Reflections on Climate Week New York and the role of explorers.


Written by Alexis Leroy, CEO ALLCOT


Last month, the climate change community met in New York City for Climate Week. Numerous organizations hosted events around the city on the sidelines of official United Nations events, making Climate Week one of the largest climate gatherings of the year.

I attended, among other events, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) “Carbon Forum North America”, held at the iconic Explorers Club headquarters in midtown.

The Explorers Club is an historic establishment that dates back to the early 20th century, when explorers such as Edmund Hillary, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh would regale members with tales of extreme conditions, new species of animals – some are still displayed in the club – and their efforts to push back the boundaries of human knowledge and achievement.

I like to think it was no accident that IETA chose The Explorers Club to host their annual event. Climate change is unknown territory: we are charting a new path into the realm of changing weather patterns and mankind’s ability both to prevent and to adapt to a changing environment.

And it also occurred to me that what groups involved in climate change are doing is very much akin to exploration. Not only does our changing climate represent the new territory, but the efforts that nations are making to prevent catastrophic climate change are also an entirely new way to tackle environmental problems.

To apply market mechanisms to solve an environmental problem may seem contradictory, but it speaks to one of the most powerful forces that drives mankind: its ambition, its pursuit of security and knowledge and its desire to survive. All of these are represented in market systems, and they were also forces that drove the great explorers.

Recently, a study was published that showed how close cooperation among nations in linking their carbon pricing systems could bring down the cost of reducing emissions by as much as $250 billion a year by 2030. Efficiencies of scale, as well as closely aligned regulations, are critical to achieving these cost reductions. 

This is ground-breaking research that highlights how the power of markets can be used to achieve a global good. And the idea of markets for environmental outcomes is not even new: The United States pioneered the use of markets for environmental goals when it developed the first emissions trading systems for Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-fired power plants in the 1970s.

This study explores the farther reaches of what may be possible if nations can agree on a clear and transparent set of standards and regulations for countries to use when setting up their carbon markets. The UN negotiations in Santiago this December will be critical to bringing to reality the exploratory work of work such as this study.

This research demonstrates how important it is that nations, as well as interest groups in the environmental space, consider the role of business. There are plenty of NGOs advocating for practical solutions to the problem of climate change, but not many of them address the concerns of the business community.

It’s not heresy to say this: whatever we may think of the global economy and its presence in our lives, business is among the most important constituencies that make up society. And as such, it has a role to play in addressing our problems.

Within the climate sphere alone, green NGOs advocate for solutions that consider science, human rights, climate justice, gender, youth, and workers. Why would it be seen as wrong that an NGO should help craft effective, efficient market mechanism regulations so that business can fully play its role?

Some may say that governments simply need to regulate carbon emissions out of existence, by imposing a tax on carbon dioxide. There are many parts of the world where that happens. Real explorers, however, are looking for ways that guarantee the environmental outcome, rather than government tax receipts.

Capitalism is often seen as incompatible with climate action; just look at the protests that are growing by the day around the world. The role of pioneers and explorers like IETA is to make the two work together, speeding up climate action by ensuring that there’s a real incentive to take action.