UN Climate Summit Heats Up Discussion on Global Warming, Carbon Emissions

More than 100 world leaders converged upon New York City today to discuss international efforts to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. The list of speakers at the UN Climate Summit included U.S. President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, French President François Hollande, and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

Obama and Gaoli both shared the hot seat as representatives of the countries who rank at the top of the list of guiltiest greenhouse gas emitters (China is first, the U.S. is second). In consecutive speeches, both men gave indication that more work is needed to effect impactful change and slow the rate of environmental damage.

“We recognize our role in creating this problem,” Obama said. “We embrace our responsibility to combat it. We will do our part. And we will help developing nations do theirs.”

Gaoli followed Obama’s comments by reiterating China’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions some 40 to 45 percent (over 2005 levels) by the year 2020. According to Gaoli, China’s carbon intensity has already come down 28 percent (again, from 2005 levels). He also emphasized that renewables now make up 24 percent of China’s installed energy capacity.

Interestingly enough, it was a speech from a marquee icon that appears to have resonated far beyond those made by any world leaders. Speaking in his official capacity as United Nations Messenger of Peace, actor Leonardo DiCaprio addressed the gathered heads of state, stressing the importance of follow-through. “You can make history or you will be vilified for it.”

DiCaprio added, “This is not about telling people to change their light bulbs or buy a hybrid car. This is now about our industries and our governments around the world taking decisive, large scale action.”

400,000 Turn Out for People’s Climate March

Two days earlier, DiCaprio joined other celebrities and political leaders, including former Vice President Al Gore and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for the People’s Climate March, which drew in some 400,000 demonstrators – roughly four times the number that had been expected – and officially made it the largest and most successful climate march to date.

Kicking off Sunday near Central Park, the march at one point stretched in excess of four miles and included over 1,500 different groups and organizations determined to let their voices be heard, and their signs seen.

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement, “The more than 400,000 people in New York and many, many more across the globe who marched on Sunday represent a broad, engaged, and powerful climate movement demanding jobs, justice, and a prosperous clean energy economy free of fossil fuels. We have the momentum and will use it to ensure that our leaders’ words today are matched by effective action.”

Rockefellers Announce Clean Energy Investments

Demonstrations of commitment to change were not limited to public marches, as evidenced by an announcement from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. In what may go down in history as one of the most pleasingly ironic philanthropic decisions, the heirs to the Rockefeller dynasty announced that the family organization – which amassed its fortune through investments in oil under the watch of John D. Rockefeller – will divest itself of its fortune in fossil fuel assets to pursue new investments in clean energy.

“We embrace the irony in the fact that John D. [Rockefeller] made his money through oil,” said Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Wayne added that she believes the foundation’s decision to pursue investments in alternative investments is “smarter” and “more moral.”

According to Wayne, more than half of the nonprofit foundation’s $860 million charity fund is already directed toward sustainable investments. “It just made sense for us to have our endowment supporting the work that we’re doing with our grantees in sustainable development.”

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is among a growing number of global philanthropic organizations that have pledged to purge their fossil fuel assets in favor of new energy economy reinvestment, to a current running tally of $51 billion in divestments. The Global Divest-Invest movement, which reportedly saw its start on college campuses several years back, has to date received support from approximately 180 institutions and 650 individual philanthropists. 

Lead image: Crowd of people via Shutterstock

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Vince Font is a freelance journalist specializing in the fields of renewable energy, high tech, travel, and entertainment. Read his blog at www.vincefont.com or follow him on Twitter @vincefont.

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