For five days last week, San Francisco became the epicenter of the fight against climate change.
Representatives from cities, states, businesses, investors and civil society from all walks of life descended on the Bay Area with a clear and collective aim - to showcase an unwavering commitment to climate action and call on national actors to redouble their efforts towards this global challenge.
Within the halls of the Moscone Center and at hundreds of Affiliate Events across the city a sense of stubborn-yet-rational optimism reigned supreme.
As former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres said in an interview with Climate One: “optimism is not a false hope but the knowledge that there will be multiple options even if we don’t know what they all are yet.”
Here are my top five takeaways from the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS):
1) Cities, states, businesses and investors are positioning themselves for the economy of the future.
With the Summit built around announcements coming from so called ‘non-state actors’ it will come as little surprise that these groups took the spotlight last week.
Their collective muscle was rousing to watch; an impressive 488 companies, including PVH (owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein), Salesforce and Dalmia Cement, have now committed to set science-based targets in response to the Mahindra Challenge – a 39% increase on the same period last year.
Over 1,300 companies, cities, states and regions from more than 60 countries rose to California Governor Jerry Brown’s Universal Climate Disclosure Challenge by reporting on climate change to CDP for the first time, more than quadruple the original challenge of 300.
Meanwhile, 27 of the world’s great cities declared they have already peaked their emissions (including Berlin, Sydney and New York), while individual announcements from states included Brown signing a bill to commit California to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045 and cities included New York City mayor Bill Di Blasio announcing the city will invest $4 billion of its pension funds for climate change initiatives within the next three years, doubling current investments.
2) Collaboration is key
“No single leader will be able to take on this challenge by themselves.”
That was the outcome of the high-level Talanoa Dialogue, which took place alongside last week’s summit and called for determined leadership on a rapid transition towards a net-zero emissions society.
The discussions brought together national, sub-national and business leaders to work together and find ways to speed up the transition.
But this was not the only place that collaboration was fostered.
The America’s Pledge initiative unveiled a roadmap for US actors to cut emissions 24% by 2025 in fulfilment of the US commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Launched on the sidelines of the conference, the Alliances for Climate Action aimed to build other national-level multi-sector coalitions to support the enhancement of even more countries’ Paris climate commitments. Groups like the Japan Climate Initiative and Alianza para la Acción Climática de Guadalajara in Mexico are essential to provide collaborative, aligned support of national climate ambitions.
3) Trillions of dollars of investment are waiting to be unlocked
The transition to a sustainable economy will require the redirection of large amounts of financial capital towards low-carbon, less water-intensive investments.
According to a new report from the New Climate Economy released last week, at least US$90 trillion in infrastructure investment will be needed to transition to low-carbon economy. But delivery this could bring a wealth of benefits – US$26 trillion worth according to the same report.
And this shift is already happening. Launched last week, the Investor Agenda will see 400 investors managing over US$32 trillion – assets more than a third larger than the economy of the US – firmly focused on accelerating and scaling-up financial flows into climate action.
CDP data also powered a new report that was launched at the summit on the demand for financing climate projects in cities, showcasing more than 1,143 projects seeking US$57.89bn of investment in order to help build urban climate resiliency, particularly in emerging economies.
4) Now is the time for action
California is familiar with the threat of climate change – with drought and wildfires already costing the economy US$773 million in fire fighting costs in 2018.
And as leaders met in the conference halls in San Francisco, across the globe millions were bracing themselves for destructive storms including Hurricane Florence making landfall on the East Coast of the US, Tropical Storm Isaac threatening Dominica, and Typhoon Mangkhut approaching Southern China after ripping through the Philippines and Hong Kong.
For communities around the globe, climate change is not an academic problem but a lived reality and the summit offered a stark reminder of what is at stake if inaction prevails. Weather and climate-related hazards were responsible for thousands of deaths and US$320 billion in losses in 2017.
There is an urgent need to ramp up action ahead of 2020 – the year when global greenhouse gases must peak and fall sharply thereafter – to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
5) National governments must hear the call and commit to raise their ambition
Last week’s meeting of leaders underlined the transformational action that is needed, and that is already taking place, in every sector, geography and scale around the globe.
It was an important moment on the journey to a sustainable economy. But meeting the Paris Agreement targets presents a formidable challenge and to realize this vision, all parts of society need to step up.
GCAS has been a positive force in showcasing the multitude of leaders and strong spirit of optimism that is keeping the wheels in motion, coupled with the need for standardized measurement and disclosure to hold each other accountable for progress.
Next up, national governmental leaders will meet at COP24, and must keep this momentum going to ratchet up their national climate plans, and ensure they are collaborating with non-state actors to bring emissions under control before the global stocktake in 2023.
As Christiana reminded us, “no one in history ever won a fight with pessimism”
If we can all maintain our collective spirit of optimism – infused with a Californian dose of innovation, creativity and audacity – we might just have the upper hand in the battle against climate change.