Article By Guest Contributor: Lynann Butkiewicz
As world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, another type of gathering was taking place across the city. Government officials, NGOs, and private sector leaders held a series of meetings during Climate Week, a week dedicated to the growth of public-private partnerships in response to climate change. While US climate legislation is stalled in Congress, Climate Week provided hope that the private sector could fill in the gap.
The meetings at Climate Week emphasize the private sector’s role in reducing US carbon emissions, highlighting that the private sector, even without a cap and trade market, can encourage legislation to be passed.
In other areas, the private sector took the lead in building and investing in programs and technology that then led to a change in government. International corporations were some of the first responders to deliver goods after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After the disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was highly criticized for its response and adjusted to later situations. Therefore, if the private sector steps up its efforts in clean energy technologies, that may lead to a review of government policies and perhaps encourage legislation.
United States President Barack Obama highlighted in the UN General Assembly address that clean energy has the power to “serve as an engine of growth and development” in a tough economy and pledged $80 million in clean energy technology in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Still, during Climate Week, investor George Soros pledged $100 million to aid environmental policy legislation and another $1 billion toward clean energy technology. This, along with the EV20 initiative that would increase the market for electric cars as well as a continued rise in the number of green businesses, proves that the private sector is still well ahead government in reducing carbon emissions, with the prospect of Washington following suit not too far away.
Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly focused on progress in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the efforts to eliminate poverty in developing nations. Climate Week’s emphasis on the transfer of clean energy technology runs parallel to this target and can help those in developing countries out of poverty. US climate change special envoy Todd Stern said at the Geneva Dialogue on Climate Finance earlier in September that the US does not believe technology transfer will work because climate change will not be solved by existing technologies. Again, while the government stalls on this, the private sector has a chance of taking control of the situation and investing in clean technology in these countries that could also eventually lead to a change in intellectual property rights laws.
The backdrop of New York is particularly interesting for the Climate Week meetings as the US will no doubt go into the COP16 negotiations in Cancun, Mexico without a binding target. Obama told the UN General Assembly crowd during his address, ”We helped forge an accord in Copenhagen that — for the first time — commits all major economies to reduce their emissions. We are keenly aware this is just a first step.”
While Obama may have considered it a first step, the chances of a next step were subdued by Stern. “No one is anticipating or expecting in any way a legal treaty to be done in Cancun this year,” he said after two days of talks during the Major Economies Forum. Without the commitment of one of the largest emitters per capita, others can provide this as an example to not commit to goals.
Climate Week further proves that UNFCCC negotiations should not be the main platform where climate change is tackled. A multidimensional patchwork of regimes, merging the private with the public, and meeting at varying levels of regional, local and global is the only way to kick-start progress on emission reductions.
Although the US has its arms tied when trying to present a binding carbon reduction commitment in Cancun, Climate Week has proven that the private sector offers hope in starting the trend that could one day encourage legislation and offer alternative means of bringing forth progress while Washington struggles to reach an agreement.