Climate Week NYC 2023 with Kehkashan Basu, MBA ’24

By: Staff
Kehkashan Basu, MBA '24, stands on stage holding a microphone.

Kehkashan Basu, MBA '24, moderated a 2023 Climate Week NYC panel.

Thousands of people gathered in September for Climate Week NYC, where more than 550 activities brought together businesspeople, politicians, academics, students, and other representatives from around the world. Taking place in partnership with the United Nations General Assembly, the annual event aims to stimulate conversation and action on climate issues.

Kehkashan Basu, MBA ’24, founder of the Green Hope Foundation and a UN Human Rights Champion—a designation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—moderated two events: the high-level ministerial panel “Prioritising Efforts for Investment for Loss and Damages” and “Multistakeholder Partnerships to Advance Climate Ambition,” a panel organized by the Green Hope Foundation and the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

What do you think people in business should know about the discussions at Climate Week NYC and the UN General Assembly?

I feel that the private sector is often criticized, and a lot of the time, rightfully so, for their role in facilitating climate change, climate injustice, and unsustainable development. However, there are a lot of companies and businesses that want to change but don’t know how. Moreover, these companies and businesses also feel that they have no place in the sustainability discourse, and therefore, they cannot do anything to contribute to sustainability.

I feel that one of the most important things for people in business to know about the discussions at NYC Climate Week and the UN General Assembly is that the private sector’s role in achieving climate justice and sustainable development is extremely important. In fact, the UN Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without the private sector, particularly SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth; SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; and SDG 17, Partnerships for the Goals. Additionally, over the past decade, there has been an exponential increase in businesses adopting and meeting their ESG targets, so there is progress taking place, and this was definitely reflected at the NYC Climate Week and UN General Assembly this year.

What was the most memorable moment of the week for you? 

The most memorable moment for me was moderating the high-level ministerial panel with the first minister of Scotland, the Right Honorable Humza Yousaf, and the minister of natural resources of the Marshall Islands, the Honorable John Silk, at the Climate Innovation Forum stakeholder launch.

I have moderated several ministerial panels over the past decade, but this particular panel was very refreshing because both the ministers were very candid and genuine about their concerns regarding loss and damage. Moreover, I felt that having such an open discussion about investing in loss and damage allowed people to understand just how widespread the impacts of climate change are, not just from an economic perspective, but also from a societal and environmental perspective.

The panel focused on addressing loss and damage in small island developing states and how more international collaboration is necessary to secure their existence and well-being. The speakers called for a greater understanding of climate finance and how it can and must be disseminated to the most vulnerable countries.

The honorable minister of the Marshall Islands spoke very emotionally about how his country’s sinking islands will not only lead to the loss of the economy, but also the loss of culture and their people.

The right honorable first minister of Scotland emphasized how Scotland was the first developed nation to not only commit money to addressing loss and damage, but actually meet their targets.

Both the panelists reiterated that the threat of loss and damage was not a future issue, but rather an ongoing issue that was affecting the small island developing states the most, and as we move toward COP28 [the United Nations Climate Change Conference], it was imperative that commitments to climate finance to address loss and damage needed to be implemented with urgency.

(Editor’s note: A recording of this panel is available online, starting at 1:06:12)

What was accomplished at the events you participated in? What do you think might be short- or long- term next steps regarding climate issues?

Both panels called for greater commitment, investment, and understanding of the negative impacts of climate change on our most vulnerable nations and how every stakeholder has a role to play in bringing about positive climate action and climate justice. It is my hope that these messages are converted to ground-level actions in the lead-up to COP28 and beyond.

Why did you participate? How did you get involved? 

I am a United Nations Human Rights Champion and the founder-president of Green Hope Foundation, a global social innovation enterprise that works across 28 countries with over half a million people on all aspects of sustainability, from harnessing clean energy innovations to address climate change-induced water insecurity in small island developing states to building schools in conservative climate-vulnerable rural communities to provide girls with education. Green Hope Foundation is accredited to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), UN Environment Assembly, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought, and UN Women.

I was part of the negotiations that led up to the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and was the youngest out of the 193 young people selected to represent each UN member state when the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted at the UN General Assembly. I have been speaking at such events since 2011, when I was invited to speak at my first UN conference. For instance, I was the keynote speaker at the president of the United Nations General Assembly’s “Town Hall with Civil Society” at the UN Headquarters in New York in 2021 and was the lead discussant at the ministerial ECOSOC high-level closing plenary of the 2023 High-Level Political Forum.

I am invited to speak at such events to share my global experiences, and at every UN General Assembly, SDG Summit, and NYC Climate Week, I advocate for ground-level actions for equity and justice to achieve sustainable development.

Kehkashan Basu sits at a semicircular table with six panelists.
Kehkashan Basu moderated a panel discussion organized by Green Hope Foundation and the Cornell Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise.