A Reflection of Climate Week NYC

By: Marcela Angel, Research Program Director; Angelica Mayolo, MLK Visiting Scholar; Jimena Muzio, Research Associate; and John E. Fernandez, Director

From September 17-24, four members of the ESI — Marcela Angel, Angelica Mayolo, Jimena Muzio, and John E. Fernandez — attended Climate Week NYC. The event is the largest annual climate event of its kind, bringing together some 400 events and activities across the City of New York. 

The ESI was particularly involved in events related to climate justice and voluntary carbon markets. 

Climate Justice in the Americas

Members of the ESI joined forces with the Climate Justice Innovation Lab, a space where leaders from across the Americas came together to explore the root causes and dimensions of climate injustice, map current gaps and opportunities, and work to create solutions towards a fairer and more sustainable future. 

In collaboration with the BMW Foundation, Climate Ventures, and MIT Solve, the ESI co-organized a dynamic and interactive session focused on exploring synergies, identifying gaps, and sharing experiences and solutions centered around climate justice. The session, called Climate Justice Insight Session, convened experts and community leaders working in areas affected by climate change and created a space to exchange perspectives across sectors, including: investors, grassroots organizations, philanthropy, activists, civil society, and academia.

The session included a panel discussion, brainstorming session, and break-out groups on knowledge co-creation, historical reparations, leadership and capacity building, and finance, among others, and showcased the work of the ESI´s Natural Climate Solutions Program, which includes mapping the presence and overlap of Afro-descendant communities in the Americas and strategic ecosystems.   

Marcela Angel presents the Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) Program    approach at the Climate Justice Insight Session. Photo credit: Angelica Mayolo

The ESI’s MLK Visiting Scholar, Angelica Mayolo, participated in a panel titled “The Urgency of Climate Justice,” which was moderated by Brazilian climate journalist Andreia Couthino and Dominique Souris from Climate Justice-Just Transition Donor Collaborative. In this space, the panelists highlighted the importance of joint and multi-sector efforts to promote climate justice actions. 

Mayolo pointed out that to advance climate justice in Latin America, it is necessary to advance collective titling and property rights for ethnic communities, create new financing mechanisms for local communities to implement natural climate solutions and the development of green businesses, strengthen institutional capacities of local governments for climate action, and promote the conservation of ancestral knowledge related to environmental protection.

Panelists discuss. From left to right: Dominique Souris, Andreia Coutinho and Angelica Mayolo. Photo credit: Marcela Angel

“As a thought partner of the Climate Justice Innovation Lab, our aim is to help identify critical knowledge gaps that are based on the needs of local communities,” said Marcela Angel, Research Program Director at ESI. She continued, saying the ESI’s responsibilities extend, “in service of a public policy agenda, [to] help mobilize the academic community at MIT and beyond, and to foster knowledge co-creation that can help inform policies or help create solutions that address the interconnected crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and social inequality.” 

This session of NYC Climate Week was particularly relevant to MIT’s commitments to climate change as articulated in Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade. In that plan, the Imperative of Justice section articulates the importance of addressing development and living standards alongside decarbonization in the developing regions of the world. 

“The critical need for technology development and real breakthroughs cannot overshadow the importance of anticipating intensified inequities and novel climate injustices,” said ESI Director John E. Fernandez. “Our work in climate justice includes the reasoned and science-based understanding of the coming threats to vulnerable communities. A world of low carbon energy and net zero emissions is not, by default, a more just world. We have to make sure the technologies we deploy are done such that justice, in its various forms, is enhanced. I’m thrilled that the ESI is focused on these issues through the Natural Climate Solutions Program and the Climate Justice Program in partnership with the Climate Justice Innovation Lab.”

Voluntary Carbon Markets

ESI’s Research Associate, Jimena Muzio, participated in the Carbon Smart Summit, where leading policymakers and prominent industry experts convened to unlock the transformative potential of voluntary carbon markets. The summit delved into several key themes, including corporate engagement in carbon markets and the necessary prerequisites for stimulating demand, challenges related to project financing, and the role of technology in enhancing market efficiency and integrity. Additionally, the event provided an overview of the latest policy updates that could impact the future of carbon markets.

Throughout the summit, there was a recurring theme that emphasized how inaccurate the idea of choosing either carbon removal or carbon avoidance projects as a path to net zero is. Both types are essential components if we are to achieve decarbonization. While it is acknowledged that avoidance projects face increased scrutiny regarding their actual impact, emerging technologies — such as artificial intelligence and remote sensing — hold promise in significantly enhancing monitoring and verification processes, thereby increasing transparency and bolstering market confidence.

Another point of unanimous concern among panelists was that the voluntary carbon market should not be seen as a substitute for decarbonization efforts. Companies are urged to exhaust all possibilities in reducing their operational carbon emissions and then resort to purchasing carbon credits to offset any residual emissions post-decarbonization.

Furthermore, the consensus at the summit underscored the nascent nature of carbon markets. Despite their current shortcomings, the agreement was that eliminating them was not the solution. Instead, there is an urgent need to enhance regulation and standardization to heighten transparency and instill confidence in buyers. The heterogeneity in carbon market regulations and credit prices currently impedes the scaling-up of the market to the necessary extent. Additionally, there is a growing imperative to develop better tools for accounting for co-benefits, such as biodiversity conservation.

Finally, Muzio highlighted that while carbon markets alone cannot resolve the climate crisis, they can indeed make a substantial contribution, provided the primary focus remains on decarbonizing our economy. In this sense, given the considerable costs associated with decarbonizing operations, ensuring the alignment between science and the real economy is imperative. Otherwise, companies will not invest in these efforts unless they can break even. This raises the question of what measures the public sector can take to provide the right incentives and support for decarbonizing real economy sectors.

Now back in Cambridge, the ESI team is both eager and committed to continue working on climate justice and voluntary carbon markets. These are areas that require attention and urgent action, and we will continue to identify new allies as we work towards our goals.

Click here to learn more about Climate Week NYC.