Global Climate Action Summit Steps Up Commitments

It was extremely uplifting to spend the second week of September with leaders at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

I was honored to present on our successful MN is Still In event at the We Are Still In forum highlighting private sector leadership and new commitments, following a short documentary on Minnesota’s clean energy leadership produced by The Redford Center. You can view the Minnesota short here.

Unlike international climate summits where presidents and prime ministers are negotiating emission reductions, the purpose of the Global Climate Action Summit was to forge partnerships between non-federal actors like states, cities, and countries — and provide a call to action from cities, states, investors, and businesses to demonstrate that the U.S. is committed to reaching the goals of the Paris climate agreement by 2020, thereby making it easier for national leaders to act more forcefully.

Commitments from the education sector, philanthropy, businesses, states, cities, and community-based organizations united efforts to amp up climate action at the Summit.

Yes, the current U.S. administration is rolling back climate-related regulations aimed at protecting our air, water, public health, and the environment, but I can confidently affirm the amount of actions taken outweigh the negative. Here are just a few examples:

  • Led by the U.K. and Canada, five U.S. states — including Minnesota and several more countries — are committing to phasing out coal through the Powering Past Coal Alliance
  • A group of 17 U.S. states and territories will direct $1.4 billion to low-carbon transportation and adopt a range of initiatives to sequester carbon on public lands, reduce super pollutants, deploy more solar energy on modernized energy grids, and develop shared product efficiency standards
  • 73 cities will strengthen resilience and become carbon neutral by 2050, in alignment with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree goal. Globally, 27 cities have already peaked their emissions!
  • 26 cities, states, regions, and businesses announced zero-emissions vehicle targets, signaling that the auto sector is going electric
  • Philanthropy announced $4 billion over the next five years in climate commitments, including Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation
  • And, climate change education legislation has seen traction in states like Washington and California, supporting environmental literacy among the next generation.

The Summit was not seen as entirely inclusive by everyone in the environmental movement. While I was lucky enough to get accreditation to attend the inner workings of the Summit, others were not able to participate and vocalize the action they hoped to see from international leaders. During the Summit, hundreds of youth, indigenous leaders, and organizations gathered outside the conference center to elevate the failings of Summit co-host California Governor Jerry Brown to disinvest from the state’s fossil fuel oil and gas drilling permits.

The Summit also had its share of passionate calls for further action.

A few highlights:

  • Actor Harrison Ford gave an emotional speech reminding us that people need nature and nature doesn’t people; and that we need to stop electing policymakers who do not accept science
  • Primatologist Jane Goodall spoke to her love of forests and animals and the healing power of nature. She highlighted the power of consumer actions through personal spending to influence companies to change
  • Youth, indigenous voices, and environmental justice activists like Robert Bullard elevated issues of equity, justice, and fairness alongside climate action
  • Climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore implored attendees to find renewed ambition and reminded us that political will is a renewable resource

Ultimately, the Summit included actions pledged toward immediate decarbonization – striving to achieve global peaking of emissions by 2020 and calling on national governments to join forces to step up!

See the list of big commitments and collaborations.


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