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Breaking down silos: Seeking innovative financing solutions to big sustainability challenges

Listen: Breaking down silos: Seeking innovative financing solutions to big sustainability challenges

A key theme emerging from interviews for the ESG Insider podcast is that solutions to big sustainability challenges require collaboration across silos. Today in Part III of our 'Breaking down silos' miniseries, we’re talking to a major global philanthropic foundation about how it partners with stakeholders around the world to finance solutions to issues like climate change and food systems transformation. 

We sit down with Elizabeth Yee, Executive Vice President of Programs at the Rockefeller Foundation.

"Philanthropy can't do it alone,” Elizabeth says. “In order to achieve the changes that we want to see across the programmatic work we do — which is clean energy access and transition; which is understanding, pushing forward the field of climate and health; which is ensuring that food is both good for people and planet; and ensuring that we also build a more equitable and green financial system — the only way to achieve any of those systems transformations is to work in partnership with government, the private sector, philanthropies, other civil society actors to deliver on those outcomes.”

Listen to the first episode in our ‘Breaking down silos’ miniseries, about balancing the role of policy and the private sector in the energy transition.  

Listen to the second episode in our ‘Breaking down silos’ miniseries, where we hear how one of the world’s biggest software companies approaches collaboration.  

Listen to our interview with the Green Climate Fund.     

This piece was published by S&P Global Sustainable1, a part of S&P Global.  

Copyright ©2024 by S&P Global  

DISCLAIMER  

By accessing this Podcast, I acknowledge that S&P GLOBAL makes no warranty, guarantee, or representation as to the accuracy or sufficiency of the information featured in this Podcast. The information, opinions, and recommendations presented in this Podcast are for general information only and any reliance on the information provided in this Podcast is done at your own risk. This Podcast should not be considered professional advice. Unless specifically stated otherwise, S&P GLOBAL does not endorse, approve, recommend, or certify any information, product, process, service, or organization presented or mentioned in this Podcast, and information from this Podcast should not be referenced in any way to imply such approval or endorsement. The third party materials or content of any third party site referenced in this Podcast do not necessarily reflect the opinions, standards or policies of S&P GLOBAL. S&P GLOBAL assumes no responsibility or liability for the accuracy or completeness of the content contained in third party materials or on third party sites referenced in this Podcast or the compliance with applicable laws of such materials and/or links referenced herein. Moreover, S&P GLOBAL makes no warranty that this Podcast, or the server that makes it available, is free of viruses, worms, or other elements or codes that manifest contaminating or destructive properties.

Transcription by Kensho

Lindsey Hall: Hi. I'm Lindsey Hall, Head of Thought Leadership at S&P Global Sustainable1.

Esther Whieldon: And I'm Esther Whieldon, a senior writer on the Sustainable1 Thought Leadership team.

Lindsey Hall: Welcome to ESG Insider, an S&P Global podcast, where Esther and I take you inside the environmental, social and governance issues that are shaping the rapidly evolving sustainability landscape. 

I recently went to Davos, Switzerland during the World Economic Forum's annual meeting. For 1 week in January, this tiny, picturesque town in the Swiss Alps is taken over by leaders from business, government and civil society as they convened to discuss solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the world.

Well today, we're going to be covering an idea that struck me in my interviews all around Davos. The importance of working together across silos to address the world's big sustainability challenges. This is part of a special mini-series we're calling Breaking Down Silos. Each short episode will bring you a different perspective on how collaboration across silos happens in practice.

Today in Part 3 of this mini-series, we'll be hearing the perspective of Elizabeth Yee, who's the Executive Vice President of Programs at the Rockefeller Foundation. That's a philanthropic foundation that promotes the well-being of humanity by finding and scaling solutions that advance opportunity and reverse the climate crisis.

Esther Whieldon: This topic of breaking down silos is something we hear a lot of this podcast and in sustainability circles. At Climate Week NYC 2023, for example, we heard again and again about the need for the public sector, private sector and policymakers to work together. We heard about this at COP28 as well, the UN's Big Climate Change Conference in late 2023.

Business leaders from a variety of sectors stressed the importance of sharing supply chain data and sustainability best practices with peers. The finance community economists and climate scientists underscored why collaboration is key to finding a common language to deal with the climate crisis.

Lindsey Hall: And it kind of seems like a no-brainer in some ways, right? The idea that we should play nice with others, that everyone should work together. That's something a lot of us have been learning since grade school. But in practice, much harder to pull off. For evidence, just look at the World Economic Forum's annual Global Risk Report, which identifies the most severe risks facing the world.

This report is released right before Davos and really sets the tone for the week. The 2024 report found that over the next 2 years, the top risk is misinformation and disinformation followed by extreme weather events. Number three on that list is societal polarization. Now WEF wrote that divisive factors like political polarization and economic hardship are weakening trust and a sense of shared values, and the erosion of social cohesion is opening the door to new and evolving risk.

So the stakes are really high. And while this idea might seem kind of high level or theoretical, it's not just a topic for discussion at Davos. It also has real-world implications for many of the companies around the world that are trying to form a sustainability strategy. To do that effectively, it requires bringing together a lot of different stakeholders from many different backgrounds.

I'm talking executives, board members, commercial, finance, product teams, government affairs, legal, HR, you name it. And while we're not going to solve all the world's problems in a podcast episode. I'm hoping that in this series, we're going to hear some useful ideas about how some stakeholders are working across silos. Okay. Let's turn to today's interview.

Elizabeth Yee: My name is Liz Yee, and I'm the Executive Vice President of Programs at the Rockefeller Foundation, all of which to say is I have the honor and privilege of overseeing our programmatic strategy and working with all of our program teams to help ensure that we deliver and optimize our impact in working with communities to understand what that is and making sure that we support them as best as we can.

The foundation was created 110 years ago, if you can believe it, and our founder, John D. Rockefeller endowed us with a mission to ensure the well-being of humanity. And so all of our work for 110 years has been focused on ensuring that we do exactly that for people who are counting on us. And the work that we do in this new era is very specific to climate.

And we just released our very first ever climate strategy that is holistic for the entire foundation. So our work will be programmatically focused on climate, our endowment and our operations have both made net zero targets as well so that we are walking the talk. And talking and walking at the same time and really helping to transform the field.

Lindsey Hall: Okay. Great. So we're having this conversation in this really unique setting. We can see the snow-covered beautiful trees on the mountain side outside here at Davos. Can you tell me what it is that brings you and Rockefeller Foundation to this World Economic Forum gathering?

Elizabeth Yee: So our work has always been focused on people. And we believe that this climate crisis also, if done correctly, could present a transformative opportunity for people. People who are already feeling this acute challenge through increased heat experiences, flooding, all kinds of challenges. So we already are seeing what the impacts of a warming world can be.

And so our job at the foundation is twofold. One is to ensure people have access to opportunity, and we see that, in particular, by focusing on climate vulnerable communities. But at the same time, also recognizing that we still have more work to do to ensure that we reduce and limit the impact of climate on these communities.

And so we have the recognition that philanthropy can't do it alone and that we need to work, in particular, in partnership with the private sector to understand what their priorities are, understand how we can link in and support the transitions and ensure that they are a just transition with people at the center of it.

And that in order to achieve the changes that we want to see across the programmatic work we do, which is clean energy access and transition, which is understanding, pushing forward the field of climate and health, which is ensuring that food is both good for people and planet and ensuring that we also build a more equitable and green financial system. The only way to achieve any of those systems transformation is to work in partnership with government, the private sector, philanthropies, other civil society actors to deliver on those outcomes. And so that's why we're here.

Lindsey Hall: That point, Elizabeth just made. It's kind of the point behind this mini-series about breaking down silos. You can't do it alone. So I asked her for some concrete examples of what the foundation is doing.

Elizabeth Yee: So the COP in Glasgow, one of the things that we launched there was something called the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet. It's a $1.5 billion initiative in partnership with the IKEA Foundation and the Bezos Earth Fund where we collectively said energy access and transition is a key lever for economic opportunity for people and also presents a huge opportunity to really reduce potential climate emissions.

And so that is one example of how we work together. So yes, the philanthropy is committed, the $1.5 billion. But alongside of that, we had nearly $10 billion of support from development finance institutions. We have numerous civil society organizations working in partnership to help deliver on this vision from IRENA, the IEA and also more local entities as well.

We're also working with the private sector and have a number of government leaders on our Global Leadership Council, who are all championing the cause and helping ensure that we continue to push forward this idea of access and transition. 

One of the statistics that drives us so much is that 70% of global emissions could come from places that are unelectrified. Still hundreds of millions of people don't have access to electricity, and they're going to get it no matter what. And so our job is to ensure that we support them to achieve that in the cleanest, most renewable way possible. 

And so that is GEAPP's aim to really ensure that we bring along the private sector and demonstrate to them where that opportunity for bankability and development is for these communities that don't otherwise have access to power to bring on the philanthropic dollars that already exist and use them to catalyze better policy, better implementation of energy around the world.

Lindsey Hall: A quick note on a few things we just heard Elizabeth mention. She talked about the COP in Glasgow, which is the UN's annual climate change conference of the parties that in 2021 took place in Scotland, known as COP26. You also heard her mention GEAPP, that's the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, which consists of philanthropies, government, finance, technology and implementation partners.

She talked about a couple of those philanthropic organizations like the IKEA Foundation and Bezos Earth Fund. That latter was established to fight climate change and protect nature with a $10 billion grant committed to be dispersed by 2030. IRENA, that's the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental agency that facilitates cooperation and supports countries in their energy transition.

And finally, she mentioned the IEA, that's the International Energy Agency, which works with governments and industry to shape a secure sustainable energy future for all. Okay, back to the interview. I asked Elizabeth about the conversation she was having at Davos.

Elizabeth Yee: This week so far, we've had a number of different conversations. In fact, I just came from one on food systems, which is one that we care very much about at the foundation because it's in our history, but also because we see the challenges that diet is presenting. And the need to both acknowledge that the agricultural system generates 30% of emissions, while yet we have hundreds of millions of people starving is a hypocrisy that we need to solve immediately.

And so one of the ways that we feel we can help support that is through looking at regenerative agriculture and working with other corporate actors who are already engaged in the space, working with civil society organizations, working with financial institutions like the Green Climate Fund to understand how we can drive that agenda forward, using our convening power using our capital in ways to continue to catalyze and keep together those coalitions.

Lindsey Hall: Quick aside, I interviewed the Green Climate Fund's Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, Hong Patterson, right before COP28, which took place in the United Arab Emirates or UAE in December 2023. Hong describes it as the largest climate-focused fund globally and the main mechanism for the Paris agreement. We'll include a link to that episode in our show notes. Okay, back to Elizabeth, talking about the opportunity to transform food systems, when she says CapEx, that's referring to capital expenditure.

Elizabeth Yee: The thing that I think is really interesting here is that if we actually do this right, it's about a $200 billion to $300 billion problem that could be addressed, which is it's a lot of money and yet it's not. Because if you look at that relative to the CapEx that's required on energy systems, which requires infrastructure, you can achieve a lot through food systems transformation change and feed people at the same time and provide farmers with good livelihoods and opportunity as well.

And so that, to me, feels like a place that we could lean in. One of the positive lights I've seen is that at the UAE COP that just happened, we had our first ever health day and a very significant agenda on food, where almost 160 different countries signed on to a food declaration that really helped support this need for better food systems overall. And so I think we're very excited about it, and we see it as a key driver to human progress and climate transition. 

The other thing that I am really excited about was the session I attended this morning that was sponsored by the WEF. It's one of their big initiatives called the Giving to Amplify Earth Action or GAEA, and it is a coalition of philanthropies, of private sector actors, of government leaders who are all coalescing around a couple of key themes where if we work together in a concerted way, we can really drive collective action against these critical systems transformation.

And so this morning, one of the things that we talked about was the energy transition and looking at a variety of different tools that people can use to be able to achieve that, whether that be philanthropic in funding, the policy and advocacy actors who are working so hard to help ensure that we transition from fossil fuels. Or whether one of the things that we've been focused on as an institution because of our deep history in impact investing and innovative finance is understanding what are the role that some of these innovative financing instruments can play. And so this morning's discussion, one of the things we talked about was the voluntary carbon markets.

They've certainly taken their share of heat. Lately, but at the same time that that's happening, I think that's also an important role for philanthropy to play because we are the risk of capital that can take that on. And so one of the things that we are doing in partnership with Secretary Kerry, the Bezos Earth Fund and us, is thinking about how do we develop the energy transition accelerator, which is about transitioning from fossil fuels and creating a jurisdictional credit and methodology so that we can find locations where we can accelerate the transition of a fossil fuel planet.

Similarly, we've done something and we're partnering with ACEN in the Philippines and the Monetary Authority of Singapore to explore how we can do that in a single project jurisdiction in South Luzon. We've also been supporting the creation of the African carbon markets initiative, which is much more of a coalition and network-based approach to be able to say, how can you create equitable an opportunity for carbon markets in Africa because there is so much potential there.

And then we've also invested in new and innovative solutions as well as a principal investor. And so those are some of the ways that we are using our balance sheet and our ability to take risk, but also working in deep partnership with other actors, corporates and governments to try to help drive systemic change.

Lindsey Hall: So Esther, I think the sheer number of names and organizations she just listed is a testament to just how much work is happening across silos. She mentioned Secretary Kerry, that's John Kerry, who is the first U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. She also mentioned work the foundation is doing with ACEN. That's an energy company in Southeast Asia and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, that's Singapore Central Bank.

And back during the UN COP28 Climate Conference in December 2023, the Rockefeller Foundation, ACEN and the Monetary Authority of Singapore announced a partnership to explore phasing out a coal plant in Luzon in the Philippines.

Esther Whieldon: Obviously, we've only just scratched the surface when it comes to the topic of breaking down silos between stakeholders. And we've only so far been talking about how stakeholders work together toward a common goal. It becomes much more complicated when you start thinking about how to bring together stakeholders that have opposing views on big sustainability topics.

We'll be continuing to cover this topic in future episodes of the podcast. And it's one thing I'll be talking about while I'm on the ground this week at the GreenBiz conference. I'm in Phoenix conducting interviews for the podcast, so please stay tuned.

Lindsey Hall: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of ESG Insider. If you like what you heard today, please subscribe, share and leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts.

Esther Whieldon: And a special thanks to our agency partner, The 199. See you next time.

Copyright ©2024 by S&P Global   

This piece was published by S&P Global Sustainable1, a part of S&P Global.      

DISCLAIMER   

By accessing this Podcast, I acknowledge that S&P GLOBAL makes no warranty, guarantee, or representation as to the accuracy or sufficiency of the information featured in this Podcast. The information, opinions, and recommendations presented in this Podcast are for general information only and any reliance on the information provided in this Podcast is done at your own risk. This Podcast should not be considered professional advice. Unless specifically stated otherwise, S&P GLOBAL does not endorse, approve, recommend, or certify any information, product, process, service, or organization presented or mentioned in this Podcast, and information from this Podcast should not be referenced in any way to imply such approval or endorsement. The third party materials or content of any third party site referenced in this Podcast do not necessarily reflect the opinions, standards or policies of S&P GLOBAL. S&P GLOBAL assumes no responsibility or liability for the accuracy or completeness of the content contained in third party materials or on third party sites referenced in this Podcast or the compliance with applicable laws of such materials and/or links referenced herein. Moreover, S&P GLOBAL makes no warranty that this Podcast, or the server that makes it available, is free of viruses, worms, or other elements or codes that manifest contaminating or destructive properties.   

S&P GLOBAL EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS ANY AND ALL LIABILITY OR RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL OR OTHER DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF ANY INDIVIDUAL'S USE OF, REFERENCE TO, RELIANCE ON, OR INABILITY TO USE, THIS PODCAST OR THE INFORMATION PRESENTED IN THIS PODCAST.