If the world's governments, particularly those in developing countries, continue to increase their reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, "we are finished."
That was the sobering assessment of World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim during his opening statement Thursday at the World Climate Summit in Washington.
The two-day gathering, called "Climate Action 2016," is bringing together more than 700 corporate executives, government officials, academics and philanthropists. It is described by organizers as "the most significant gathering of sub-national and non-governmental leaders on global climate action this year."
Kim says the goal is to move beyond "the fog of success" that he said accompanied the historic climate change agreement, COP21, signed in April.
Other speakers say there is room for hope.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that acting on climate change promises "new markets," along with "better jobs" and "better health."
2-degree end game
The summit has a broader goal: keeping the world from reaching the 2-degree Celsius rise in temperatures that climate scientists say is a "point of no return" regarding warming.
The 2-degree target was chosen because temperatures have risen or fallen within the range of 1-degree Celsius.
Scientists say that if the average temperature rise hits 2 degrees, sea levels could increase several meters and the world's droughts, heat waves and severe weather could become deadlier and more extreme.
As the summit opened, the Science Based Targets initiative — a joint program put together by environmental groups such as the CDP, the World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Fund and the U.N. Global Compact — released a list of 155 companies that have agreed to cut their planet-warming emissions.
Those companies include Coca-Cola, Sony and pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
Keeping it cool
Keeping the Earth below a 2-degree rise will require a planet-wide cut in fossil fuel emissions by 80 or 90 percent, according to Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute, in an interview with CNN.
Speakers at the summit say the financial cost of moving away from fossil fuels is no longer an issue. The cost of renewable energies like solar and wind power are constantly dropping and, according to the World Bank president, these technologies are "more than competitive" with the price of fossil fuels.
The speakers Thursday focused on maintaining the momentum toward change that was felt following the April signing of COP21, and each spoke of approaching the problem with a sense of urgency.
Quoting the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech, Kim said there is "such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban said he plans to call another climate meeting at the Group of 20 summit in China in September.