrase from climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, the “climate tent” now encompasses not only climate scientists and activists, but also youths, local organizations, and even CEOs of major corporations. Having attended Climate Week many times before, I was impressed by the breadth of professional backgrounds among the people I met, and the geographies represented.
This is a clear signal to business leaders globally that climate action is becoming a must-have in order to maintain a social license to operate. Further, it’s clear that climate laggards are starting to feel the pressure from all sides: not just consumers and regulators, but also shareholders and investors.
2. Governments will not save us – it’s up to the private sector (with support and pressure from civil society).
News of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak backtracking on the UK’s climate commitments was hardly a damper at Climate Week. The prevailing sentiment – that the Paris Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius – set the stage for what markets could expect in the coming years. And markets have been reacting. Net zero is the word of the day, and even if governments like the UK do successfully roll back their commitments, the wheels of capitalism have already altered the economics of the low carbon transition. As Akshat Rathi claims in his new book Climate Capitalism, it is now cheaper to solve climate change than not.
To this point, a major theme arising from the week was the focus on financing solutions. From accelerators to VCs to private equity to investment banking, the financial sector showed up to Climate Week in force. As investors coalesce around net zero financing principles (including the US Treasury aligning with the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero), the “climate capital stack” will continue to grow, enabling more solutions at scale.
3. Companies are prioritizing collaboration over competition.
A strange phenomenon in the climate tech space is that even for-profit businesses are willing to collaborate. The sense of the scale of the problem of climate change also creates vast opportunity – and therefore a mindset that there’s enough business out there for many players. As GM’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kristen Siemen said, “we can compete on products, but we need to work together on solutions.”
As an example, the voluntary carbon market is currently worth something like $2 billion, but is projected to grow to anywhere from $10-150 billion by 2030, driven by net zero commitments and scientific need. This creates a massive opportunity that will require industry players to work together to improve transparency and efficiency of the market to scale. Participants recognize that too much competition at this stage could constrain the market so that it doesn’t reach its full potential.
4. Businesses are looking to underrepresented voices and nature for solutions.
It may seem unexpected to have senior executives at major global companies like Nasdaq and Mastercard spending their stage time speaking about the importance of nature, but that’s exactly what we heard at Climate Week.
Nature seemed to be at the top of everyone’s list of favorite climate solutions. There was a full week of programming at the Nature Positive Hub and insistent calls for preservation and expansion of existing natural carbon sinks – including the launch of a new global framework to increase credibility for nature-based carbon credits.
Meanwhile, the week featured not only events specifically focused on women and climate action and presentations from indigenous communities, but these themes also found stage time at the largest, most corporate events. Organizers seemed conscious of representation on panels and speaking roles as well, with one half-day event even boasting a nearly all-women lineup.
So what’s next?
Attendees left Climate Week NYC energized and looking forward to action. However, the reality is that there remains a major gap between what has been promised to date and what the world needs to accomplish to reach net zero by 2050 – the goal to give us the best chance at avoiding the worst effects of global climate change.
What is clear is that businesses must lead from the front. The world is counting on them.
All the photos in the article are provided by the company(s) mentioned in the article and are used with permission.
About the Author
Hayley Moller is a founding team member of Thallo and its Chief Marketing Officer. Hayley is a communicator, strategist, and entrepreneur with more than 16 years of experience finding innovative and inclusive ways to tackle the climate crisis. Currently leading Thallo, Hayley has also delivered successful climate and sustainability efforts for organizations of all sizes, from lean start-ups to the United Nations to some of the world’s most well-known brands.