Perspective | November 7, 2021
The link between girls’ basic human rights and long-term resilience to climate shocks
This article originally appeared on Race to Zero's website. Please read Drawdown Lift's latest brief—"Girls' Education and Family Planning"—for more information. People around the world are anxiously waiting for crucial COP26 commitments to materialize that will engender the generational change that people and our planet desperately need. We’re also seeing glimmers of hope emerging from the rise of powerful voices of young people and Indigenous community leaders. Again and again throughout our lives, we have been inspired by women from around the world who have too often been pushed to the margins of climate discussions. Oftentimes, these are the people most impacted by climate change and deserve a global platform for demanding action. Securing gender equality and women’s full representation in vital negotiations about humanity’s future—like those happening at COP26—rely on fulfilling girls’ basic human rights. Some of those rights, such as a quality education and full bodily autonomy (including access to high-quality family planning and the ability to decide whether, when, with whom, and how many children to have), when secured, unleash immediate and enduring cascading benefits for human health and well-being across girls’ and women’s lifespans. It’s time to recognize that they also contribute to long-term climate adaptation and resilience to climate shocks and stressors. Removing barriers to sexual and reproductive health services and to girls’ education are essential to accelerating climate adaptation and resilience. And yet, national climate plans and climate funding mechanisms don’t yet recognize and resource efforts to fund family planning and girls’ education as part of holistic approaches to adaptation and building resilience. Project Drawdown is pleased to release a new policy brief, “Girls’ Education and Family Planning: Essential Components of Climate Adaptation and Resilience,” which makes the case for prioritizing family planning and girls’ education as effective long-term climate adaptation strategies. Both should be carefully integrated into climate deliberations, funding priorities, and country-level actions. We encourage you to download and explore the brief to learn more about incorporating girls’ education and family planning in climate adaptation and resilience, utilizing these strategies to help address women and girls’ distinct vulnerabilities, and compelling reasons for prioritizing girls’ education and family planning within national climate adaptation strategies and UNFCCC processes. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), MSI Reproductive Choices, and the Margaret Pyke Trust are co-hosting a high-level hybrid event Monday November 8 from 12:30–1:30 GMT at the Scottish Events Campus (Blue Zone) Shared Pavilion: Hall 4 # PV67, titled, “Removing barriers to health and education: An essential climate adaptation and resilience strategy.” In order to engage people around the world on this topic, the free event will be livestreamed (register here) and open to everyone—not just COP26 delegates. Speakers will include Ministers from Burkina Faso and Denmark along with panelists from Finland, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan, and more. The event will highlight evidence and examples of how climate change affects women and girls, and the importance of reproductive choice and girls’ education in adaptation efforts and resilience building. Practitioners working at the nexus of sexual and reproductive health and rights and climate will also share best-practice recommendations and strategies—please join us in listening and learning about how to better support women and girls around the globe for a safer, more equitable future.
Perspective | November 4, 2021
Making a difference in climate is all about building coalitions and working collaboratively. Bringing together as many and as wide a variety of stakeholders as possible to work hand in hand is the best—perhaps the only—way to truly move the needle on a problem of this magnitude. This is a Race to Zero, and we must link arms to get on track and achieve the 1.5°C climate target. Of course, that is easier said than done. Getting everyone into the same room is hard enough; getting them to agree on a plan and move collectively at scale has proven nearly impossible to date. Climate change is an existential threat the likes of which we’ve never faced before, and it has been politicized to such a degree that even mentioning it can shut down dialogue with many of the people, industries, and institutions that contribute to it most. To bring everyone on board, we need to stop focusing so much on the cascade of destruction that climate change may create and start talking about something else: the cascading benefits that climate solutions can bring to human and planetary well-being. The cascading benefits of climate solutions In 2008, I took a sabbatical from my doctoral research on institutional change to backpack through sub-Saharan Africa. There, I experienced firsthand the intimate relationship between people and the planet. The rich biodiversity and vibrant cultures I encountered filled me with a new sense of joy and passion for the world I lived in. But I also witnessed extreme poverty, malnutrition, and the degradation of precious ecosystems—an all-too-powerful reminder that environmental devastation and human inequality go together, both products of a long history of exploitation and an economic system that benefits few at the expense of many. Since then, I’ve dedicated my life and research to working at the nexus of human rights, the environment, and sustainable development—all issues at the front lines of the climate crisis. Rising global temperatures and their effects on our natural and economic systems exacerbate preexisting challenges and create new ones. Thus, it is no surprise that climate change does, and will continue to do, disproportionately harm to economically disadvantaged communities, Indigenous peoples, women and girls, people of color, and the Earth’s unique biodiversity. Yet, there is another side to the story. A growing body of research has demonstrated that climate solutions—technologies and practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions—can help reduce, if not eradicate, hunger, poverty, inequality, and many other deep-seated issues that grip our world. In fact, as my colleagues and I outlined in a recent paper, the 82 climate solutions we evaluated at Project Drawdown as a “system of solutions” to stop global warming have 2,647 beneficial links to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These cascading co-benefits include ensuring future food security, providing abundant access to clean energy, preserving and restoring life on land and in the oceans, improving gender equality, and ensuring inclusive economic growth for all. When we add in the potential of $80–115 trillion of economic savings from this system of solutions by 2050, the way forward is pretty obvious. Take, for example, the way humanity produces and consumes food. About 24 percent of global annual emissions are generated from the Food, Agriculture, and Land Use sector. Land conversion for food production is the largest contributor to deforestation. Modern agriculture degrades soil productivity and turns land into a net emitter of greenhouse gases. We demand increasing amounts of animal proteins to the point of vastly overconsuming this high-emitting, resource-intensive commodity, particularly in the richer parts of the world. Yet up to 40 percent of all food produced is lost or wasted across the supply chain, resulting in an additional 8-10 percent of global greenhouse gases from all energy and resources used to produce that waste. All the while, 800 million people around the world are going hungry. There is an alternative, simpler story to tell. Research shows that by (1) implementing regenerative agriculture, which restores soil productivity and sequesters carbon; (2) adopting a resource-, and emissions-efficient, plant-rich diet; and (3) cutting food loss and waste by at least half, we could not only put a 300- to 420-gigaton dent in atmospheric greenhouse gases in 30 years, but also produce enough food to feed the world’s growing population a healthy, nutrient-rich diet without shortage on current farmland. That means there would be no need to cut down forests for farms and pastures. This is what I mean by cascading benefits: the solutions to climate change are the same as the solutions to food security, public health, ecosystem and biodiversity preservation, and improved livelihoods. Climate change aside, these are the things we need to do to create a society that serves and respects all people. So perhaps it’s time to stop calling them “climate solutions” and call them what they really are: human solutions. Toward a regenerative future for humanity This is why I believe that climate change offers perhaps the greatest opportunity humanity has ever had: the opportunity to create a future that benefits all. We can shift the way we do business from an inherently exploitative, extractive system to a new normal that is by nature restorative and regenerative. The science is clear. This “regenerative future” is within reach with today’s technology and expertise. What we need is the wherewithal to get it done. And that requires that we change the narrative around many of the world’s most difficult problems from one of fear and apathy to one of solutions and possibility. Doing so will bring the financial capital, political will, and public interest to move forward with the speed necessary to avert disaster. Actually, there’s one more thing we need: Partnership. Climate solutions inform and reinforce each other in myriad and complex ways. Only by approaching them as an integrated system and implementing them in parallel around the world can we unlock their true potential to create a future that benefits humanity and the planet.. This “system of solutions” can only be realized through broad-based, effective local, regional, and international collaboration that connects governments, businesses, financial institutions, communities, and individuals. By building inclusive coalitions that foster participatory engagement, and by actively embedding equity and social justice principles in the implementation of all climate solutions, we can help achieve all 17 SDGs and address today’s deep, systemic inequalities—all while halting global warming and preventing the worst effects of climate change. This is the regenerative future I dream of; this is the power and the enormous potential of the cascading benefits of climate solutions.
Feature | October 27, 2021
The powerful role of household actions in solving climate change
Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects. – The Dalai Lama Everyone can play a role in solving climate change. There are real actions we all can take, starting today, to get us on a pathway to real system change that benefits humanity and the planet. The magnitude of the challenge we are collectively facing requires action from all levels—from our governments, businesses and institutions, communities, and every one of us in our personal lives and homes. So where do we start? According to the most recent global surveys by Yale University on international public opinion on climate change, the majority or vast majority in all 31 surveyed countries say that they: think climate change is happening are “very” or “somewhat” worried about it think it will harm them personally either “a great deal” or a “moderate amount” need at least a little more information about it High-income countries in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region are home to a minority of the world’s population but have contributed the most climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. Appropriately, citizens in those countries are more concerned than ever about their personal impact on climate change and are willing to change how they live and work, according to a September 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center. One challenge is that most of us are understandably unsure which actions are most impactful in solving climate change. Even individuals who believe they understand which actions are most impactful are often incorrect. As you join the climate action that is already underway, it’s important to understand which of your personal actions can have an impact. Fortunately, there is a science-backed, data-driven list of solutions that can guide you. Drawdown Solutions, the solutions research arm of Project Drawdown, has led years of data collection and analysis by scholars around the world to identify and characterize more than 90 currently available technologies and practices that have a direct impact on greenhouse gases, are scientifically validated, and are economically viable. Results of this work were initially published in the New York Times best-selling book Drawdown and have influenced university curricula, city climate plans, commitments by businesses, community action, philanthropic strategy, and more. The foundation of Project Drawdown’s analysis is extensive and complex mathematical modeling that uses data from thousands of scientific sources to predict the potential of identified climate solutions to reach drawdown—the point when atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases begin to decline. This analysis and modeling tell us the impact these solutions have on the atmosphere, their bottom-line financial implications, their global applicability, and what beneficial co-benefits they offer to society and the environment. Indeed, the Drawdown Solutions analysis reveals that individual and household actions have the potential to produce roughly 25–30 percent of the total emissions reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change (>1.5°C rise). That is a lot higher than most people realize. It’s because we as individuals and households are a part of a broader economic system currently reliant on fossil fuels, from the food we buy, to the electricity we use, to the buildings we live in. While the vast majority of global emissions (70–75 percent) can be reduced directly by the decisions of those who run businesses, utilities, buildings, and governments, our choices as consumers, energy users, tenants, and voters have direct impact in their own right and can affect those decisions by sending signals across the system. So rather than being laden with blame and guilt, we should be owning our power to make change. From the more than 90 specific, definitive, science-backed solutions Project Drawdown has identified, we have distilled a list of 20 high-impact climate actions that individuals and households in high-income countries can take and that together could reduce up to 25 percent of future greenhouse gases:
News | October 13, 2021
New study lays out opportunities to slash land-based GHG emissions from forests, farming and consumer behavior
A new study led by Climate Focus environmental scientist Stephanie Roe and including Project Drawdown senior director of Drawdown Solutions Chad Frischmann among its authors provides a comprehensive guide to the greenhouse gas mitigation potential and feasibility of land-based climate solutions for over 200 countries. The study, published October 12 in Global Change Biology, analyzes 20 land-based measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. They include the protection, management and restoration of forests and other ecosystems; changes in agricultural practices; soil carbon sequestration in croplands and grasslands; use of bioenergy; and demand-side measures within food systems, such as reducing food waste and shifting to more sustainable and less livestock-dependent diets. "Our analysis shows which and how much nature-based solutions could be prioritized country by country," said Stephanie Roe, an environmental scientist at Climate Focus and the lead author of the study. "Many land-based mitigation activities are unique in that they can be rapidly implemented, provide additional environmental and socio-economic co-benefits, work in tandem with the decarbonization of other sectors—like energy, and are relatively low cost. For many countries, they also provide the largest share of the low-cost mitigation needed to reach net zero emissions by mid-century and deliver on the Paris Agreement targets." The section to which Frischmann primarily contributed focused on consumer measures critical for reducing methane emissions, including plant-rich diets and reducing food loss and waste.
News | September 23, 2021
Project Drawdown launches Climate Solutions at Work
(September 23, 2021) — In the wake of the most recent headline-making IPCC report, the need for sweeping climate transformation has never been more apparent. The private sector, with its vast resources, must play a crucial role in this transformation—and employees can help lead the charge. Drawdown Labs, a program of the nonprofit organization Project Drawdown, aims to help global employees step into their power and shift the private sector beyond “net zero” as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. Climate Solutions at Work, presented by Project Drawdown, creates a new standard of business climate leadership, driven by employees equipped to take bolder action at work, making every job a climate job. Readers can explore their company’s enormous untapped potential for climate action by finding their inroad—regardless of job function—to moving their company toward the world’s best science-based climate solutions. This free, easy-to-browse guide is available today. “Inside most businesses, only a handful of people with ‘sustainability’ in their title consider climate issues as part of their work day,” says Jamie Beck Alexander, Director of Drawdown Labs. “But the scope and scale of the climate challenge calls on all of us to find our inroad. Climate Solutions at Work is a playbook for employees—no matter what you do or where you work—to help your business take bolder climate action.” Pushing beyond “net zero” In its infancy, “net zero” was meant to embody a long-term climate goal used by entire countries to track Paris Agreement progress—a global goal to reach net zero by 2050 to keep increased warming to 1.5°C. Over the years, “net zero” has shifted from a collective goal to a leadership position from individual companies. This type of vague, long-term target only works if every company makes the same commitment with a shared deadline—a highly unlikely prospect. Today’s definition of business climate leadership centers on companies doing less harm, gradually reducing their emissions—and the damage they cause—over time. Employees can demand a more expansive view, one that taps every company’s leverage points and the passion of every employee to scale climate solutions available right now, dramatically boosting expectations for business climate leadership around the world. Project Drawdown’s research shows the world can reach drawdown by mid-century so long as global interests make the best use of all existing climate solutions. Climate Solutions at Work focuses on the private sector so employees have a better sense of where to start—or intensify—their business climate action. Building a “drawdown-aligned” business For many employees committed to meaningful change, accelerating climate action at work can feel restricted to staff with “sustainability” in their job title. If a business is serious about their climate ambition, then they will welcome all employees to the work of helping them get there and holding them accountable. “Project Drawdown wants employees to have the resources to identify and push for bigger climate ambition in the workplace,” says Alexander. “We’ve outlined a drawdown-aligned business framework that allows anyone, anywhere to make their job a climate job.” This drawdown-aligned business framework zeroes-in on eight key leverage points—and corresponding actions—that businesses must tap to help the world achieve drawdown quickly, safely, and equitably: Emissions reductions Stakeholder engagement and collaboration Products, partnerships, and procurement (the “three Ps”) Investments and financing Climate disclosures Climate policy advocacy Business model transformation Long-term thinking By moving step-by-step through topics primed for transformation, Climate Solutions at Work is a new north star for employees looking to push beyond net zero. Explore how to help build a “drawdown-aligned” business that leverages all of its social, political, financial, and employee power to secure a stable climate and just future for all. About Drawdown Labs Drawdown Labs is Project Drawdown’s private sector testing ground for scaling bold climate solutions quickly, safely, and equitably. This consortium of visionary partners goes beyond “net zero” to scale global climate solutions, within and outside their own operations. Leveraging world-class research and analysis from Project Drawdown—and the cross-industry capabilities of participating organizations, businesses, and funders—Drawdown Labs experiments with collaborative ways to address climate change at unprecedented scale, and offers the world a transformative vision for private sector climate leadership. Drawdown Labs members include Allbirds, Aspiration, Copia, General Mills, Google, Grove Collaborative, IDEO, Impossible Foods, Intuit, Lime, LinkedIn, Netflix, R&DE Stanford Dining, and Trane Technologies. About Project Drawdown Project Drawdown® is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Since the 2017 publication of the New York Times bestseller Drawdown, the organization has emerged as a leading resource for information and insight about climate solutions. We conduct rigorous review and assessment of climate solutions, create compelling and human communication across media, and partner with efforts to accelerate global climate solutions. Project Drawdown aims to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.
Perspective | September 22, 2021
Desperate for hope?
This article originally appeared on New Security Beat. If raging wildfires, extreme drought, and superstorms haven’t made it clear, the latest IPCC report tells us in plain language: the world is poised for worsening climate impacts over the next 30 years. The report’s release—during an unprecedented pandemic and natural disasters that magnify the connections between climate, health, livelihoods, and human well-being—is a grim reminder of the fragility of life on Earth. There is hope, however: the winding links between climate, health, and well-being also present tremendous opportunities. What if, collectively, thought leaders, negotiators, practitioners, and policymakers in the climate, health, business, and international development communities could do a better job of advancing solutions that address these crises simultaneously? When climate, poverty alleviation, and human well-being are addressed together, a vision of a better future emerges like a beacon in the night. Leaders from high-income countries—the source of most global emissions to date—reacted to the IPCC report with talk of bold actions, better collective efforts, and a renewed commitment toward decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to cleaner energy. At the same time, low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) and island nations—all of which are extremely vulnerable to climate change—continue to demand compensation, support, and rapid reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from industrialized nations. Last month, Muhammad Nasheed (ex-president of Maldives) said that the world should not forget “the fundamental injustice at the heart of this emergency.” Given that LMICs are the most severely impacted by climate change—a scenario for which they are not responsible—it is important to ask how advocates ranging from youth leaders to government policymakers can build bridges that address climate change and the injustice of the climate emergency together. People and institutions have historically avoided linking climate solutions and human well-being, but understanding how climate change compounds the risks facing the world’s most vulnerable populations is critical to understanding where the solutions lie. Recognizing this, Drawdown Lift—a program of our nonprofit Project Drawdown—was launched to identify and elevate “win-win” opportunities where initiatives and policies are making that critical connection. For more than three billion people—about half of the global population living in emerging economies—tackling climate change has become synonymous with addressing human rights, justice, and equity. Centering basic human needs Projections show climate change impacts to people in LMICs will be incredibly severe—hundreds of millions more people will experience poverty and food shortages, while nearly two billion people could face water shortages. Given emerging economies’ extensive reliance on natural resources and the environment for economic productivity, the GDP of some countries, like Madagascar, Nigeria, and Bangladesh, could shrink by more than 10 percent in the face of climate change. Lacking access to vital resources (including technology and finance), LMICs are already struggling to protect themselves from climate impacts that are likely to intensify. Upholding and protecting basic human needs must remain at the heart of all climate justice work. One year after cyclone Ida hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, tens of thousands were still without access to basic sanitation, adequate shelter, food, and healthcare. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change extend beyond the shock of extreme weather events. Deteriorating human well-being due to climate impacts often leads to more environmental damage. In the Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh—one of the largest mangrove forests in the world—frequent superstorms led to a decrease in agricultural lands due to crop destruction and loss of property. More than 70 percent of people there live below the poverty line and access to health care, clean water and sanitation, electricity, education, and food is limited. Frequent job losses have led to rapid deforestation as people resort to selling timber that can fetch high prices. Due to ongoing destruction of life-saving, carbon-storing mangrove forests by cyclones and timber harvesting, the Bengal Basin—–one of the most densely populated regions in the world—–has become even more vulnerable to powerful storms. Hard-won Hope Despite continuous global climate injustices and heartbreaking facts and figures, the IPCC report presents a ray of hope. Through coordinated efforts and cooperation, we can stabilize the global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But this isn’t possible without climate-informed solutions that also meet the essential human needs of the approximately half of the global population that live in LMICs. If emerging economies aren’t supported in their efforts to pursue climate-smart development pathways, they will resort to building and maintaining electricity and transportation systems that rely on fossil fuels. Unless significant financial and technological impetus is provided to the renewable energy sector, most of the new electricity generation in Africa by 2030 will be fossil fuel based which will hinder achieving drawdown. Both the population and economy of Africa is projected to grow at the fastest rate of any region in the coming decades. Access to energy is a fundamental right of all people, and it is the responsibility of historical carbon emitters to support emerging economies in deploying clean energy to meet their fundamental human needs, grow their economies, and boost the health of their populations. Climate and poverty alleviation champions, local community members and experts worldwide must hold their leaders accountable—across the private sector, government, business, and NGO communities—for ensuring that LMICs have the resources needed to adapt to extreme weather while also implementing climate solutions as quickly as possible. To the high-income nations that agreed to provide $100 billion in annual funding to LMICs in support of clean energy and climate adaptation—where is the money? We should all feel the urgency to support communities bearing the brunt of climate impacts—both in our neighborhoods and across our global community. It’s time to integrate and uplift solutions that address human well-being and climate change, centering those most impacted, as we chart the course for a safer, more equitable future. It’s time to build a world where everyone has the chance to thrive. Yusuf Jameel, PhD, is a multidisciplinary environmental scientist with experience in water resources, public health, big data analytics, and science communication. As the Research Manager for Drawdown Lift, Yusuf leads research and analysis into win-win solutions that address climate change and improve human well-being. Carissa Patrone, MPA is a passionate connector who enjoys finding and amplifying the interconnectedness and synergies of all things. Carissa is the Program Coordinator of Drawdown Lift, where she advances partnership engagement and written communications that support the intersection of climate solutions, improvement of human well-being, and poverty alleviation. Kristen P. Patterson, MS, MPH is an innovative leader focused on finding equitable solutions to global challenges that improve people’s lives. As the director of Drawdown Lift, Kristen leads efforts to advance climate solutions that improve human well-being and alleviate poverty in emerging economies in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Sources: Amnesty International, BBC, Government of India, Government of West Bengal, GreenBiz, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Nature Energy, News Laundry, Project Drawdown, United Nations, United Nations Development Program.
News | September 15, 2021
Project Drawdown welcomes Stephan Nicoleau to its Board of Directors
(September 15, 2021) — Project Drawdown is pleased to announce the election of Stephan Nicoleau—Partner at FullCycle, an investment firm focused on addressing the climate crisis—to its Board of Directors. Nicoleau is an investor, advisor, and founder with more than 15 years of experience in the social and environmental impact space. He joins eight longtime Project Drawdown Board members during a time of remarkable growth for the nonprofit organization. “We couldn’t have found a more passionate climate advocate to join our Board,” says Project Drawdown Executive Director Jonathan Foley, PhD. “Stephan knows how to think long-term while taking action on the best investment climate solutions we have in-hand today. Project Drawdown is proud to have his support—and an opportunity to learn from him—as we significantly level up our efforts to help the world reach drawdown quickly, safely, and equitably.” Visionary social, environmental, and financial leadership At FullCycle, Nicoleau heads capital solutions for the firm, managing institutional relationships and the firm’s capital formation for its fund vehicles. He began his career as a management consultant, as a founding member of Coalition Ltd., a boutique strategy consultancy, which advised the executive management teams of the top global investment banks such as JP Morgan, Credit Suisse and Barclays Capital. Later—in founding Critical Value Advisors (“CVA”)—Nicoleau built an advisory practice which served private investors managing several billion in assets, working to source emerging managers and impact investment opportunities globally. CVA structured and advised investments in venture, real estate, and infrastructure, playing an integral role in identifying investment opportunities that would achieve environmental, social, and financial returns for private and institutional investors. In 2016, he founded LaGuardia Development Partners (“LDP”), a minority-owned infrastructure financing vehicle focused on the redevelopment of LaGuardia Airport—a project that was integral in reshaping the public private partnership (“P3”) to be more inclusive of minority and women-owned funders and operators. In addition to serving on the board of Project Drawdown, Nicoleau serves on the boards of Monument Lab, a public arts studio leading national conversations about public space and history; and Future of Cities, a regenerative placemaking coalition focused on sustainable urban development. Nicoleau is an active mentor to entrepreneurs in his community, lives in New York City, and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. In his own words Project Drawdown: When did you first become passionate about climate change and solutions? Nicoleau: I have been an impact investor for over 15 years, so climate has always been part of my work. However, as the science became clearer for us all, I understood my role in having impact would be to work on this existential issue. My passion to have an impact is met by my desire to be as effective as possible in my work—and I’m grateful to do it every day. Because I have experience as an investor, operator, and finance professional, I feel especially lucky that I can meaningfully apply my lived and professional experience to addressing the greatest challenge of our times. PD: What are you doing to help the world reach drawdown—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline? Nicoleau: I’d say this is most prominent in my work at FullCycle, where we are actively scaling climate-critical infrastructure that has the capacity for significant abatement and drawdown of CO2 and its equivalents. My advocacy for an “all-hands-on-deck” approach has been a hallmark of my efforts to help us meaningfully drawdown GHGs, and has spurred dialogue and action well beyond the fund with policy makers, philanthropists, and community stakeholders. PD: What’s your favorite part of your work with Fullcycle? Nicoleau: There is a lot to love about FullCycle’s mission—we’re invested with incredible capital partners and operators, and we’re a team that deeply cares about making a difference. This compelling, activated community and ecosystem that we have built inspires me every day. The innovations we see —and indeed, those that we select to commercialize—are transformative, which gives me hope that we can mitigate the impact of climate change while investing and building the future that we and future generations deserve. PD: Which climate solution(s) do you wish the finance and investment community would adopt today to make an impact? Nicoleau: We’re going to need to accelerate investment in all of the available emissions-abating technologies, practices, and solutions that are available now. But because the climate crisis is so urgent, the order in which we invest matters significantly. Solutions that have the highest carbon abatement potential (per dollar invested) must be prioritized alongside those solutions that are ready for market and implementable at scale. For investors, that means investing with managers that are designed to accelerate solutions and deliver measurable climate and financial returns—galvanizing the global markets to invest trillions into climate restoration. Focusing on infrastructure is the most effective way for asset managers to have a meaningful impact, as climate change is mostly driven by the operations of our global systems. PD: How should nonprofits like Project Drawdown commit more deeply to equity and justice in their climate work? How would you like to see this organization grow? Nicoleau: Project Drawdown can play a substantial and important role in identifying the critical link between climate solutions and a more just transition to a low-carbon future. As we identify the best innovations, practices, and nature-based solutions that actively drawdown greenhouse gases, we must consider the reparative power of implementation at every frontline and in communities that have been underserved. This intersection between the work to overhaul our aging infrastructure and the work to build a more equitable world is an important one for us to explore and activate through the solutions work at Project Drawdown. This includes working to include the voices of traditionally underrepresented communities and stakeholders in our conversations about a just transition to a low-carbon, more equitable, and increasingly resilient global economy. About Project Drawdown Founded in 2014, Project Drawdown® is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Since the 2017 publication of the New York Times bestseller Drawdown, the organization has emerged as a leading resource for information and insight about climate solutions. We continue to develop that resource by conducting rigorous review and assessment of climate solutions, creating compelling and human communication across media, and partnering with efforts to accelerate climate solutions globally. Cities, universities, corporations, philanthropies, policymakers, communities, educators, activists, and more turn to Project Drawdown as they look to advance effective climate action. We aim to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.
Perspective | August 23, 2021
Essential tips for talking about Project Drawdown’s Health and Education solution
Drawdown Lift—a new program at Project Drawdown—is reflecting on how our team works to break down disciplinary walls and lift up global solutions that address climate change and extreme poverty, and enhance human well-being around the world. We are thrilled that so many thought leaders and change makers continue to champion action on (and communicate around) Project Drawdown’s work, including our organization’s Health and Education solution, given the foundational roles that reproductive health and education play in poverty alleviation. Collaboratively, Drawdown Lift focuses on advancing solutions designed to catalyze positive, equitable change in the most under-financially resourced communities in low- and middle- income countries. When we work together to address societal inequities by lifting up gender equality, universal education, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), we can also advance long-term solutions to climate change. In communicating Project Drawdown’s Health and Education solution, it is important to avoid oversimplifying the complexities and interconnectedness of this work. Anyone working in this space must examine power structures and work to unpack the various systems of oppression (e.g., white supremacy and racism, patriarchy and sexism, colonization, classism, and more) that surface when working to reach “drawdown”—the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change. Drawdown Lift has created this resource guide [Download a PDF version] to welcome everyone (researchers, practitioners, and advocates) to communicate this solution in a way that centers equity and bodily autonomy, does not induce harm or reinforce systems of oppression, and reflects the vision of Project Drawdown. Gender equality Women and girls from emerging economy countries continue to be disproportionately impacted by climate change, environmental degradation and exploitation, and a lack of environmental protections around the world. Almost half of consumption-related emissions are generated by just 10% of people globally. Project Drawdown recognizes that a majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from high-income, high-consumption countries. Women and girls in emerging economy countries are often disproportionately (first and worst) impacted by the effects of climate change, including but not limited to extreme weather events and natural disasters. We do not have the ability to “empower” anyone. Every person on this planet has power within themselves, but many people have been systematically and historically excluded from spaces, conversations, and vital resources. Women and girls are not passive victims. However, they have been systematically excluded from many decision-making opportunities, resources, institutions, and spaces to support their own growth and leadership. Malala Yousafzai (esteemed advocate for girls’ education from Pakistan) and Wangari Maathai (environmental activist and creator of the Green Belt Movement from Kenya) are two inspiring examples of women who have stood up to make waves for women and girls in education and environmental conservation. Through leadership and holistic actions, Yousafzai—and Maathai, who passed away in 2011 but whose legacy lives on—challenged systems and made sure that their voices were heard around the world. The importance of universal education Access to high-quality education is not a privilege, but a fundamental human right. Education provides an opportunity for children to develop their capacity, empower themselves, and increase their knowledge in various subject areas. Recent data show many inequities within our education systems across the world. According to UNICEF, “Forty-four percent of girls and 34 percent of boys (10-19 years old) from the poorest families have never attended school or dropped out before completing primary education." High-quality universal education is transformative, and is a basic human right for all people. Inequities within education systems perpetuate injustice in both the social and economic spheres. A focus on high-quality education is particularly important for girls, who are often left behind in terms of educational access and quality. Still today, according to UNICEF, around 129 million girls around the world don’t attend school. Also, the COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately impacted girls (ages 12–17) in low- and lower-income countries who often have a greater risk of dropping out of school. Educating girls and committing fully to climate action go hand-in-hand. Girls are important agents of change, particularly in the climate space. When girls have access to high-quality education, their ability to contribute to climate change mitigation and adapt to climate shocks increases. Girls who have access to education are more likely to become informed about climate change and take action on climate solutions. Sexual and reproductive health and rights High-quality universal education and SRHR are both important due to the ancillary benefits they have as climate solutions. At times—regardless of a person’s intentions—these topics can be communicated in a way that is not rights-based or does not convey the importance of the right of girls and women to have full bodily autonomy. Gender equality and women’s and girls’ reproductive rights must be embedded into climate solutions and climate justice. Project Drawdown does not advocate for “small” or “ideal” family sizes or limiting fertility; such policies can be racist, classist, or coercive. Our model reflects changes in future population growth scenarios based on the United Nations’ population projections. We unequivocally advocate for all adolescents and women to have full bodily autonomy to decide whether, when, with whom, and how many children to have. When communicating about reproductive health, it is important to use language that reflects the agency of women and girls and their own choices while also considering different laws, policies, and practices around the world. When speaking about reproductive health, it is important to recognize differences within socio-cultural norms in different places and spaces. In order for families, communities, countries, and the world to reach gender equality, there must be a shift in attitudes, beliefs, and policy to mitigate harmful gender norms. Furthermore, engaging men is a crucial part of the solution to achieve gender equality. Universal education and SRHR have numerous benefits for all people and must be embedded in climate conversations and solutions. It’s important to recognize that women and girls in both emerging economy countries and high-income countries can lack access to high-quality and affordable reproductive health care. Access to high-quality reproductive health care (including voluntary family planning) and universal education are essential human rights with profound cascading benefits that include enhanced overall health of women and their families, economic growth, and an increased ability of individuals and households to cope with climate shocks and stressors. In addition, addressing inequities in society provides ancillary climate benefits as population growth slows at a global level. Climate impacts and the power of women in action Gender inequality and power imbalances are often amplified during times of crises, such as the climate crisis or the COVID-19 pandemic. Gender-based violence has also been linked to power struggles over natural resources (especially in resource-scarce or degraded lands), environmental crimes, extractive industries, weather-related disasters, and climate-related conflict. Prevalence of gender-based violence often increases during times of extreme environmental stressors and climate shocks, which amplify pre-existing gender inequalities. Access to high-quality, universal education and SRHR are two separate but interconnected domains encompassed in Project Drawdown’s Health and Education solution. This solution models changes in population growth by 2050, and includes two rights-based measures: (1) universal right and voluntary access to reproductive healthcare and (2) universal access to quality primary and secondary education (12–13 years of schooling). It was assumed that these interventions are inherently synergistic. Education and knowledge are power and can be a gateway for girls to become active community members and leaders. Girls with access to high-quality education and full knowledge and access to SRHR can be more involved in political, social, and economic spheres of life. Studies show that gender equality—for example, a greater proportion of women in national government—is strongly associated with more robust environmentalism on a national level. In other words, women in national legislatures have shown to vote for more stringent climate and environmental protections. Among many reasons, some include the fact that more harm from environmental degradation is felt by women and that women participate more than men in social movements. Greater involvement of women in local decision making leads to better natural resource management and conservation outcomes. We all benefit when women have equal access to opportunities to educate ourselves and have full autonomy over our bodies. When referencing Project Drawdown’s Health and Education solution in ways that are rights-based and acknowledge the important work and power of women in an unequal world, we can advance health, equity, and human well-being and also generate cascading benefits for climate. Call to action We need everyone—activists, SRHR leaders, human well-being experts, and concerned global citizens—to stand up and support equity-driven climate solutions. We hope that the inclusive, rights-based language highlighted here will support everyone working to champion universal, high-quality education and family planning for all as important goals, which are made more powerful by the double-duty they serve as climate solutions.
Perspective | June 17, 2021
The world needs better climate pledges
Governments and businesses are looking to lead on climate change, but too many of their commitments are built on flawed “net zero” frameworks and problematic “carbon offsets.” Authentic climate leadership requires more—a transparent and meaningful “Emissions 360” pledge that is focused on bringing real emissions to zero, helping others do the same, and equitably addressing historic climate pollution. The world’s conversations about climate change have fundamentally shifted during the last few years. We have moved beyond old debates around whether climate change is happening (hint: it is) to more constructive discussions about addressing it. That’s excellent news, even if we spent decades getting here. In the sudden rush to address climate change—or at least look like we are—we have seen many companies, industry groups, and countries stake out leadership positions. Many of them have made so-called “net zero” climate pledges, complete with fancy logos and bold-sounding names. Making and fulfilling pledges is a crucial aspect of climate leadership, but it’s only a first step. As my Project Drawdown colleague, Jamie Alexander, points out in a recent Fast Company article: “Corporate emissions reductions pledges — however ambitious they may be for a particular company — completely miss the deeper issues that the climate crisis demands we grapple with, and only play at the edges of the revolutionary change we need.” She calls for companies to adopt more robust climate pledges and targets, as well as push for better climate policy, support stronger climate action in the community, and be transformative climate leaders. And she’s right. Building better pledges is the first step in transforming climate leadership As a cornerstone of climate leadership, the weakness of today’s pledges is particularly troubling. Without clear, robust, and scientifically-sound goals, it is impossible to raise climate action to the level Earth needs. Today it seems “net zero” pledges are all the rage. And in the lead-up to the next big climate conference—the “COP26” meeting in Glasgow—we will see even more politicians, CEOs, and celebrities make net-zero pledges. Unfortunately, net-zero commitments—which once seemed like a good idea—have become so distorted and abused they are now largely meaningless. Sadly, the net-zero concept has been misused by bad or indifferent actors, allowing them to make bold-sounding climate pledges without really reducing emissions at all. Misusing “net zero” Before it was co-opted, the term “net zero” was used by climate scientists to describe scenarios when the entire atmosphere was, on balance, no longer building up greenhouse gases. Not a company or a country. The whole planet. These scenarios describe a time in the future when the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced (by 90% or more), and carbon removal projects are only used for a few remaining emissions. They did not say we should avoid cutting emissions and rely on fictional levels of carbon removal instead. But that’s exactly what many companies are trying to do. A lot of companies have made dubious climate commitments using accounting tricks—usually relying on problematic “carbon offsets” to make the books look better than they are. And what’s worse: Of the Fortune 500 companies that have made public net-zero commitments, only ~20% have robust frameworks, and very few are reporting their progress. Many carbon offsets are problematic Unfortunately, net-zero pledges have become so distorted they allow for any combination of emissions cuts and carbon offsets to reach their goal. In fact, one can claim net-zero emissions by only buying carbon offsets — without actually reducing emissions at all. This is a carbon shell game, not a real commitment to climate action. It’s quite telling that the oil and gas industry is heavily invested in the net-zero concept. They don’t plan to actually reduce the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, of course. Instead, most are buying dubious carbon offsets to cover their operational emissions (but not the emissions from burning the oil and gas they sell) while claiming to be “net zero” climate leaders. It’s complete bullshit, of course, but it makes for good PR. It looks like action, without really acting. And that’s precisely why they’re doing it. Carbon offsets come in two flavors—either (1) paying others to reduce their emissions, who in turn give you imaginary “carbon credits” in exchange, or (2) banking on risky or non-existent carbon removal schemes to effectively “undo” your emissions sometime in the future. The first kind of carbon offsets, where you pay someone else to reduce emissions, is a zero-sum game. In the short run, it can help pump cash into projects that may reduce emissions somewhere—assuming the offsets are genuine. But because the entire world needs to bring emissions to zero, not just a few wealthy companies, we can’t simply pay “someone else” to do it forever. At the end of the day, there’s no one left to pay. The second kind of carbon offsets, which bank on trees, farms, oceans, and machines to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, makes a very risky bet. Yes, forests, soils, and coastal ecosystems can naturally absorb some carbon from the atmosphere, but only to a point. These carbon sinks are not infinite (and are probably smaller than many advocates claim), they take years to build, and they are only effective if we maintain them forever — never allowing them to be cleared, plowed, or burned down. And while carbon removal machines are getting a lot of attention, they are laughably small compared to the job at hand. Even a million-fold scale-up of carbon removal technology would only absorb a tiny percentage of our emissions. Most of all, we need to see that vague promises of future carbon removal are just sneaky ways of allowing emissions to continue unchecked today. It’s no surprise that the biggest proponents of carbon removal technology are oil and gas companies, who have no interest in addressing climate change. It’s just a predatory delay tactic, which their industry has mastered. Climate pledges that play games with net-zero math and rely on make-believe offsets may be good PR, as oil and gas companies have found, but they’re not addressing the real challenges we face. Serious climate commitments recognize that we need to bring emissions to zero, not “Net Zero”, as quickly as we can. We cannot achieve this with imaginary offsets, carbon trading schemes, or vague “pollute now and remove it later” promises. Most pledges ignore the pollution we’ve already emitted Another issue with most net-zero climate pledges is that they only look at future emissions and ignore the pollution they have already released. A robust climate pledge needs to address historical emissions too. After all, most of the greenhouse gases we have emitted are still in the atmosphere—contributing to the continued warming of the planet. We can’t just forgive and forget them. In fact, we must ultimately find ways to remove our share of that pollution. Think “historic zero” instead of “net zero”. If this sounds odd, it shouldn’t. After all, if a factory was dumping toxic sludge into a local lake, government agencies would order them to do two things—stop polluting the lake as quickly as possible and then clean up the pollution they already dumped there. Why is the atmosphere any different? Most pledges only have faraway goals with no accountability Another serious problem with many of today’s climate pledges is that they set very distant goals—like “Net Zero by 2050”—with no near-term accountability. Setting mid-century corporate goals, without any specific benchmarks in the meantime, is ridiculous. Many companies on Earth today won’t even exist in 2050. And it’s almost certain that their current CEOs and board members won’t be around. So, where’s the accountability? A better climate pledge would start with bold, long-term goals. But they would also have more immediate metrics. For example, cutting emissions to zero by 2050 may be an excellent long-term goal, but it should come with intermediate (e.g., cutting emissions in half by 2030) and short-term (e.g., cutting emissions by at least 7% every year) milestones. Moreover, every business should carefully audit and report their progress on climate goals along the way. The results should be reported as seriously as financial statements, with leaders taking real responsibility for them. A new “Emissions 360” climate pledge framework Moving forward, we need better, more transparent climate pledges. They are a necessary foundation for meaningful climate leadership. Here I outline a possible new framework—called the “Emissions 360” approach—that is built on five pillars. (1) Cut your own emissions towards zero, not “net zero,” as quickly as possible. Look hard at your own emissions, and find ways to reduce them as quickly as possible. Pay particular attention to cutting short-lived warming agents like methane and black carbon, which will help slow climate change even more than cutting carbon dioxide. Some of these cuts will be easy and fast. But some emissions are going to take a while to phase out. Keep at it. Steady progress is what matters here. Don’t even think about “offsets”, which can give the illusion of progress without truly reducing emissions. Commit to short-term and long-term goals. Be transparent. Report how you’ve cut emissions and where you’re still struggling each year. (2) Only use carbon removal as a last resort—for truly unavoidable emissions. One of the most significant abuses of net-zero frameworks allows companies to make vague promises of future carbon removal to avoid cutting emissions today. This kind of carbon shell game is designed to delay climate action and can no longer be tolerated. However, there may be a few areas where cutting greenhouse gas emissions will be exceptionally difficult or physically impractical. These truly unavoidable emissions cases might justify some limited carbon removal projects. Carbon neutral (or negative) ways to make jet fuel, cement, and steel come to mind. But that’s about it. Carbon removal should only be used to offset emissions as a last resort, decades from now, after every practical means of cutting them has been exhausted. Promises of future carbon removal can no longer be used as a dodge, avoiding the real work of cutting emissions today. In particular, carbon removal schemes should never be used to justify the continued use of fossil fuels, bad agricultural practices, or wasteful materials. (3) Pay the “Social Cost of Carbon” for your ongoing pollution. As your company works to cut emissions, donate significant sums of money (based on the “Social Cost of Carbon” for your ongoing pollution) to help advance the world’s broader climate efforts. Ideally, these funds would help others (especially disenfranchised and vulnerable communities) reduce their emissions, become more climate resilient, and address long-standing climate justice issues. But, once again, don’t count these donations as “offsets” to your own emissions. They’re not, and they never were. Just do it because it’s the right thing to do. Or count it as a business cost. Either way, I suspect you will be rewarded for a more transparent, honest, and forthright way of addressing your emissions—and for supporting others around the world to address climate change. (4) Don’t stop here: Address your historic emissions too. Strong climate pledges should also commit to removing as much of your historic climate pollution from the atmosphere as possible. In other words, try to reach “historic zero” emissions, reflecting the impact your company has had over time. This will help reduce future climate change and address the long-standing inequities in greenhouse gas emissions seen around the world. Lay out a plan to address these historic emissions with transparent, carefully-managed carbon removal projects. It may be impossible to sequester all of your historical emissions, of course—given the physical and technological limits of carbon removal—but we should do as much as we can. This is one place where well-managed carbon removal projects make sense. Using carbon removal to avoid reducing our ongoing emissions is a mistake, and perpetuates a false image of meaningful climate action. Instead, let’s use this technology (and its limited removal capacity) to address historical emissions, not future ones. (5) Carefully weigh issues of climate justice in everything you do. Climate change presents a lens through which we can see some of the worst injustices of human history. The rich and powerful have benefitted most from the rise of the fossil-fueled economy, while other, disenfranchised communities — especially people of color and those in poorer countries — paid the highest price. And today’s generations still enjoy the spoils of a fossil-powered, high-energy world and a stable planetary environment. But unless we change our ways quickly, future generations might not see either one. Addressing climate change requires more than restoring the balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is necessary, but not sufficient. Along the way, we must be careful that climate solutions do not introduce more even more inequities, injustices, and harm to people alive today—particularly the most vulnerable among us—or generations yet to come. This piece was originally published on Dr. Jonathan Foley's Medium page June 16, 2021. Foley is a climate and environmental scientist, writer, and speaker. He is also the executive director of Project Drawdown, the world’s leading resource for climate solutions.
Perspective | June 7, 2021
Opinion: Will corporations choose climate transformation or climate status quo?
Two years ago Mark Carney, then-head of the central bank of England, called into question the very existence of corporations that don’t adhere to the steep emissions reductions required to limit warming to 1.5°C: “Those that fail to adapt will cease to exist.” Since then, the continuing rise of emissions has led to mounting pressure on companies—from employees, regulatory bodies and activist investors like the recent success of investor activism at ExxonMobil. Carney’s prophecy may soon be coming to pass. Is it possible for corporations to be part of the transformational change required, or will they remain complicit in the status quo? You could be forgiven for thinking that business was already leading the way on climate. During the past four years of climate denial in the White House, attention shifted to corporations to carry the mantle of leadership. And since it was largely useless to engage with the Trump White House on climate policy, companies expressed their climate ambition through promises—signing pledges and making public commitments targeting a year in the future when they would finally stop pouring planet-warming gases into the atmosphere. These often followed a tired formula: “X company commits to achieving net-zero planet-warming emissions by y decades from now.” But our atmosphere hasn’t seen returns on these promises: of the one-fifth of the world’s largest companies that have set a net zero target, the vast majority are nowhere near actually meeting them and very few have set interim targets to keep them honest. And while these lofty proclamations are being made— to great fanfare at international climate conferences—these same corporations are delaying and opposing climate action through side doors. Companies are pursuing emissions reductions in their sustainability teams, but their investments, lobbying activities, governance practices, trade associations, financed emissions, products and relentless focus on growth completely eclipse any incremental reduction in emissions. Corporate emissions reductions pledges—however ambitious they may be for a particular company—completely miss the deeper issues that the climate crisis demands we grapple with, and only play at the edges of the revolutionary change we need. When the authors of the IPCC Report on 1.5°C of Global Warming called for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes,” this ambiguous “doing less bad” approach cannot be what they had in mind. The rise of regulatory and investor pressure and employee activism, coupled with the climate ambition of the Biden-Harris administration provide a moment of truth for all those nice-sounding corporate climate commitments, and will give us an indication of which companies may survive the tumultuous decade ahead. The companies left standing in the era of climate change will share some key characteristics that we need to recognize. Yes, they’ll account for their emissions—those they cause directly, those caused by use of their products, and those that they finance, all with limited reliance on offsets (read: you won’t see the words “net zero” anywhere in their language). But while engaging in this longer-term work, they will take immediate action today by leveraging their clout and trade associations to advocate for bold climate policy and regulation at the federal and state level, pushing for faster action within and outside their business interests. Their investments will support public goods projects and the scaling of equitable climate solutions. Their boards will be climate competent and their executive compensation will be tied to environmental and social outcomes. Going forward, companies will survive in the era of climate change because they exist as intentional and engaged parts of the solution, serving a public good, and completely aligned with the parameters of a just climate future. They will exist as the culmination of thousands of individuals; employees, customers, and community members—working together with policymakers and society—to reimagine the huge swaths of our economy that are currently incompatible with the future we need. This moment in human history calls for nothing less than transformation. Using solutions we already have in hand, we need to fundamentally shift the ways we grow and produce our food, warm our homes, move about from place to place, construct and power buildings, and relate to nature, our communities, and one another. This kind of change, and the urgency with which we need to pursue it, requires a symbiotic relationship between government, business, advocacy groups, communities, and individuals as collaborative agents of change. We are on the cusp of a desperately needed moment of transformation in the United States. A moment that requires all parts of society to move together, completely aligned toward a shared goal: a just, thriving planet for all. Whether corporations will be dragged into this future through regulation, swallowed by the pressure, or use the full extent of their expansive resources to help bring it about has not yet been determined. But they’ll soon be forced to decide. Let’s see what they do. This opinion piece was originally published by Fast Company on May 8, 2021. Jamie Beck Alexander is the director of Drawdown Labs at Project Drawdown.