Insider Perspective: UN General Assembly and Climate Week

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25 September, 2017


WBCSD insights




Last week, heads of state, policymakers, business leaders, academics and activists gathered in New York City during the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

Every year at this time, New York becomes a real hub for everyone and anyone active in the global climate and sustainability arena. This year, business was more active than ever, taking a leading role in shaping a sustainable future.

WBCSD and our member companies were active over the course of the week, attending high-level events and working group meetings all across the city, sharing how business is helping to address the SDGs.

Amongst the SDG highlights were:

The third Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) Commissioner meeting of 2017, where they discussed the outreach efforts aimed at discussing the BSDC Better Business Better World with top executives. WBCSD is collaborating to support a Latin America version, to be published in mid-October at the WBCSD Council Meeting in Mexico City.

A Business Fights Poverty half-day event, where WBCSD’s Vice President & COO, Peter White, contributed to explore, through a series of interactive discussions, how business, governments and civil society are collaborating to deliver the SDGs and what challenges remain in terms of scaling impact. See video highlights here.

The launch of the World Benchmarking Alliance where Aviva, the UN Foundation and the British and Dutch governments come forward with the idea of a new global institution that would fund, house, and safeguard the quality of SDG related corporate benchmarks.

The Launch of Earth Security Group report on Business Diplomacy 2017 which presented a data-driven analysis that allows business leaders to identify SDGs that are material to their growth in different industries and regions, and of which WBCSD is an outreach partner.

Across the UNGA, there was also a special focus on fixing the global food systems – and WBCSD was at the forefront.

Several catalytic initiatives were brought forward over the course of the week.

Firstly, the launch of the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU), at the United Nations brought together key organizations like SDSN, WBCSD and WRI to 1) identify actionable science-based targets for addressing food systems challenges, 2) propose business solutions and 3) implement those solutions through country deep dives. Our member company Yara International was instrumental in crafting the event, and our Chairman Paul Polman gave a riveting opening speech, calling on business leaders to take action today.

Earlier in the week – at a high-level consultation with ministers, CEOs and key stakeholders hosted by the World Economic Forum – WEF, WBCSD and the EAT Foundation agreed to join forces to set the basis for a unified platform to consolidate agendas around food and land-use systems, working together to speed and strengthen the transformation to more sustainable food systems.

WBCSD member companies participated in these two initiatives through various programs like FReSH and CSA which bring the business solutions.

On 20 September, a global initiative of international food producers in The Global Agribusiness Alliance (GAA) came together, committing to strong targets to reduce food and agricultural losses by 50% by 2030.

They announced their commitment during the launch of the “SDG Target 12.3 on Food Loss and Waste: 2017 Progress Report” at an exclusive event for champions of SDG 12.3, which calls for halving food waste and reducing food losses across production and supply chains by 2030.

During Climate Week, which takes place during UNGA, the Low Emissions Solutions Conference (LESC), which debuted at COP22, held a sister event at Columbia University focused on deep decarbonization pathways.

While the event had a distinct academic flavor, it remained true to its original concept in bringing cities, academia, business and policy-makers together for a real dialogue on the potential of low-carbon technology and how it can be implemented – with a long view to giving political leaders the confidence to ramp up their NDCs under the Paris Agreement.

The transportation theme was strong.

WBCSD led a session on how electric and autonomous vehicle technology can be harnessed to improve sustainability. Our member Renault-Nissan Alliance was joined by other innovative companies such as Lyft and Transloc. NRDC and UC Davis added to the debate with a city perspective and the academic research to back it up.

Tuesday also saw the launch of our partner We Mean Business’ new campaign, EV100. With WBCSD members Ikea and Unilever among the 10 launching companies, this initiative aims to create demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and enable acceleration of their deployment.

IKEA aims to go “all in” by converting their own entire vehicle fleet and contracting EVs for last mile delivery while also ensuring customers are able to charge their own vehicles at their stores around the world.

This, along with other corporate commitments like RE100, illustrate the fact that business is on board with bold climate action.

Another key topic of discussion was finance.

During the week, Carbon Forum North America took place in addition to the kick-off of a public consultation on a new attempt to allow companies to show their commitment to climate action under the Science-based Targets initiative by including investments outside their own operations.

WBCSD will closely follow these developments, due to their implications for concepts such as offsetting and see them as a potentially new way to account for non-carbon climate benefits across the other SDGs.

As everyone who attends UNGA and Climate Week will know, the events are only half the story.

The other equally important piece is the excellent opportunity to cement existing relationships and create new ones.

Stay tuned for the outcomes of these discussions and thank you to the many companies in New York for taking the next step in bold climate action.

We now return to our respective cities and offices with new ideas, friends and a renewed inspiration for action!