Climate action #NotinNewYork

Climate change is high on the media agenda. Latest estimates are that the Greta Thunberg-inspired climate strikes on 20 September attracted four million people to over 2,500 events in 163 countries on seven continents. Media response ranged from the Telegraph’s sour “This climate strike is a joke. Childish socialism won’t help the environment” to awe at the speed and scale with which this social movement has spread—from one girl campaigning in front of the Swedish parliament in August 2018 to the largest global climate protest in history.  

History suggests that large-scale citizen action plays an essential part in creating the tipping points that catalyse societal change. This week’s joint UN Climate Action Summit and Climate Week NYC will attempt to address these bottom-up demands to take climate science more seriously: Civic, business and political leaders will be announcing their targets and intended actions.  

But, as environment, climate and energy policy professor Rebecca Willis noted recently, if targets were enough to beat the climate challenge, we would have cause for celebration. But they are not. Often governments and industry will hide behind target setting to obscure the lack of practical action.

We should not be surprised. Dealing with the ‘nitty-gritty’ of transforming cities, an industry, a country, is not easy. It involves hard politics at multiple levels of governance, coupled with challenging decision-making for uncertain outcomes. This aspect of systemic change involves people across the political, civic and business spectrum—far beyond the gilded rooms in New York where the leaders gather.

For cities that have declared a climate emergency and for industry sectors set on a pathway to net-zero and climate resilience, what matters is not the noisy speeches in New York. It is understanding their ‘problem space’ as a set of interrelated systems and identifying what levers of change are available to transform it. It is putting in place a portfolio of actions to test these interacting levers of change, and then learning fast. These are the essential building blocks of systemic change that the EIT Climate-KIC community brings to its city and industry partners.

This week, in a short series of blogs, I will be reflecting on some of the practical actions that are transforming places and industry sectors towards net-zero carbon #NotinNewYork. These include developments in Scotland, West Midlands and London.

 
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