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Notes from South Pole's Climate Leaders Forum September 2019

September 26, 2019

I had the privilege of joining South Pole's Climate Leaders Forum during Climate Week 2019 in New York this past week.  Thought I'd give a summary from the speaker presentations and panel discussions.  

Renat Heuberger, CEO and Co-Founder, South Pole - Renat opened the sessions by taking a data driven and optimistic tone.  He mentioned that for the last four years, renewable energy has outpaced fossil fuel growth and continues to come down in price (source).  This is true for solar, wind, and biomass energy production - which is great news as energy producers are increasingly turning to these options to expand their energy production.  

The incorporation of nature based solutions was brought up - and the example of the country of Singapore using mangroves as a carbon sequestration initiative while also providing land stabilization and eco-toursim was an interesting example (read more here). 

Florian Reber, Climate Activist and Cyclist - Florian has cycled through the Rockies and the Alps to photograph the visible changes these places have had due to climate change.  One dramatic image he conveyed were the dying pine trees due to the pine beetles taking advantage of the warmer springs to hatch a second batch of larvae - which has devastated large tracts of forest and impacted the lumber industry out west (source).  The images of Glacier National Park were also disturbing to those who love to visit the park to see what remains now of the glaciers.  Florian stated that scientists predict there will be no glaciers in Glacier National Park by 2030-2080.  

Florian undertook his ride and published his journey to prompt people to action, since many in urban environments don't really see the impact of climate change on a day-to-day basis.  Take a look at his website and his journey - it's worth a read. 

Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft - This was a really interesting presentation since it involved such a large company and that Microsoft has been climate neutral since 2012.  While it's a bit easier for a non-production/distribution company to be climate neutral, it's great to see the company's passion in looking for ways to move beyond carbon neutral and looking at initiatives around zero water campuses - which incorporate rain water or recycled water. 

Another cool thing Lucas discussed was the melding of AI with nature based solutions.  Microsoft teamed with Silviaterra in the digitization of all trees on the planet - yes the entire planet's tree is now documented.  AI has then been able to use identification techniques to understand each tree's type, size, and capacity for carbon capture.  From this information recommendations for tree plantings can better improve carbon recapture initiatives.  Pretty exciting stuff.  


Panel Discussion - The forum ended with a panel discussion that included:

  • Christina Beckman, Senior Director of Strategy and Impact, Adventure Travel Trade Association
  • Sven-Olof Linblad, President and CEO of Linblad Expeditions
  • Michael Dohnert, Senior Director, Ballpark Operations, NY Mets
  • Christian Dannecker, Global Director of Emission Reduction Project Origination, South Pole

Mr. Linblad talked about the growing trend in travelers desiring a climate neutral experience, and tries to educate travelers about environmental impacts during their travels to pristine locales throughout the world.  Mr Dohnert talked about the migration to climate neutral the Mets organization has undergone over the last few years and their expansion into zero waste and water resource management. All agree that it's a slow progression of education with customers to help them understand why climate neutral matters, and that once customers understand, they then look for companies and experiences that incorporate a climate neutral standard.    


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