"The world is waking up and change is coming, whether you like it or not."

With these words, Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg's passionate call to action for world leaders at the UN Climate Summit captured the world's attention. Ambitious companies, leading change in the private sector are beginning to be united by a common purpose: to take ambitious climate targets and urgently turn them into concrete action.

South Pole's inaugural New York Climate Leaders Forum on September 24th gathered over 120 industry experts at the Urban Tech Hub to celebrate the launch of our American office. We were joined by expert speakers from Microsoft, Lindblad Expeditions, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) and the New York Mets, to share how their companies have leapt from ambition to action using nature-based solutions.

Renat Heuberger, CEO and Co-Founder, South Pole

Image: Renat Heuberger, CEO and Co-Founder, South Pole

1. Act Now, inspire others

The best antidote to the daily headlines predicting impending climate disaster is to understand the range of actions we can take now. Many natural climate solutions are ready and waiting to be implemented! To call attention to this, South Pole's CEO Renat Heuberger opened the night by announcing that South Pole was making New York City climate neutral for the first hour of the event by retiring carbon credits from our flagship Kariba Forest Protection project in Zimbabwe. Protecting forests and other natural assets is among our smartest investments for the future, with natural climate solutions recently identified as being able to provide one third of the emission reductions needed by 2030.

Impressed by this leadership, South Pole client ACWA Power joined the campaign, donating another 2,000 Gold Standard carbon credits from their Morocco Wind project to add another 15 minutes of carbon neutrality. These actions highlight how emission reductions generated from climate protection projects are in our grasp and can be used for immediate impact.

When asked, "where would you like your company to be in 5 to 10 years?" Sven Lindblad, CEO of Lindblad Expeditions, said he hoped to have inspired the travel industry to address their environmental impact and climate change in a similar fashion to Lindblad, who is offsetting the emissions from all of their expeditions and corporate operations.

Christina Beckmann of the Adventure Travel Trade Association echoed Lindblad's statement saying she hoped the travel industry would be focusing on compensating the 8% of global carbon emissions, for which travel is collectively responsible. One way ATTA is supporting this is through the new "Neutral Together" program, announced last week, which from January 2020 will provide tour operators with a simplified carbon calculator and help carbon offset purchasing.

For Michael Dohnert of the New York Mets, sustainability grew out a data driven desire to be more efficient when it came to the demand on their utilities and with it being "the right thing to do." Panel moderator, Nick Aster, remarked that it will be interesting to see how fans and others engage once the Mets start talking more about their climate action, since "there's nothing short of religion out there that can reach as many people as sport."

These companies are leading by example and using their weight to inspire their competitors and even wider society to change. "Taking action on climate change is not just to feel good - it is in fact a business imperative that smart companies are taking advantage of, very much to their long term benefit", Nick Aster added.

Panel Discussion

Image: Panel discussion (L-R) Sven-Olof Lindblad, Lindblad Expeditions; Christina Beckmann, Adventure Travel Trade Association; Michael Donhert, New York Mets; Christian Dannecker, South Pole; Nick Aster

2. Nature's solutions are here: tech can scale them

We know about the benefits of nature-based solutions, but how do we scale them? Well, Dr Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer at Microsoft tells us that this is where technology comes in.

Dr Joppa discussed the tech giant's work on nature-based solutions through the lens of technology. Dr. Joppa shared Microsoft's realization: market challenges that have previously hindered nature-based solutions, such as a lack of transparency, barriers of engagement, and difficulties in ensuring accurate quantification, can all be overcome using technological solutions.

Dr Joppa illustrated how tech allows us to "change the limitations" and in turn "minimize the[se] challenges," through examples like Microsoft's AI for Earth partner SilviaTerra, who uses Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to analyze satellite imagery of forests. In just a few short years, AI for Earth has already had a tremendous impact, with 435 grants awarded to projects in 71 countries to date.

Microsoft is committed to growing the program, in parallel with the growing interest from the corporate sector in investing in nature-based climate solutions. For the UN decade of restoration that starts in 2020 to be successful, substantial finance and resources need to be invested into scaling nature conservation and restoration.

Lucas Joppa - Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft

Image: Lucas Joppa - Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft

3. Local adaptation for global climate change

Climate change is a global problem, but its effects vary between locations. As such, climate solutions aimed at increasing resilience or adaptation must be tailored to local places – and in many cases, local people are best placed to help inform these decisions.

After cycling nearly 4,000 miles through the United States to arrive at Climate Week, the Climate Leaders Forum heard from Florian Reber, a former South Pole team member turned purpose-driven adventurer,
documenting his observations. Florian shared stories from his journey about the local impacts of climate change along the US Continental Divide. The surprising resilience and adaptability of the local people he met along the way was something that stood out – farmers adopting regenerative techniques, ranchers embracing sustainable grazing practices, and local efforts to preserve the pristine Greater Yellowstone ecosystem from the devastating downstream effects of chemical and fertiliser use.

Florian Reber, Tales of Change, and his bike

Image: Florian Reber, Tales of Change, and his bike

Christian Dannecker, Sourcing Director at South Pole, similarly provided some fantastic anecdotes about the positive effects climate protection projects have on the ground. In Colombia, for example, South Pole projects have discovered previously unknown orchid species and conserved numerous rare magnolia species, while also providing alternative and social-security-insured employment to local farmers that used to work in illegal logging and poaching.

At the end of the night, the feeling in the room was palpable: the time for ambition is over, it's time for action. Climate leaders are already taking bold steps. Our guest speakers' remarks confirmed there is a collective push from corporates and the public at large. With nature-based solutions, local knowledge and tech, as Greta says, change is coming. So, enough reading, let's get to work

Get in touch with the US team through website or by emailing usa@southpole.com

Efforts for nature and conservation shone throughout New York Climate Week, read our wrap up of the top commitments, as well as takeaways from our CPIC event.