“We must turn the promise of Paris to action and implementation as soon as possible,” proclaimed United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the opening of the Climate Action 2016 summit in Washington, DC, on May 5-6. Addressing the record 175 country signatures for an international accord on its first day of signing, the secretary-general took the stage at the summit to announce the critical next steps that will help move the historic Paris Agreement forward.

“We need action now,” he continued. “Temperature continues to rise. Artic sea ice is melting fast. Droughts, storms and floods are costing lives and productivity from Fiji to the Philippines, from Thailand to Texas. It is time to take climate action to the next level. We need to accelerate the speed, scope and scale of our response locally and globally. I have been looking forward to this event because it is about solutions, innovation and imagination, collaborations, and partnerships between the public and private sectors.”

The summit, co-hosted by the UN secretary-general, the World Bank, the University of Maryland, and several other partners, brought together more than 700 leaders from government, business, finance, civil society, philanthropy, international institutions, as well as scientific and academic communities, to inject further momentum and coherence into the evolving multi-stakeholder climate action process in advance of the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change in Marrakech.

The University of Maryland was in good company among co-hosts for the event, with UMD President Wallace Loh sharing the stage with not only the secretary-general but also Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group; Michael Bloomberg, the United Nations secretary-general’s special envoy for cities and climate change and founding partner for the Compact of Mayors; Naoko Ishii, CEO of the Global Environment Facility; Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation; Peter Bakker, CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development; and Nigel Topping, CEO of We Mean Business. 

Proceedings from the two days focused on key implementation steps that can be taken across six tracks of climate action: energy, transport, resilience and adaptation, land use, city and subnational implementation, and analysis and tools to support decision-making. Under the guidance of Nathan Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability and associate professor at the School of Public Policy, the University chaired the track on analysis and tools, emphasizing the critical role that monitoring, modeling and cutting-edge, up-to-the-minute data and analysis will play in the new implementation regime. School of Public Policy Professor Anand Patwardhan and Research Professor Rosina Bierbaum also critically supported the University’s engagement in the program. Faculty, staff, students and administrators from across the University of Maryland contributed to the overall summit effort, for example through advisory committees and the Climate Action 2016 forum.

Further expounding on this concept during the opening session for the event, President Loh announced that, “to have a vision, such as the vision of the Paris Agreement – no matter how ambitious, how fearless, how urgent – … without an action plan and budget is hallucination.” The vision Loh set forth was for nothing short of the “reinvention of the modern university.” He underscored the importance of universities’ and research institutions’ roles as “innovation incubators” for translating research and data to practical applications and policy-making when it comes to solving the climate crisis. Further, institutions such as the University of Maryland can embed climate throughout curricula and across all disciplines to engage the enthusiasm of the millennial generation for this critical issue of our time.

Pursuant to this vision, on May 4, the University hosted the Climate Action 2016 forum on the College Park campus, immediately preceding the formal opening of the summit. This public conference in support of the objectives of the summit brought together faculty, staff and students from the University of Maryland and other universities, along with members of the Maryland- and Washington, DC-based governmental and non-governmental communities to discuss key issues of climate implementation at the local, state, national and global levels of action.

That evening, President Loh hosted the opening reception for the summit at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, where the University simultaneously showcased its partnership with this world-class arts facility while also welcoming global luminaries to kick off the important conversations of the days that followed. In his welcoming remarks, Loh introduced the event and then offered the podium to the secretary-general and former   Vice President Al Gore, who both spoke to the urgency of the climate crisis as well as the significant opportunity of the summit for moving from agreement to implementation.

Closing out the summit was a rousing engagement by Bill Nye, an icon for instilling the importance of science education among today’s youth and prominent spokesperson for public action on climate change. During his one-on-one interview with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, Nye asked whether the United States will be able to deliver on its promises in implementing the Paris Agreement.

“Yes, yes – I have no equivocation whatsoever,” she responded. “Over the last decade, the U.S. has reduced more carbon pollution than any other nation in the world, and we are going to continue that pace.”

Following McCarthy’s remarks, leaders from a diverse range of sectors ascended the stage to discuss “galvanizing the groundswell” for climate action and how to carry forward the goals of the summit. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, addressed the important role private industry can play in integrating climate goals into business portfolios and supply chains. Jasmine Gregory, an action fellow for the Alliance for Climate Education, Ahmad Alhendawi, the UN secretary-general’s envoy on youth, and May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, rounded out the proceedings by addressing the important role that youth, civic action, low-income communities and communities of color can play in advancing climate action.

The School of Public Policy, Center for Global Sustainability, many other research centers and units on campus, and the University of Maryland as a whole will now carry forward climate implementation, both in our own research and curricula as well as in the larger global sphere. Specifically, the recently launched Center for Global Sustainability will, among other initiatives and collaborations, now work to bring sound analytical approaches to the global policy challenges of implementing ambitious climate action with all stakeholders and at all levels of governance. It will also work to catalyze collaborative, policy-relevant research and education on sustainability, energy and climate at the University of Maryland.  Echoing his remarks at the launch of the Center in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on March 1, former Vice President Gore spoke resoundingly at the summit on his prediction for the future of the climate challenge. “I am very optimistic,” he said simply. “We’re going to win this.”