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We Don't Have Time

The Future We Want: How education and finance must change

What we homo sapiens decide to do over the next 10 years is more important to our existence and that of nature than what we have done in the previous 200,000 years. Will we embrace what research and science have been telling us for decades: that we are the cause of earth’s warming, and that there are sustainable ways to slow down and stop global warming?

This is a guest blog post by John Moorhead, a Drawdown Europe Research Association (DERA) board member, Climate & Sustainability advisory board member, president for Drawdown Switzerland and Climate Reality Leader.

By 2040, humans need to be taking out more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than putting in, and truly be living in harmony with nature. To achieve this massive transformation, at all levels of society from 2021, education and finance need to urgently change.

  • The world’s children need to be educated on what the sustainable solutions to global warming are and how to deploy them.
  • Out-of-school children need to be enrolled and sustainability programmes for the over 1 billion in-school children need to launch
  • In finance, the re-allocation of $ trillions from investments that do harm, pollute and warm our planet must be re-allocated to those that are sustainable and do not (or much less so)

EDUCATION:

Access to education and the role of schools

Access to education is an important climate solution in its own right as schooling many of the 250 million out-of-school children will result in a healthier, more sustainable population, with up to 1 billion less people by 2050 than projected. How the solutions to global warming are taught for over a billion schooled children is also important. Why?

John Moorhead

Leading by example and children’s influence on society

Our children influence our own behaviours and can hold us accountable for our lifestyles that caused the problem in the first place (in some cultures parents and teachers will need to play a more predominant role in holding ourselves to account). Although schools may not have very big climate footprints themselves they can choose to lead by example and achieve carbon net-zero or become carbon-free faster than others. Places of learning need to be exemplary in their embrace of research and science in how to stop global warming.

Schools as laboratories for change

Schools are laboratories to test climate solutions and can precipitate change in the wider community faster than other actors, such as governments. Serving a more plant-based diet at schools, encouraging biking, walking and taking public transport to school, saving energy and installing clean energy at schools impacts behaviours at home and how schools spend their money. These changes can happen very quickly indeed.

Climate change as an existential threat

Since climate change represents the biggest threat to our childrens’ lives and nature, schools need to teach how it will affect their lives and most importantly what the climate solutions are to prevent catastrophic climate change and the decimation of biodiversity.

The need to teach sustainable climate solutions

To change a school’s curriculum can take years, and we don’t have years. This is why online platforms such as the Carbon-free Campus, Climate Action Project, Eco-Schools and Drawdown Learn have been rapidly developed as extra-curricular, curricular and voluntary programmes. They can serve as precursors to changing curricula, be used in conjunction with evolving curricula and to effect change at school. They all act as catalysts for school communities to transform to a carbon-free, low carbon or carbon net-zero society. Climate and Sustainability is doing trail-blazing work in ”connecting the dots” between the different climate education initiatives.

These platforms need financing to scale up properly. They therefore represent an attractive investment opportunity to serve millions of students, teachers and their families using cost-effective online tools.

Illustration by Chris Jones and John Moorhead

FINANCE

Reallocation of investments to sustainable climate solutions.

Despite the rise of sustainable investing, ESG (Environmental Society Governance) ratings, carbon divestment, green bonds, impact investment, sustainable bonds (Swiss Sustainable Finance lists 14 low-carbon finance instruments) the Swiss financial centre is contributing to more than 2°C warming. I focus on Switzerland as it is closest-to-home and prides itself for being a leader in sustainability and environmental protection.

A recent study has shown that 93% of Swiss pension fund capital is incompatible with the Paris accord to limit global warming to well within 2°C. Furthermore, a Swiss government November 2020 study of Swiss financial institutions found that “Overall, the Swiss financial market still invests in the further expansion of oil production and coal mining…(and) 80 % of participants are still invested in coal mining companies today”.

Why capitalism alone can not solve climate change

So why this state of affairs in 2020 when financial centres such as Switzerland’s should have come far further in decarbonizing investment portfolios? Capital is the main protagonist in the tragedies of the horizon and commons: capital seeks to maximize profitability regardless of negative impacts on environment, nature and society in the shortest time horizon possible. These impacts (also called externalities) are not paid for (or insufficiently paid for) by the investor or by business but by society itself (e.g. impact on human health such as air pollution from combustion of fossil fuels). In other words, if governments don’t impose an adequate cost for externalities on companies, a small minority of interested humans benefit financially at society’s and nature’s expense.

The time horizon is key

Had the world started reductions in 2010 the reduction rate for greenhouse gas emissions would have been1.4–3.1%/year to keep global warming within 1.5–2°C. Perhaps sustainable financial tools as described in Swiss Sustainable Finance’s 2020 report could have done the trick in 2010. And, yes they will make an important contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade. However, now in 2021, this will not be enough. The required yearly reduction rate is now 7.6% to keep our planet within 1.5°C warming.

How to invest in the Future We Want

Progressively invest exclusively in what is compatible with a 1.5°C pathway: Exponential Roadmap to halve emissions by 2030. Project Drawdown’s 81 sustainable climate solutions. One Earth Climate Model for carbon neutrality by 2035–2040. The Solutions Project for energy and energy use and Fair Carbon for carbon credits/sequestration*:

  1. Investments need to be balanced between avoiding, reducing and sequestering greenhouse gases and are SDG positive.
  2. Investment needs to be balanced between investments that give short term results (e.g clean energy) and longer term results (e.g. forestry).
  3. At a macro investment level there need to be sufficient levels of investment in all sustainable climate solutions to achieve the desired impact on global warming

Investment portfolio allocation that keeps global warming to 1.5°C and is SDG Positive from Project Drawdown

© Project Drawdown

The Drawdown Fund and the Climate Endowment Group are good examples of investments that are grounded in research, compatible with 1.5°C global warming and follow the above principles. (Full disclosure: I was recently appointed as Chief Impact Officer at the Climate Endowment Group.)

To achieve the Future We Want, we need $ trillions invested and we need financial institutions to adopt 1.5°C investment strategies.

Written by JOHN MOORHEAD, president of Drawdown Switzerland
Edited by Marina Haydn

*At a national lever e.g. Switzerland: Climate Action Plan and/or Climate Master Plan Switzerland can be used

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