Financing the Fight Against Global Warming

“Green Team” members search for a consensus on climate change funding.

Fran Denmark - Pursuing Green

Fran Denmark - Pursuing Green

Members of the “Green Team” – those looking to improve the quality of the global environment – have been busy quarterbacking proposals from the COP15, the recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that included a visit from President Obama. The two-week summit held last December raised more questions than it answered, including a highly contentious one: who is going to pick up the tab to halt global warming?

Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of investors and environmental groups, left Copenhagen very disappointed. “We had to change our expectations radically,” she opines, as the conference ended without a consensus on climate change. Lubber leads an alliance of 80 institutional investors – among them New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, CalPERS and the UK-based Universities Superannuation Scheme – that represent a total of $7 trillion in assets.

“The expectation is $150 billion plus a year will go into clean tech around the world, but different numbers were flying around Copenhagen,” says Lubber, who launched Ceres in 2006. “Some say it will take $500 billion to ramp up clean technology.” Where will the money come from? One bright spot, she says, is George Soros’ idea for a $100 billion program to finance a clean energy economy. The famous hedge fund manager has already committed to throwing in $1 billion from his own pot – at the rate of $100 million a year – to get the ball rolling.

Another Green Team member, Graciela Chichilnisky, the intrepid Columbia University economics and statistics professor, was hard at work in Copenhagen pushing two proposals, one financial and one technical – a negative carbon proposal that, in essence, involves capturing carbon from the air.

Chichilnisky has been beating the drum on lowering carbon emissions since her work developing the carbon market for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. But getting a hearing in Denmark was difficult at best, reported the professor when I spoke with her on December 15 during the thick of the summit. “It’s chaotic. There was no order and no sense,” she told me.

Chichilnisky described COP15’s circus-like atmosphere where thousands of demonstrators rallied outside the giant meeting space, while inside the official delegations were almost as dysfunctional. “Nations have every incentive to do nothing,” she said. Still, she was able to speak with the Chinese head negotiator, Su Wei, whom she describes as “very respectful and interested” in her ideas and a group of the largest European pension funds that are eager to learn how to invest in clean energy.

I am planning to join investors and other Green-Teamers who will be keeping the dialog going at a follow-on meeting at UN headquarters on January 14. On deck are Lubber; Dr. Zhengrong Shi, founder, chairman and CEO of Suntech in China; Kevin Parker, global head of Deutsche Asset Management; Anne Stausboll, CEO of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System; and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. I’ll report back.

In her Pursuing Green blog, Frances Denmark, a financial journalist for 15 years, takes an in depth look at green investing. She provides additional coverage in her favorite subjects, including pensions, foundation and endowment investing, and women in alternative investments.