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Time To Build On The Momentum Of Climate Week

Last week, here in San Francisco, I had the privilege of participating in the Global Climate Action Summit. Corporate executives, elected officials, environmentalists, investors, activists and concerned citizens all traveled to the Bay Area to meet, to join marches, to listen to keynote speeches and to sit at round table discussions. By almost every measure, the climate-focused week was a success in raising awareness of this urgent global issue. Over the span of several days, major, concrete steps were announced to address our heating planet.

The actions by high-profile leaders such as California Governor Jerry Brown, Former Vice President Al Gore and Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg generated headlines that heightened awareness of both the environmental and the business cases to act on climate. In addition to big announcements, peaceful demonstrations punctuated the week with calls-to-action to reduce our carbon footprint, to include more indigenous leaders and to become better stewards of the planet.

As an impact investor and portfolio manager focused on climate solutions, I was honored to participate in the events. I am energized by the hope and momentum generated. I know that we as a nation need to continue pressing for concerted action in the U.S. and abroad, and that we as individuals can play an important role.

In the spirit of inspiring us all to action, below I share a few key takeaways I hope will motivate all of us -- climate solution advocates, government officials and concerned citizens -- to continue this important work.

Local Action Matters.

In the wake of the current administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the global Paris climate agreement, state and local governments have become authentic leaders in addressing climate change.

From installing bike lanes, to requiring solar panels for all new construction, to divesting pension plans from fossil fuels, local leaders are taking bold and necessary steps.

California Governor Jerry Brown kicked off the week by signing SB100 into law. Authored and sponsored by U.S. Senate candidate Kevin De Leon, with broad support from diverse communities, elected leaders and officials, the law will require California to generate 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045. The executive order signed by the Governor calls for zero emissions across all sectors of the California economy, including transport and agriculture, by the same year. This is good news, and will spur California's economy toward renewable technologies.

Potential presidential candidate, Mike Bloomberg, announced Friday that Seattle and Atlanta will be the first recipients of climate grants from Bloomberg Philanthropy. Each will receive a package of support and technical assistance worth $2.5 million per city to help meet or beat the cities’ near-term carbon reduction goals. The Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge is a $70 million program seeking to promote sustainability by accelerating the climate action efforts of 20 cities.

C40 Cities, a nonprofit assisting cities striving to meet the terms of the Paris climate agreement, also participated in Climate Week. The group invited mayors from around the world to implement the programs set forth in the accord. C40 Cities announced that 45 cities are already executing a variety of local initiatives to realize the commitments in the Paris agreement, with encouragement to go even further with local actions.

Women and Indigenous People Are Leading the Way for Climate Justice.

From the Market Street march on Saturday to the podium at the summit itself, to hosting small dinner roundtable discussions, women and indigenous people are leading both on the big stage as well as the grassroots movement for climate justice.

Long-time activists Dr. Jane Goodall, Annie Leonard, CEO of Greenpeace, Lynne Twist of Pachamama, and the youngest speaker and participant -- Janmie Margolin, Founder of Zero Hour - all took the stage to speak, organize, call for action, and encourage us to work together. Dana Lanza of Confluence Philanthropy and Patricia Farrar Rivas of Veris Wealth Partners hosted a convening of female impact investors as part of the summit.

This wave of feminist activism is taking a different shape in support of and in solidarity with indigenous peoples.

Activist and founder of the International Indigenous Youth Council, Jasilyn Charger, pointed out that indigenous peoples are among the communities most threatened by industrial pollution and climate change. The threats come from oil pipelines on sacred lands to forced relocation resulting from coastal flooding. Indigenous peoples are the most vulnerable to becoming climate refugees.

These dynamic, young, female leaders see that many of our world’s largest issues are interconnected. They are clear we need systemic change to tackle our problems strategically and effectively. “You can’t just slap a solar panel on this issue and expect it to go away. You need to look at the systems of oppression, like colonialism, that caused this crisis,” said climate activist Sarra Tekola, Co-Founder Women of Color Speak Out.

Where We Invest Matters

Evident throughout the week is that the media is not doing enough to make the connection between the fossil fuel industry and climate change. By reporting on single fires or floods individually, rather than speaking about the on-going wave of natural disasters and their causes, the fossil fuel industry remains hidden in the background.

Another significant obstacle to achieving the Paris agreement goals is the reluctance of institutional investors, pension funds, and large foundations and endowments to change their investment practices. Thus far, these large investors have been slow to move in divesting from coal and fossil fuel producing companies and from the large banks that fund oil extraction and pipeline projects. May this post serve as a call to action to divest from fossil fuel production and to reinvest in solutions-focused companies creating clean and renewable energy options.

This is where we as consumers and investors can make a big difference. By connecting the dots between the companies in which we invest and the world in which we want to live, we can move the dial significantly. We as consumers and investors can speak out about how our individual purchasing and investing decisions can contribute to our warming planet, or can move us toward a just and sustainable economy. We must also call on both the media and corporations to provide transparency and to show the linkages.

While we encourage the big players to align their endowments with a sustainable future, we as individual investors can make significant progress toward reversing climate change by aligning our own investments. From our savings accounts, to our 401K retirement funds, we can align our money with our goals for a sustainable planet. By choosing local banks that make loans to small businesses within our communities rather than the large institutions that fund fossil fuel industry, we can make an enormous collective difference.

Within our investment accounts, we can move away from broad indexes which include companies based on the size or location. Instead, we can each direct our capital to concentrated portfolios of solutions-focused companies. By choosing innovative companies working on climate solutions, investors can expect significant growth as we transition to the next, just and sustainable economy.

Channeling our banking and investment dollars into clean energy technologies is as essential as making charitable donations to non-profit organizations taking on big issues, such as deforestation, the palm oil industry, or fossil fuel polluters. In the process of aligning our investment practices with our goals, we can also de-risk our portfolios while proactively choosing investments addressing the climate crisis.

* * *

The Global Climate Action Summit was a significant step in the right direction. As the popular song lyrics “Two Minutes to Midnight” illustrates, we need to continue taking bigger and bolder steps. If the devastating hurricanes and fires this past year tell us anything, it is that we must move quickly, decisively and together to leave behind a hospitable planet to future generations. May we also encourage the traditional leaders to step back and allow the young women and people of color, those often most affected by climate disasters, to lead us in solutions to a brighter future.

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