At N.Y.’s Climate Week opening, a welcome mat for investors

Source: David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2018

NEW YORK — The global climate action circuit arrived in New York yesterday, with corporate executives touting their green credentials and heads of state hoping to persuade investors to sink their dollars into renewable projects back home.

Coming in the wake of California’s own summit this month, the opening ceremony of Climate Week foreshadowed a sort of encore for the Wall Street crowd, with big business’s fidelity to the energy transition as motif.

“Government policy really doesn’t figure in the long-term strategy [of investors]. If nothing else, in the U.S., the cycles are too short,” Paul Coster, executive director at JPMorgan, said during a late-morning panel. “When you make an investment, you are looking out 20-plus years.”

With low wind and solar costs driving up adoption, he added, those types of power “are in the money in many parts of the world.”

“Although policy helps — and can sometimes hinder — I don’t think it’s going to matter that much over the next 10 to 15 years,” said Coster.

Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase and Helen Clarkson, chief executive of summit organizer the Climate Group, supplied counterpoints.

At some companies, sustainability and environment officers and other divisions were sometimes, counterproductively, at odds with one another, said Clarkson.

And in the transportation sector, said Chase, governments would need to manage a sweeping change in emphasis from private, gas-burning vehicles to shared, electrified uses — or even motorless modes, like biking and walking.

“Because government is in control of building that infrastructure and the rights of way, it’s definitely a public-private partnership,” she said.

The summit’s first day also featured one significant emissions announcement, with the Marshall Islands saying it would join nine other countries in pledging to decarbonize entirely.

“Today, we the Marshall Islands are formally launching a strategy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050,” said President Hilda Heine, who asked the Paris accord’s other signatories to come forward with their own strategy by 2020, in order to stay within the 1.5-degree Celsius global warming threshold.

She and other heads of state also made reference to a dispute between the accord’s wealthy, industrialized signatories and its other members, which say the former is not living up to its promises to fund the latter’s climate adaptation.

That matter is expected to be a main item in December, when the accord’s parties gather in Poland.

“We will need access to public and private financing immediately, especially for the adaptation components” of the Marshall Islands’ plan, said Heine.

“I therefore invite all those concerned with financing or investing in these types of projects to urgently assess how accessible your funding is to highly vulnerable countries,” she said, noting that her country faced “an existential threat from climate change.”

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse offered a balder appeal to investors, whom he asked to take part in a public-private partnership that would build up the country’s solar capacity.

“Far from being a charitable endeavor, it is rather a gesture that is part and parcel of the capitalist economy to which you all subscribe,” he said.

“I urge you to put your money where your mouth is.”