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Climate Week NYC brings corporate, government pledges

24 September 2021 Kevin Adler

Climate Week NYC, held 20-24 September in-person and virtually, became the forum for numerous pledges for additional climate change initiatives from industry groups, individual companies, and the US government.

The announcements ranged from new international financing commitments to new attempts to set standards for voluntary carbon emissions trading programs, as well as individual companies setting deadlines for reducing and eliminating their GHG emissions.

Announcements timed to coincide with the event included Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saying $1 billion of the $10-billion Bezos Earth Fund he announced last year will go towards protecting and preserving the earth's plant and animal species. "The loss of nature and the changing climate aren't really two separate problems. They are two sides of the same coin," he said.

This was followed a day later by eight other foundations pledging another $4 billion for what is known as the "30x30 Initiative" to protect at least 30% of the earth's land and oceans by 2030.

US could raise support to vulnerable nations

US President Joe Biden kicked off the week with a speech at the UN on 20 September, during which he pledged to quadruple the annual US contribution to international financing directed to vulnerable nations that face challenges adapting to climate change. A prior promise by Biden, made in April, raised the commitment to about $5.4 billion a year, and he's now proposing to go to Congress to raise that to about $11.4 billion/year by 2024.

The US and other developed nations pledged at a UN climate conference in 2009 that they would mobilize $100 billion per year to help developing nations cope with climate change. That goal has never been met, but pledges now stand at about $80 billion annually.

Speaking in one of the Climate Week NYC sessions, Alok Sharma, president of COP26, said that addressing environmental justice and equity issues will be a key theme of the international meeting in November in Scotland.

"We need the developed nations to deliver on the $100-billion-a-year in climate finance that they have promised developing countries," he said. "And this, ladies and gentlemen, [is] absolutely a matter of trust. I am working with colleagues on putting together a delivery plan, but the money has to come through."

Added UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa: "It is time to deliver."

UNFCC is coordinating updates to nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which are pledges to reduce GHG emissions or GHG intensity by individual nations. In an NDC, a nation spells out legally binding actions it will take to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (C), with an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees C.

Updates to NDCs were due by the end of 2020, a deadline later extended to the end of July 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While acknowledging that many major emitters such as the US and the EU have raised their commitments substantially, Espinosa said that 87 countries missed the deadline.

A few days prior to her remarks, the UNFCC issued a report that the NDCs from the large emitting countries—even if they are achieved—will fall short of the goal of the Paris Agreement. It said on 17 September that the NDCs of 113 countries that represent 49% of global annual emissions will only decline by about 12% by 2030 compared with a 2010 baseline. This will leave the world facing a temperature increase of about 2.7 degrees C, it said.

The US, EU, and other top emitters did pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% last week, as a key additional step to reaching the Paris Agreement's goal.

Groups add members

Industry groups with voluntary programs to reduce emissions announced new members and expanded plans during the climate event.

Global initiative RE100 said four more companies from South Korea joined it with pledges to source 100% renewable power, with individual timelines ranging from 2025 to 2040. Also, UltraTech, a cement maker based in India, joined RE100 this week with a pledge of 34% renewable power in 2024 (compared with 13% currently) and 100% by 2050.

Soon after the event, DuPont said on 27 September it had RE100. It has a 60% renewable power commitment for 2030 and 100% by 2050. Supporting those goals, DuPont signed a virtual power purchase agreement during Climate Week NYC with a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources with a generation capacity equal to 135 MW of new wind energy in Texas, adding to its renewable power purchase portfolio.

The Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest (LEAF) Coalition, which was launched by Norway, the UK, and the US in April, added new members as well.

US airline Delta and accounting giant PwC joined the coalition, which announced plans 21 September to mobilize more than $1 billion by the end of 2021 for the protection of tropical forests. The firms join Amazon, Airbnb, Bayer, Boston Consulting Group, E.ON, GlaxoSmithKline, McKinsey & Co., Nestle, Salesforce, and Unilever in the coalition.

LEAF has received proposals from more than 30 jurisdictions that together encompass more than 1.2 billion acres of forest, with potential volumes well in excess of LEAF's initial target of 100 million metric tons (mt), according to an update by Eron Bloomgarden, executive director of Emergent, a nonprofit consulting firm that is coordinating and vetting proposals for the program.

The first set of agreements should be announced by the end of the year, Bloomgarden said.

LEAF members are required to commit to deep cuts in their own emissions, and their contributions to the coalition are in addition to such reductions.

In March 2020, Delta committed $1 billion over 10 years to mitigate all emissions from its global operations. "And it is not an easy commitment for us. We are a hard-to-abate sector," Amelia DeLuca, managing director of sustainability at Delta, said during a LEAF webinar. "We want to take action now because we don't want our consumers to have to choose between seeing the world and saving the world."

Wineke Haagsma, director of corporate sustainability at PwC, said that in September 2020 the company announced its commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. "In the meantime, we want to mitigate the impact of our emissions today. So, we compensate our emissions through supporting high-quality carbon offsetting projects," she said.

Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets

The Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets (TSVCM) used Climate Week NYC to formally launch as an independent governance body that will set a global benchmark for carbon credit quality. The TSVCM is a private-sector initiative led by UN Special Climate Envoy Mark Carney.

"This will reduce CO2 emissions, preserve natural habitats, mobilize much-needed capital to develop sustainable technology, and ultimately accelerate the transition to net zero," it said in a statement.

TSVCM's first priority is finalizing its core carbon principles (CCPs), a set of threshold standards to strengthen the markets. The CCPs are expected to launch in phases throughout 2022, it said. CCP accreditation will be administered through standard-setting organizations. To be CCP-compliant, projects will need to have a clear, measurable, and direct impact in reducing carbon emissions and full environmental and social integrity, the TSVCM said.

"An important element of high-quality, high-integrity voluntary carbon markets is the movement of private capital to the Global South, where the majority of impactful nature-based projects are located. Hence, the governance body has a diverse number of voices, many representing bodies within the Global South," the TSVCM said, referring to representatives from lower-income countries.

Carney told a Climate Week NYC session that there is a real prospect for scaling the VCM 100-fold by the middle of the current decade. "This will require unprecedented investment, and that in turn depends on clear country commitments, ambitious country policies, and a transformation of the financial sector," he said.

Aviation groups commit to more SAF

A group of 60 airlines, airports, fuel suppliers and aviation industry stakeholders pledged to power 10% of global aviation with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2030.

Achieving the SAF target will be critical to the sector's goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the members of the Clean Skies for Tomorrow (CST) coalition said in a statement released during the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Sustainable Development Impact Summit, coordinated with Climate Week NYC.

The CST initiative was launched by the WEF in 2019, and it now includes Airbus, American Airlines, Boeing, BP, British Airways, Delta, Heathrow Airport, LanzaJet, Rolls-Royce, Shell, and Velocys.

New York imports, endowments, and fried chicken

A few other announcements coincided with the New York event:

  • New York's new governor, Kathy Hochul, announced during Climate Week NYC that the state has selected two bidders for power transmission lines that will move up to 2.55 GW of renewable energy from Upstate New York and Canada to population centers in and near New York City. The power lines could be in place as quickly as 2025 and 2027, she said, enabling the state to shift away from natural gas-fired power generation and reduce GHG emissions by 77 million mt of CO2-equivalent over a 15-year period.
  • Boston University announced it will divest its $3-billion endowment from fossil fuels, though it will take up a decade to implement. (Harvard University announced on 9 September that its $42-billion endowment will not and does not intend to make investments in companies that develop and explore fossil fuel reserves.)
  • The MacArthur Foundation made its own divestment announcement on 23 September, saying it will shift which stock indexes it uses. At $8.2 billion, it's the largest foundation to move money away from the fossil fuel sector.
  • McKinsey & Co. released a report that showed by 2050 some 68% of the world's population will be living in coastal areas, which are the most vulnerable to rising sea levels.
  • California Governor Gavin Newsom on 23 September signed the state's newest climate package, a $15-billion commitment that includes extensive wildfire and forest resiliency investments, drought programs, investments in zero-emission vehicles, and more.
  • Restaurant Brands International (RBI), the parent company of Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes, announced a plan to reduce GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050. Reaching the 50% reduction would prevent an estimated 25.4 million mt of CO2-equivalent annually. RBI and its franchisees have more than 25,400 restaurants globally.

Includes original reporting by Abdul Latheef and Aaron Alford, OPIS.

Posted 24 September 2021 by Kevin Adler, Chief Editor


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