Five takeaways from New York Climate Week

by Caleb McClennen, Ph.D.
  • Caleb McClennen Ph.D.
October 3, 2023

As an environmentalist and New York resident, my anticipation for this year’s NY Climate Week was palpable – fueled by coffee and diverse and sustainable modes of transport (ferries, subways, Citibikes, and sturdy walking shoes) that moved me among the events scattered across the city.

I started the week with my family, full of hope and energized by the 75,000+ activists at the Climate March to End Fossil Fuels. As we marched down the streets of midtown Manhattan, calling to end fossil fuels, my 2.5-year-old son, whose future is being determined by the choices we are making today, slept soundly. It struck me that someday, he would be asking about climate change, asking what we – the collective ‘we’ of individuals and the institutions that represent us – had accomplished to protect the planet he would one day inherit.

Caleb McClennen at the NY Climate Week March to End Fossil Fuels 2023
My son’s sign read “Wake me up when you have solved climate change”


Below are my five takeaways from the week. Spoiler: I also ended the week hopeful, bolstered by the progress I was seeing and the promise of local leadership for climate action.


  1. Movements for collective action can succeed.

 While we continue to march to end climate change, we can celebrate what happens when people and their governments come together in a win-win for people and nature. Seventy-plus nations signed the first-ever High Seas Treaty, the Agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), during the 78th U.N. General Assembly. This treaty is an unprecedented step forward for protecting the ocean: it gives us the legal means to establish Marine Protected Areas beyond national territorial waters, critical for achieving 30×30. It’s also an encouraging sign that the global community could continue its movement to protect all parts of our seas, including greater protection of coastal ecosystems and communities.


  1. We need individual action on climate change

The collective power of individual choices and actions can bring about substantial changes. Our efforts add up when we choose to reduce our carbon footprint, e.g., choosing sustainable modes of transport or renewable energy. We know we also need systemic change, robust policies, international cooperation, and local leadership to tackle climate change effectively.

Rare’s new SHINE initiative (Solar Helping Ignite Neighborhood Economies), launched in Boston preceding Climate Week, exemplifies how individual to collective climate action can lead the way in addressing issues interconnected with climate change, like economic equality. During the week, an event with Unilever and Rare partner Count Us In, moderated by Futerra, pointed out that social media influencers may also be an undersold ally in creating a mass movement of people adopting low-carbon behaviors, like community solar. Across the street, Rare’s own Brooke Betts spoke alongside Cyle Zezo (former Head of the CW Network’s Alternative Programming) about effective climate communications at the Stand Up for Humans climate event. Brooke pointed out that authentically talking about our climate actions is a significant climate action in itself, while Cyle pointed to Rare’s research that 7 out of 10 people want to see climate-positive behaviors on screen.

At another event, U.S. automaker Rivian profiled its commitment to the Climate Pledge: Net Zero 2040, highlighting how corporate leadership can spur individual action through innovative initiatives and sustainable practices that empower individuals to make eco-conscious choices.

Point is? Solving climate change is going to take action from us all.


  1. We need to invest in the diversity of voices and existing solutions for climate change

Doing so for climate change is a matter of ethical responsibility and a strategic imperative in fighting this global crisis. Climate change affects communities differently, and harnessing the collective wisdom of diverse perspectives is essential to crafting effective, inclusive solutions. During the week, it was clear that an ever-growing chorus of peoples, organizations, and governments are calling for increased direct investment and recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

In the middle of the week, Prince William and The Earthshot Prize named their finalists for a prestigious environmental award that celebrates and champions the innovators focused on solving our global climate challenges. They named The Coastal 500, which Rare helped launch in 2021, one of three Revive Our Oceans category finalists. The global Coastal 500 network consists of more than 160 mayors or their equivalents who are committed (and inspiring fellow local leaders to commit) to thriving coastal communities through ocean protection and turning local action into global impact. These three finalists (Coastal 500, WildAid, and ABALOBI) share a desire to promote innovative local solutions to the global challenges facing coastal, small-scale fishing communities, and Rare is scoping partnerships with both organizations to strengthen their collective impact.

  1. The global community increasingly recognizes behavioral science as necessary to accelerate solutions

 A common refrain among global leaders during the week was the need to raise our ambitions to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A common theme at Rare in our daily work is that applying the science of human behavior is critical to achieving all of them.

So, we were undeniably thrilled that during the UN SDG’s summit, happening in parallel to Climate Week, the UN Secretary-General  related its vision for a “UN 2.0 recognizing the importance of applying behavioral science to our global challenges for faster progress towards achieving the SDGs. This recognition supports Rare’s decades of experience applying behavior-centered design principles to its community-led work and those of other partner institutions, like the GEF, and governments who have been integrating behavioral science into their policy and program cycles.


  1. Global ambitions can drive scale for climate action

Global ambitions have the potential to drive unprecedented scale for climate action, offering a beacon of hope in our climate change efforts. When nations unite with ambitious goals and commit to collective action, it amplifies the impact of individual efforts exponentially.

Following the critical announcement about the signing of the BBNJ, Rare, together with CI, EDF, and WCS, met with Steffi Lemke, Germany’s Minister for the Environment, and Sebastian Unger, Germany’s Special Representative for the Oceans, to discuss the critical importance of protecting our territorial (i.e., community) seas as a path towards the Global Biodiversity Framework’s (GBF) 30×30 campaign. During the meeting, Rare encouraged Germany to continue to be a global leader for greater attention and resources to the ‘community seas.’ And importantly, with the GBF moving forward on implementation, the World Biodiversity Summit, held on the sidelines of UNGA 78 and Climate Week, provided a solid platform to highlight solutions at the interface of biodiversity and climate change.

There is, of course, always more to share, celebrate, debate, and discuss, but I took my final subway home Friday heartened by the unmistakable sense of unity and determination among attendees, the powerful momentum generated by global leaders and activists, and a renewed belief that together, we can forge a sustainable path forward to combat climate change and safeguard our planet for my son’s future generation.