Highlights from the Climate Action 2016 Summit

700 leaders from around the world and from every sector met in Washington, DC, to discuss the future of climate action. Here's what they had to say.

The world adopted the Paris Agreement at COP21 in December 2015, and signed it just weeks ago in New York on Earth Day. But what comes next? The Climate Action 2016 Summit, May 5-6, 2016, brought together 700 leaders from business, academia, investment, civil society, and philanthropy to discuss the action every sector must take to take on the global challenge of climate change.

The Summit began Wednesday with a pre-summit forum at the University of Maryland, and continued with a two-day event in Washington, DC. Major climate voices from around the world took the stage at the Mayflower Hotel to urge listeners to scale up the level of their ambition, including World Bank President Dr. Jim Kim, COP21 President Ségolène Royal, UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Michael Bloomberg, mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, SE4ALL CEO Rachel Kyte, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda David Nabarro, former Vice President and Climate Reality Project founder Al Gore, American economist and SDG Advocate Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, and UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft.

The key takeaways of the Summit?

– The Paris Agreement is an essential, important step to addressing climate change. But it’s simply not enough. Projections show that even if met to the letter, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions that make up the heart of the Paris Agreement won’t keep us below 2°C of global warming. We need all sectors – investment, civil society, business, philanthropy – to recognize their role in addressing climate change and redouble their efforts. This is not just a problem of nations, it’s a challenge we all must stand up and address.

– Climate action is an opportunity for exponential growth and innovation. Kathy quoted Ted Turner in calling climate change “our greatest challenge, and our greatest opportunity,” and this sentiment was echoed throughout today’s discussions. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley closed the day by reminding the audiences that climate action can mean “a future of more — more investment, more innovation, more health, more opportunity.”

– The essential role of cities in climate action: Thursday’s speakers included mayors from cities around the world, from Miami-Dade to Montreal to Marrakesh. All emphasized the role of the city, both in contributing to the climate change through population density and urbanization, and as the secret weapon to the problem. Cities can be nimble in adopting climate-smart innovation and infrastructure, and in implementing climate action. As Montreal mayor Denis Coderre explained, “If you want to get things done, ask a mayor.”

– Together, we can tackle the challenge of climate change: The discussions today recognized that the Paris Agreement alone will not get us to where we need to be to avert the worst effects of climate change. And yet, speakers stayed optimistic, knowing that together we can achieve the climate action we need to solve the problem. COP21 President Segolene Royal put it best in quoting an African proverb, “Alone we can go quickly, but together we can go far.”

Science and education can unlock our full potential. Who better than Bill Nye the Science Guy, the man who inspired in a generation of children a passion for science, to drive this point home? When asked by a 10-year-old boy what he could do to become an inventor and help solve climate change, Bill emphasized the role of a science-based education. We need to create the next generation of engineers, scientists, and inventors, and that starts with education.

– No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. This quote from the UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi during the final panel reminded us that we all have a role to play in addressing climate change. And the old definitions no longer apply – Unilever CEO Paul Polman said that he likes to call Unilever “the world’s largest NGO,” and we saw this again and again throughout the conference – businesses advocating like NGOs, investors mixing in philanthropy. We all have a role to play, and our roles are like nothing we’ve seen before. The rules are changing, and we all need to adapt, grow, and change for the better. Truly inspiring words to live by, and to act on!

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