GCAS 2018: A Systems Transformation Is On Its Way
Nadia Kahkonen and Gabriella Warden | Sep 18th 2018

The global climate spotlight fell squarely on San Francisco last week, as the Golden Gate City played host to the highly anticipated Global Climate Action Summit.

Organised by the UN Foundation and the State of California, the Global Climate Action Summit showed off a swathe of low-carbon commitments, demands, reports and inspirational examples of climate action from prominent global figures and organisations in an effort to build on the pledges made in Paris in 2015.

And GCAS 2018 truly delivered on its promise to “Take Ambition to the Next Level”, with the Summit itself exemplifying the gold standard in sustainable event management.

In many ways, last week was a celebration of the extraordinary climate achievements of many, not least those of California State itself.

Home to the world’s fifth largest economy, California continues to pioneer ambitious climate action, even in the face of serious backtracking by the current Trump Administration and its controversial decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement – ahead of the Summit last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill committing the State to 100% renewable energy by the year 2045.

In other ways too, though, the week highlighted the real and growing urgency of the situation we face, highlighting the critical need for other governments and policymakers around the world to follow suit and drastically step up climate ambition ahead of COP24 this December.

As more and more businesses take a stand for the climate in the face of often-sluggish progress from national governments, pressure on public leaders to do something more mounts daily – and GCAS 2018 really brought this sentiment home.

On day two, a side event hosted by the Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group and The B Team saw business leaders and champions of voluntary climate action call for deeper governmental commitment to net zero emissions in order to fully mobilise industry towards “any hope” of limiting the global temperature rise to 2ºC.

They were, however, also optimistic in pointing out that this feat is by no means insurmountable, as long as we have a clear target in mind.

Signify’s Maria Letizia Mariani, Market Group Leader Europe for the company formerly known as Philips Lighting, likened the challenge of transitioning to a low-carbon, net zero emissions economy to the 1960s mission to put a man on the moon.

A highly ambitious feat, yet one that we notably achieved.

And we are already in the midst of worldwide systems transformation – one that is powered by smart climate solutions and collaborations that are changing our communities and commerce for the better, all over the globe.

This movement is embodied by the impressive list of commitments made during the Global Climate Action Summit alone, which include the following (and many, many more):

  • Pushing renewables: Almost 400 global companies along with health care providers, cities, states and regions now have 100% renewable energy targets.
  • Joining the ZEV-olution: Targets for fully-zero-emissions vehicles for various dates in the next decade or so were set by 26 businesses, states, cities and regions taking up the new #ZEVchallenge. At present, the businesses committed to the EV100 goal boast combined revenues of over US $470 billion. Plans for installing more than 3.5 million additional electric-vehicle charging points by 2025 were also affirmed.
  • Committing to Science-Based Targets: 488 companies from 38 countries have adopted emission reduction pathways in line with the science of the Paris Agreement, up nearly 40 per cent from last year. Together, these companies represent US $10 trillion of the global economy, which equates to the entire NASDAQ stock exchange value.
  • Decarbonising the economy: 21 tech companies announced the Step Up Declaration, a new alliance that will harness the power of emerging technologies to reduce GHG emissions across sectors and ensure a climate turning point by 2020.
  • Creating sustainable communities: Over 70 big cities, home to some 425 million people, are now committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, and a further 9,100 cities representing 800 million citizens are committed to city-wide climate action plans.
  • Accelerating investments: The Investor Agenda was formally launched, bringing together nearly 400 investors to manage US $32 trillion in assets – including CalPERS, the largest pension fund in the US, La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CPDQ), Danish pension fund PKA, and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset Management. This means that investors with assets more than a third larger than the economy of the United States are now firmly focused on scaling-up financial flows into climate action.
  • Safeguarding forests, land and oceans: Over 100 global supply chain actors, including supermarket chain Tesco and investors managing over US $5.6 trillion, pledged to work with a variety of organizations to halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in the Cerrado, Brazil.
  • Bridging the gap: Last but not least, the We Are Still In campaign now counts 3,540 signatories pledging to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement in defiance of the Trump Administration’s decision to pull the United States out of the climate agreement last year.

But is this all enough? The answer is no, it’s not enough. And that’s why our team is in acceleration mode.

At South Pole, we will continue to work with the global community of cross-sector change makers to re-allocate money from high to low-carbon, to realise policy innovations, and to incentivise Climate Action For All by making it easy and lucrative for all of us to become part of the solution.


For more news on commitments and coalitions launched during the Global Climate Action Summit, please visit the summit site and the digest of commitments in chronological order.  

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