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.
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 changemakers 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 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 are generally racist, classist, and often 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.
June 17, 2021
Opinion: 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.
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 1.5C: “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 1.5C 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.
May 8, 2021
Opinion: Linking reproductive rights and climate solutions is the only way forward
The time is ripe to include women’s reproductive rights as part of our climate solutions toolbox. This Mother’s Day, I’m asking myself tough questions about what it means to be a mom, a woman and a climate advocate in this critical cultural moment. After 20 years of working at the intersection of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and environmental conservation, I find there is still a strong hesitancy among some SRHR and climate advocates to link reproductive rights and climate. With the 26th Climate Conference of the Parties (COP) slated for this November—just as the pandemic has brought our world’s climate and health crises into sharp relief—the time is ripe to include women’s reproductive rights as part of our climate solutions toolbox. Doing more, together, is the best path to a more healthy, equitable climate future for women and girls around the world, particularly the most vulnerable among us. This hesitancy to link reproductive rights and climate dates back a few decades, and relates to a taboo around “population.” Beginning in the 1950s, the United Nations started hosting once-per-decade world population conferences, with a goal of encouraging countries to implement population programs to address rapid population growth that would inhibit economic development. The programs designed to address the “population problem” focused on promoting family planning, with women targeted to use contraception. A few countries, notably China and India, resorted to coercive policies that forced contraceptive use. In 1994, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, advocates understandably promoted a shift away from family planning as the sole solution to concerns about population. Advocates also embraced reproductive health as much more than just family planning, to include sexual rights, sexually transmitted infections like HIV, safe motherhood and safe abortion (Newman et al 2014). The era of sexual and reproductive health and rights was born, and to this day, some SRHR advocates believe that any linkages with population or other sectors such as environmental conservation or climate change detract—and distract—from the message of SRHR for all and are tantamount to blaming women in the developing world for climate change. This mentality was on display at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of ICPD, held in Nairobi in 2019, where a fellow advocate who works at the intersection of SRHR and climate told me that she was shocked by the scant attention given to SRHR, population and climate change. I share the feeling of dismay that our professional community can’t seem to blend these vital, complex and interconnected parts of an equitable and sustainable life on Earth. My passion for working at the nexus of reproductive health and climate solutions springs from my service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger after college. I lived alongside Nigeriens for two years in a rural village, Sabon Gida, 500 kilometers east of the capital. I learned Hausa, lived in a mud-brick hut, and became close friends with many of the 800 Hausa and Fulani residents. I focused on agroforestry, and we certainly planted a lot of trees. But my friends and village leaders wanted to do more than restore their natural resources. They were concerned about keeping their children healthy (25 percent of children in Niger died before the age of five in the mid-’90s) and wanted to rehabilitate the main village well which served as the primary local water source for people and livestock. As I worked to respond to their diverse needs and connect them with local resources and extension agents, the seeds were sown for me to become a life-long advocate of holistic approaches to community-led development. In the mid-1990s, we didn’t talk about climate change—but after facing years of desertification along the edge of the Sahara Desert, my friends recognized that they needed to address multiple health and environmental challenges in order to become more resilient to frequent shocks and stresses that are common in Niger, including droughts, locusts, and disease outbreaks like meningitis. Planting trees and restoring depleted soil went hand-in-hand with improving health and access to clean water. Most of my closest female friends were about 10 years older than me. I was single and childless at age 22, while they had gotten married at age 16 or 17 and had their first child soon after—girls in Niger marry earlier and give birth to their first child at a younger age than anywhere else in the world. As Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate-justice activist wrote recently, “Girls who have been to school grow up to be empowered women. They are not forced into early marriage, and they tend to have healthier, smaller families, reducing emissions well into the future.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single school in Sabon Gida. My friends were strong, smart women, yet all but my friend Mantou lost multiple children to ailments that were preventable or treatable in other countries with more resources than Niger. My friends and other women in Sabon Gida were eager to learn more about what they called maganin hutu in Hausa—“rest medicine.” Ten years later, when I gave birth to my first child, I finally grasped the absolute perfection of the translation of contraception into Hausa. In present-day Niger, demand for and uptake of contraception still faces many cultural hurdles, but during my time in Sabon Gida, many husbands were supportive of their wives using contraception because they could see the benefits of spacing births for both their wives and their children. Accessing contraception during my years in Niger was hard. Women had to walk on sandy paths (usually carrying their youngest child on their back) nearly four hours roundtrip to the nearest health clinic, which sometimes was out of stock. The consequences of failing to resupply contraception were stark: maternal and child health tragedies were a weekly occurrence in Sabon Gida. An acquaintance on the other side of the village, Salama, died during childbirth. Another woman experienced an obstetric fistula; her baby died, because she was taken to the nearest hospital—65 kilometers away—too late, by donkey cart, after 48 hours in labor. And I still think of Amadou regularly, the son of my two closest friends, Haoua and Gado, who asked me to name him. Amadou died of whooping cough soon after his first birthday because he had missed a round of vaccinations, which required the same punishing walk to the health clinic. My experience of motherhood—though I’m a white woman living in the U.S.—has been deeply influenced by my time in Niger. I carry my friends’ stories and those of other women in Sabon Gida with me still, as if it was yesterday; their influence on my life’s work cannot be understated. It’s time for the world to recognize that reproductive health is a key component of climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience. In addition to reproductive and primary health care challenges, climate change is now a main character in the lives of every person in Niger. Climate impacts worsen each year, and with the world’s highest fertility rate, Niger’s population has more than doubled from 10 to 23 million in the past 25 years. More than perhaps any other place in the world, Sahelian countries like Niger exhibit the intertwined challenges of SRHR, rapid population growth and climate change. Evidence shows that boosting women’s rights to decide whether and when to have children enhances equity, slows population growth at a global scale, and contributes to climate mitigation. I like to think that bridging sectors and bringing more advocates to the table to support universal reproductive rights and climate action will help save lives. The publication of Project Drawdown’s seminal book in 2017 raised awareness for the first time among thousands of climate advocates of the importance of enhancing equity through education and women’s reproductive health, and the cascading benefits such investments have as climate solutions. As the inaugural director of Drawdown Lift, I’m eager to collaboratively identify, promote and advance interdisciplinary solutions-based approaches that alleviate extreme poverty and address climate change. The evidence calling for advocates and other stakeholders to let go of the population taboo is growing. Connecting human health, population and climate change is essential—we need advocates who deeply understand that our lives are entwined with nature, and defending both is the way forward. Ensuring that people in places like Niger and across the Sahel have full access to (and knowledge about) reproductive health services and programs that boost their resilience to climate change—as well as quality education—should be non-negotiable. This opinion piece was originally published by Ms. Magazine on May 8, 2021. Hear more on the link between reproductive justice and environmental justice on the recent episode of “On the Issues With Michele Goodwin”: Climate Change Is Real. Now What? (with Osprey Orielle Lake and Nourbese Flint).
April 14, 2021
Netflix, General Mills, LinkedIn, Aspiration, and R&DE Stanford Dining partner with Project Drawdown to scale global climate solutions
(April 14, 2021) — Climate solutions have powerful new private-sector champions. After launching Drawdown Labs last October, Project Drawdown—the world’s leading resource for climate solutions—is announcing five new partners to round out its pioneering group of private sector climate leaders.
March 16, 2021
Climate Solutions 101, presented by Project Drawdown—free online!
Your climate solutions journey begins now. Climate Solutions 101 is the world’s first major educational effort focused solely on solutions. Global challenges require hearts, minds, and hands to dig-in on meaningful change. Project Drawdown is committed to sharing—at no cost—the science and inspiration behind the safest, fastest, and most equitable climate solutions available today. Filled with the latest need-to-know science and fascinating insights from global leaders in climate policy, research, investment, and beyond, this video series is a brain-shift toward a brighter climate reality. Rather than rehashing well-known climate challenges, Climate Solutions 101 centers world-changing climate action based on its own rigorous scientific review and assessment. This course, presented in a six-part video series along with in-depth conversations, combines Project Drawdown’s trusted resources with the expertise of inspiring thought leaders from around the world. Listen to weather expert Marshall Shepherd, paleoclimatologist Lisa Graumlich, food and agriculture scientist Navin Ramankutty, transportation specialist Ryan Allard, climatology scientist Marcos Costa, global change pioneer Jessica Hellmann, climate and environmental politics expert Leah Stokes, angel investor and energy advocate Ramez Naam, renowned venture capitalist Ibrahim AlHusseini, and air quality scientist Tracey Holloway detail their vision for the climate road ahead. Climate solutions become attainable with increased access to free, science-based educational resources, elevated public discourse, and tangible examples of real-world action. Explore this course free of cost, and embrace a sense of hope, action, and purpose for our climate future. Collaboration is core to Project Drawdown’s mission and ambitious, publicly-available resources. Climate Solutions 101 Presented by Project Drawdown is generously supported by Trane Technologies, Chris Kohlhardt, and Intuit. For press inquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 15, 2021
Drawdown Labs interview: Erin Meezan on the need for bold corporate climate action
The flooring industry isn’t a typical bastion of bold climate action. And Erin Meezan, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer of Interface—the world’s largest carpet tile manufacturer—knows it. “It’s not Tesla,” she says. “It’s maybe not the most exciting place to save the world.” Because flooring companies aren’t usually expected to set the bar for innovation, Interface’s climate aspirations are especially compelling. Through its ambitious targets and innovative engagement strategies, Interface is setting a high climate action bar for the corporate world. Interface began its sustainability journey in 1994, far sooner than most corporations. And while many businesses publicize mediocre climate goals—like reducing “X” amount of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by “Y” date—Interface takes a new approach, moving beyond “doing less harm” to making measurable positive impacts on people and the planet. Interface’s restorative approach to climate change means eliminating its carbon footprint, but also promotes carbon removal and protection of natural carbon sinks as well as engaging employees, other businesses, and policymakers. Through its first major initiative, dubbed Mission Zero®, Interface dramatically cut impacts on the environment in its operations, raw materials, and products over a span of 25 years: globally, it cut 96% in GHG emissions, 92% of waste to landfills, and 89% of water usage per unit of production. The company charged beyond its goals faster than expected (meeting its Mission Zero targets in 2019, one year ahead of schedule), and in 2015, Interface leaders knew they were ready for the next steps in their sustainability journey. This is the moment, Meezan says, Interface chose to deliberately transform from a company looking to reduce its impact, into a place that works towards the type of future the world deserves. Their goals were framed around the Climate Take Back initiative, a plan to create a “climate fit for life” by reversing global warming, restoring the planet, and making a positive impact. Part of this plan mandates that the company has a negative carbon footprint. As a bare minimum standard, all of Interface’s products are carbon neutral. In 2020, the company went a step further with the release of a carbon negative carpet tile, a manifestation of their “climate fit for life” initiative in product form. This carpet, made from recycled content and bio-based materials, stores more carbon than it releases and proves businesses in every sector can push their goals beyond do no harm. “It's possible to offer [these types of] products worldwide...and still make money and still grow,” says Meezan. “If we can do it, our competitors can do it.” Interface understands the power of people and smart policy, and extends its climate activities to employees and other institutions. On the policy front, Interface is working to expand the Buy Clean program in California, so that government procurement of interior finishings takes into account global warming potential. Hand in hand with advocacy, Interface also works to ensure the proper tools and infrastructure are in place for a policy to be successful, like the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). This requires constant education and awareness building for state and local governments, customers, and other stakeholders. Sometimes, Meezan says, it’s as simple as getting others to “understand the link between making a carbon commitment and how they can live up to that.” It also means collaborating with other pioneering companies to advocate for change together. In 2018, Interface co-created the Materials Carbon Action Network (materialsCAN), a group of manufacturers pushing for the consideration of embodied carbon in building projects. Inside company walls, every employee is needed to implement Interface’s mission, and so company leaders use both learning and celebration to weave climate advocacy into employees’ day-to-day lives. There are many internal learning opportunities for staff, including Carbon 101 classes that cover the basic science of climate change and give employees tools for how to communicate the importance of climate action to customers. “It’s real, deep investment that's perpetual,” Meezan says, emphasizing the need to meet each employee where they are in terms of their climate literacy and providing a suite of ways to get involved. And in fact, as Interface continues to engage its staff across all departments, it finds that employee desire to push the company beyond its goals has grown. By approaching climate change with a holistic perspective, Interface sets a corporate example for what’s possible. It shares its knowledge with others through radical transparency—an obligatory part of leading a private sector transformation. Fundamental change lies at the heart of Interface’s mission, with an understanding that meaningful action requires an open, flexible approach to business. Meezan notes that in the century following the American Revolution, businesses were originally given the right to operate because they provided benefits to their communities, and if we are to fully address the climate crisis, we need to return to this narrative in a way that mirrors the broader natural system. “Saying we're here to make money and that's our primary [goal] is not good enough anymore,” Meezan says. “We need to serve a higher purpose.” This piece is the first in an ongoing series of interviews presented by Drawdown Labs. Sign up to the Project Drawdown newsletter for future updates.
March 15, 2021
We need four waves of climate action
Every climate solution works differently, unfolding at different speeds. We’ll need them all, traveling in four parallel waves, to stop climate change. Addressing climate change is going to be a race against time. Already we have delayed too long, and now we don’t have a moment to lose. According to the “Carbon Law”, designed to limit global warming to 2˚C, we need to cut emissions in half during this decade and reach “net zero” emissions by 2050. The bulk of the work will be emissions reductions, especially in the next ten years, followed by the build-out of carbon removal by the 2040s.