Global Climate Action Summit Recap

One week ago, leaders from around the world gathered in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit to celebrate efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions and to step up ambitions to meet the targets set forth by the Paris Agreement. Attendees at the main summit and more than 350 affiliate events ranged from heads of state to subnational actors like local governments, businesses and advocacy groups, and climate change educators and communicators. Several members of the National Network for Ocean & Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) attended, including the New England Aquarium's Billy Spitzer, San Francisco Zoo & Gardens' Blair Bazdarich, Elizabeth Bagley, of the California Academy of Sciences, and a variety of representatives from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

The California Academy of Sciences hosted a sold-out #WeAreStillIn Affiliate event on September 14th, with Elizabeth Bagley delivering opening remarks. Several panels at this event featured business and community leaders discussing their wide variety of reasons for caring about climate change, including a few memorable quotes, such as, “yes, climate change is impacting your beer,” and “build a business that thinks like a tree.” Representatives of NNOCCI also announced a new goal to expand the network’s reach to 75% of all US informal science education centers and a new project from New England Aquarium to build a national model for youth civic engagement.

For Blair Bazdarich, who serves as a member of the NNOCCI Leadership Team on the Impact and Evaluation Committee, the #WeAreStillIn event was particularly inspiring. “In the informal education sector, we can sometimes feel like Chicken Little, shouting to the heavens with little to no action as a result,” she said. “But listening to mayors, governors, and huge national businesses state unequivocally that they are ‘still in,’ was such a big deal to me. They know that our climate is our future, and that discussing climate change isn’t just the moral choice, it’s the right choice for their business to survive in generations to come. My main focus moving forward will be to push harder on interpreters to talk climate. There is no denying it now. People want to talk about it, and you aren’t scaring anyone.”

Another main takeaway for Blair was a quote she captured from the summit: “We don’t have time to argue which solution is best. We need them all!” That focus on a multifaceted approach to climate change solutions also came across clearly in an affiliate event hosted by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners that was attended by several representatives of NNOCCI. The goal of that workshop was bringing together climate educators, businesses and local governments to explore areas for collaboration on helping communities achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  

Themes from that session included that many large companies, such as Gap Inc. and its affiliated brands, recognize a crucial need to make systems-level changes for sustainability practices on timelines as short as five years, and that for many businesses, these efforts are not just a means of demonstrating public value or achieving visibility. Sustainability and addressing climate change is now a key part of corporate continuity strategy. For many large businesses, sustainability practices also factor into providing for employee development and engagement. The corporate world is interested in teaching tools for this purpose, especially those that can be delivered in digital formats.

“Big companies are realizing that they need to be ‘greener’ in order to attract and retain the employees they need,” said New England Aquarium Vice President and NNOCCI Network Leadership member Billy Spitzer, who was in attendance. “Engaging and communicating with their workforce about helping the environment aligns with their business interests.”

From the local government side, leaders are looking for tools to de-politicize the process of climate resilience planning and mobilize support for climate action by changing the public mindset to be more collective, systems-based, and focused on the long term. They noted that all sustainability and resilience plans have an outreach component designed to keep the citizenry active and informed in order to ensure continuity from one administration to the next, and effective communications tools here are key.

“It was really helpful to make new connections with folks who are working at the municipal level, since they are on the front lines of implementing climate action plans,” Spitzer said. “They need help from climate communicators to build a well informed and supportive public constituency for climate action so that the community is ready to support political action, make sacrifices, and respond to climate-related events.”

Panelists representing tribal leadership also identified that place-based approaches to climate action and education offer advantages by being more holistic in their inclusion of underserved audiences and emphasizing cultural memory, heritage protection, and capitalizing on a sense of connection to local resources. Educators have also recently found success with inquiry-based learning around climate change issues, particular with lessons that directly address common misconceptions around climate change and get participants hands on with evidence and data to discover for themselves the logical fallacies at work in climate denial arguments.  

For those watching the main sessions of the  summit, a theme that represented a clear difference from past climate gatherings was an emphasis on ocean issues as part of the climate change discussion. In fact, one of the high-level thematic dialogues for sessions on September 14th was “The Ocean-Climate Challenge”, which opened with an introduction by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Executive Director Julie Packard. The aquarium worked to engage the public around the Global Climate Action Summit’s ocean emphasis, including with a social media video featuring Packard. “What makes this meeting special is that, for the first time, ocean issues are front and center,” Packard said in the video piece. “For too long, the ocean, the heart of earth’s climate system, has been overlooked.”

The Aquarium’s Conservation & Science blog, The Future Of The Ocean, also ran a series of blog articles detailing the aquarium’s engagement with different elements of the summit’s climate commitment goals, including sustainability initiatives, climate science, and policy work. A blog article wrapping up the summit was dedicated to highlighting the importance of communicating about climate change. And in the wake of an inspiring summit filled with talk of the revolutionary climate solutions that are awaiting our call, perhaps the most important takeaway is how climate communicators fit into the picture.

“At the Aquarium, we believe talking about climate change is an important part of the solution,” the article states. “Solutions for climate change exist today... A groundswell of public support can help build a brighter future. Each of us has a powerful tool to help solve climate change: our voice.”

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