This week, leaders of 193 United Nations member states met in New York City for the annual U.N. General Assembly. The largest diplomatic event of the year brought hundreds of meetings, panels, and addresses on a laundry list of global issues. Unsurprisingly, climate change proved a particularly hot topic (no pun intended). This year, the storm season has been marked by unprecedented hurricanes exacerbated by higher temperatures, and the United States left one of the most significant recent achievements of the U.N., the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving other world powers wondering what their role now is in the fight against global warming.
Outside of the U.N. building in Midtown, Climate Week NYC has created an open forum for the rest of us to discuss climate change solutions around the rest of the city. This year, discussions, concerts, and seminars all focus on what everyday people can do to become more involved in pro-climate initiatives, each of them focused on the idea of climate optimism. Piggybacking on a new survey that found that 64 percent of global citizens believing we can address climate change if we take action now, it hopes to promote a climate change dialogue more focused on solutions, not obstacles.
With that in mind, here are a few moments from this week that have us optimistic for the future of our planet:
1. The U.N. secretary-general said we are all responsible for extreme weather events.
"Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and Maria and the massive floods in South Asia are just the most recent demonstration of the urgency of tackling climate change," said Secretary-General António Guterres in his remarks to the U.N. "Such events will only become more frequent and more savage, with more dramatic humanitarian and economic consequences... Last year, more than 24 million people were displaced by weather-related disasters and the number of such events has nearly quadrupled since 1970. Climate change is challenging the security of many states, especially small islands. The answer lies in the total transformation of our economies, and this is achievable."
2. U.S. state governors are picking up the slack on climate change reform.
"That’s why we have governors here. Because we don’t have someone from Washington, D.C. The states are picking up the baton," said Jerry Brown, the governor of California. He joined the U.N. General Assembly to let world leaders know that while the U.S. government has chosen to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, individual states are still working hard on climate reform. California is a vocal member of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 15 bipartisan states who have pledged to uphold the greenhouse gas emissions targets set forward in the Paris pact.
3. Executive director of U.N. Environment proposes letting polluters pick up the bill.
"The profit of destroying nature or polluting the planet is nearly always privatized, while the costs of polluting the planet or the cost of destroying ecosystems is nearly always socialized. That cannot continue," Erik Solheim, executive director of U.N. Environment, said in his address. He proposed that oil and gas giants should be the ones charged for the billions of dollars in damages caused by extreme weather events. With big polluters being held financially accountable, he argues that the pro-environment organizations doing good work will have more of a chance to thrive.
4. French President proposes a new iteration of the Paris Climate Agreement.
"We are inextricably linked to each other in a community of destiny and planetary responsibility," Emmanuel Macron said in his address. "There is nothing more effective than multilateralism in our current world because all our challenges are multilateral: war, terrorism, climate change, the digital economy." That's why the French president has proposed a Global Pact for the Environment, which he hopes will become the first legally binding climate document. With it, he hopes to unite the international community around climate change action even further.
5. The Denmark Prime Minister's new resource will promote sustainable economic growth.
“This is a clear signal to America. If somebody drops the torch, others must pick it up. The world needs leadership. Denmark cannot take over from the USA. We are a small country compared to the US, but a voice for freedom is needed in a world with war and conflict,” said Denmark Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. Denmark is at the forefront of a new initiative, Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030. The country will provide $4 million each year to establish a forum for innovators in the public and private sector to collaborate on ideas to make the global economy more sustainable.