UN Climate Action Summit 2019: Project Everyone reflects on what next

With the UN’s General Assembly and Climate Action Summit 2019 at a close, Gail Gallie, co-founder of 2030Vision partner Project Everyone, reflects on the climate emergency, technology, and how 2020 can be a ‘Super Year’ for the environment.

Why should companies care about climate change?

There will be no business on a dying planet. Put simply, humans cannot exist without nature, and even those that once might have been able to buy their way out of being affected by human-induced climate change are having their lives disrupted in the most devastating of ways. And we’ve seen that consumers really do care about what they’re buying, and who they’re buying it from. It’s our collective responsibility to make addressing the climate and ecological emergency an urgent business priority, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – along with the Paris Agreement – are the best plan we have for doing just that.

What is Project Everyone doing about climate change?

At Project Everyone, we believe that the Global Goals (or SDGs) will not be achieved without decisive action on the environment. We’re currently focusing on presenting 2020 as a year of huge potential for addressing the climate and ecological crisis on a global scale. We talk about 2020 as having the potential to be a ‘Super Year’, because for the first time, huge decisions are being made on a global level about the Ocean, Climate, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development in the same year.

Our environmental work is therefore incredibly varied, from convening meetings around the UN Climate Summit, to working with key partners in the fashion industry to drive a more sustainable, SDG-focused fashion agenda. So far, this has focused on reducing emissions across industry supply chains, as well as driving changes in consumer behaviour.

In the context of this year’s UN General Assembly, we approached environmental challenges through specific projects, as well as through the broader Global Goals framework. This was a really big year for us. We launched our Business Avengers campaign, through which 17 international businesses have committed to driving action towards the Global Goals throughout 2020, including on climate. We also convened a Leaders Event for Nature and People in partnership with WWF on the evening of the UN Climate Summit with key note speeches from nine Heads of State and Government, an address from the Vice President of the European Commission, and a bespoke video message from Sir David Attenborough. In addition to this, we delivered our third successful ‘Goalkeepers’ event for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and launched our campaign to kickstart a decade of delivery for the Global Goals at the United Nations.

Can you tell us about Project Everyone’s work on the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap?

Our friends at the Stockholm Resilience Centre – along with various other partners – have authored a new report on the climate crisis. It focuses on how we can implement ‘the Carbon Law’ – halving greenhouse gas emissions every decade – so that we achieve net zero globally by 2050. We held an event with representatives from the tech industry – as well as climate and policy representatives - to celebrate the launch of this report. The event featured talks from eminent climate scientist Prof. Johan Rockström, two authors of the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap - Johan Falk and Owen Gaffney - and supportive business representatives from Ericsson, Salesforce and Commvault.

We know that a lot of the technological solutions for halving emissions every decade already exist, so this was our chance to challenge the industry to commit to utilising those technologies to solve the most critical challenge of our time.

What were the biggest surprises for you at this year’s UNGA week?

This was the first year that the private sector felt fully integrated and committed to the UNGA’s agenda. From 87 major companies committing to ensuring that their businesses are aligned to a 1.5 degree climate scenario, to one third of the global banking industry signing up to UN-backed responsible banking principles, it really does feel as though we’re on the verge of a meaningful transition from brown to green. It’s a very exciting time to be involved.

It was also good to see the institutions that the UN represents being meaningfully – and legitimately – challenged by representatives of civil society, the youth movement and indigenous leadership. This made for a slightly livelier UNGA than previous years.

‘Youth Engagement and Public Mobilization’ was a key area of focus at the Climate Summit. What role do you think this has to play in tackling climate change?

This is absolutely critical. Not only in terms of the effect it’s having in waking the world up to the climate and ecological crisis – something that scientists have been trying to do for the past 30 years – but also in empowering young people to feel as though there is something that they can do about it. The older generation is rightly being challenged about - and held responsible for - the situation that our planet is currently in. It’s not fair to lump this responsibility on the shoulders of one 16-year-old girl, but there is clearly a lot we can learn from Greta Thunberg. Her message is clear and it’s already having a positive effect in terms of public mobilization and policy change. It’s our job to make sure this momentum continues and drives meaningful action.

Were there any other highlights for you during the Climate Summit and UNGA week?

Aside from our Project Everyone’s work, a huge personal highlight for me was the UNDP’s Lion’s Share event that we attended the day after the Climate Summit. Through Lion’s Share, companies can donate towards wildlife conservation each time they use an animal in their advertising. Last year we supported the launch of this brilliant initiative in a room of 50 people. This year they managed to fill the UN’s largest conference room with over 500 attendees and got agreement – in partnership with us – to launch Ocean’s Share in 2020. It’s definitely partnerships like this that make the work we do worthwhile.

I also loved seeing such a decisive focus on climate this year, and having a summit exclusively dedicated to driving action on the SDGs. Now all we have to do is make sure that all of this talk translates into action…

What needs to happen next and what will Project Everyone be doing?

At Project Everyone, we’re focusing on working with our partners – including 2030Vision – to drive a decade of delivery for the Sustainable Development Goals.

This relates not only to building awareness about the fact that we’re currently failing to deliver against some of the Global Goals, but also to ensuring that they are globally utilised as a framework to drive accountability. We need to secure better funding for the SDGs, align more ambitious policies to them, and increase public awareness about the commitments that have already been made, to ensure that a ‘Decade of Delivery’ becomes a reality.

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