NEW YORK – Last month I spent time in New York to attend the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit and to share progress and updates from Grow Asia. This event drew a diverse mix of leaders from agribusinesses and NGOs, along with academics, social entrepreneurs, and scientists. All of which are committed to accelerating multi-stakeholder partnerships, creating new alliances, and deploying technological solutions which help deliver on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The conference opened with a speech by the Prime Minster of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, who stressed the importance of the SDGs as a collective ambition – his main message was “goals matter”. A senior UN official echoed the point and emphasized that the SDG's can only be achieved through public-private partnerships.
The impact of climate change
Climate change dominated much of the discussions. Former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, delivered an impassioned and informed speech, speaking entirely without notes, which brought fear and hope in equal measure. Using topical events to communicate the real-world impact, he said that the recent cluster of hurricanes were particularly long-lived due to the warming of our oceans. In the past, a hurricane would have churned the sea to bring cooler water to the surface, which in turn would reduce the power and aggression of a hurricane. Now, the churning simply brings deeper, warmer water to the surface. He also pointed out that while man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are diminishing, the total volume is accelerating. There are two prime suspects – warmer oceans, which cannot hold the volume of GHGs, and warming in the frozen North and South which is releasing large volumes of gases.
For agriculture, the world’s shifting climate is a huge concern and may change the areas where crops grow best and affect the makeup of natural plants. But it also results in an increasing number of extreme events which will undermine food security.
Momentum for sustainability is building, and partnerships are critical
Optimistically, Al Gore went on to say that we are witnessing phenomenal cost reductions in wind, solar and energy storage. Together we are creating a momentum for sustainable energy that will not be side-tracked by the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. This momentum, and the reaction of other countries to create action – particularly developing countries – offers genuine hope for the future. He also noted the critical importance of platforms such as the World Economic Forum in bringing together the essential network of partners to achieve the SDGs.
In a conversation with a Norwegian scientist who specializes in the Arctic, I explored Al Gore’s comment that although man-made greenhouse gas emissions appear to be under control, the release from natural systems is expanding. Does this mean that we have triggered an auto-catalytic, exothermic reaction that will continue to accelerate? In his opinion, the answer to this question is unknown and this is largely because they do not have a model which maps the release of greenhouse gases from oceanic ice. Furthermore, even if we could alter CO2 levels it would take decades to reverse the impact humans have made.
One of the greatest enjoyments from such events is the diversity of the audience, and the stimulating learning conversations you can have with other experts.
But for me the most important take away from the summit was the realization that alongside Grow Asia’s own program, we are also part of a global movement of good people and institutions working together to deliver on the SDGs.