A Century of Climate Strategy Experience Generates Climate Action Moonshot for 2020

At the annual Climate Strategies Forum in Washington, D.C. in mid-July, I participated in a panel exploring what’s next after the Paris Climate Agreement.  Between us, the panelists possess over a century of climate strategy experience, and I asked what our moon shot climate action wish should entail during the next five years.

The diversity of our institutions belies several unifying elements of our respective backgrounds – including (Tyndall) Duke Energy Corporation; (Friedman) ASF Associates; (Walker) Swiss RE and Ernst & Young, Sustainability and Cleantech Services; (Coffee) Edelman and MWH.

The responses to the question about the future proved inspiring:

·      Bill Tyndall CEO Center for Clean Air Policy: With 15 years as a leader in the energy field, I’ve witnessed the amazing progress that other countries such as Denmark have made in solar power and distributed energy. We have the tools to pivot the trillions invested in energy to make breathtaking progress in the next five years.

·      Shari Friedman Senior Strategy Officer, Climate Change at IFC - International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group:  what we need is a commercially viable way to scrub carbon out of our existing energy producing infrastructure or take it out of the atmosphere.  Right now, we have CCS for the former, and trees for the latter.  However, neither are currently commercially viable on a large scale.  Most analyses show that without CCS, we are not likely to reduce atmospheric CO2 to a point that avoids the worst impacts of climate change.  We either need to find a way to solve the market barriers for CCS or find another solution that deals with the carbon from our fossil-based energy system—that which exists and that which continues to be built.

·      Chris Walker, Director, North America World Business Council for Sustainable Development: While corporate commitments on climate change have grown more robust, there has not been a corresponding look at how corporate leaders should align other activities such as investments in their retirement benefit plans. This should change, for sustainability values-based firms, their investment vehicles should  align with their values.  If it does not, it is a potential violation of their fiduciary responsibility. The impact could be huge with $23 trillion invested in US retirement plans alone.

·      Joyce Coffee, President of Climate Resilience Consulting: In the next five years, the time frame for investment should be brought into equilibrium. Currently, with corporates aiming for the quarter, insurers aiming for a year-to-18-month policy issuance, credit rating agencies aiming for 5-7 years and an infrastructure asset owner planning for 30 years at the least, little room exists for private sector investment in long term resilience. One lever – thought not the only – is the insurance industry issuing policies with 10-to-30 years in mind. 

What is your moonshot?