A month later, what did we learn from climate week?

Last month I was in New York City for Climate Week 2014 and Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit before heading to Montreal for the U.N. Principles for Responsible Investment. It was a fantastic week with lots of progress, promises and positive action from governments, cities, businesses, investors and citizens on climate issues and responsible business practices.

We must keep up the momentum. I am very optimistic and here’s why.


1. We have the attention of top management and boards of directors

As a global facilitator to the U.N. Global Compact LEAD Board Programme, I was encouraged to hear leaders speaking about accountability and the role of the top management and the board of directors. At the PRI conference, it was clear that investors see a need for boards to ensure the long-term viability of the company.

Investors increasingly expect that the board will have knowledge of sustainability and climate change — and that they will actively use that knowledge to integrate sustainability into the strategy, operations and incentive systems of the company.

2. Over 100 World Leaders understand the need to take action now

 United NationsI participated in the U.N. General Assembly, listening to heads of government pledging their commitment to action in the morning. I heard business leaders make even stronger commitments in the afternoon. I must admit that, for a time, I thought and feared that words would come much faster than action. However, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres — a fantastic leader that I know is working hard to bring us a climate-deal in Paris in 2015 — shared that all leading governments at the moment are tasked with putting their commitment on paper.

I believe that an international community of governments, mayors, premieres, business leaders and concerned citizens will ensure that no one lags behind. This map shows the countries’ announcements Sept. 23 at the Climate Summit.

3. A clear message about putting a price on carbon

In my masters thesis, written over 20 years ago, I suggested putting a price on externalities and including the cost of pollution in the price of goods and financial accounts. Today, a rapidly growing number of leaders from businesses, provincial governments and municipalities agree that we need to price carbon.

Some investors, such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (which made its fortune in oil), are divesting from fossil fuels. Other investors are talking more about investing in businesses that have a sustainable business model, with boards that are taking action on the issues that are critical for long-term viability.

4. The voice of many concerned citizens

The Climate March that took place Sunday started small, but it grew and grew. World leaders marched with actors, nurses, moms, dads and children. They marched together to show those who were absent that the voice of concerned citizens would be heard. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Executive Director of the U.N. Global Compact Georg Kell, former Irish President and U.N. special envoy for climate change Mary Robinson and President Barack Obama, all gave great speeches, but the very best speech came from concerned mother and Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner.


I heard leaders from business, government and civil society call on all of us to be responsible and accountable leaders and that we can, we will and we must commit to act and report on what we do. I also heard and saw that several leaders are putting action behind words, asking their business partners and advisors to stop lobbying against their sustainability commitments and instead start advertising the better choices.

Great words. Now let’s get to work and commit to accountability.

This article was originally published on Greenbiz
Helle Bank Jorgensen has worked with leading companies and organizations within sustainability and climate change for 25 years. She is the CEO of B. Accountability a consultancy helping companies to be successful by being accountable and a global board facilitator for the UN Global Compact Board Programme and the Head of the UN Global Compact in Canada.