-Environment & Sustainability

Leveraging COVID-19 Recovery to Meet Global Climate and Conservation Goals (Q&A)

Interview - May 13, 2021

2020 may have been a year of momentous change, but our global environmental challenges haven’t gone anywhere. If anything, climate change, species loss, and environmental degradation demand more urgent action than ever.

We caught up with Resonance’s Director of Natural Resource Management, Charlotte Mack-Heller, to get her take on how the pandemic has affected progress toward United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how corporations and the Biden administration can reignite momentum.

Q&A With Charlotte Mack-Heller, Director, Natural Resource Management

What do you see as the biggest obstacles to achieving climate- and conservation-focused SDGs by 2030?

The first and most immediate challenge is the COVID-19 recovery. A lot of human, financial, and social capital is being diverted from conservation and climate goals to focus on COVID response and global economic recovery. We will be feeling the implications of the pandemic for some years to come, but the more those resources can be directed toward holistic sustainability programming that also builds resilience and protects important natural resources, the less behind we’ll be in achieving the SDGs.

The second barrier is the fear of failure. Donors and development partners on the front lines of making progress toward the SDGs often get stuck using traditional development approaches. With the stakes so high, they find it hard to take chances on new ideas that could fail. Yet these risks have the potential to make disruptive change. That’s one of the reasons why partnering with the private sector is so important. Taking risks is where the private sector thrives.

What strategies can teams and organizations use to help overcome these obstacles?

I genuinely believe in the power of partnerships—really leveraging the strengths of different players within systems to get to that state of disruptive change. I encourage organizations to think outside the box and push themselves to see what can be, even if it might not be easy to get there.

For example, yesterday, I heard about a partnership between the Cardano Foundation and Save the Children, where together they are actively exploring ways to use Cardano—an open source blockchain platform—and Cardano’s internal cryptocurrency ADAfor the benefit of humanitarian initiatives. That’s bold—and, if successful, it has the power to open new channels for financing impact. 

With respect to climate change and conservation, what major trends do you see in these early days of 2021?

I’ve been surprised at how many corporations are making commitments beyond climate change and focusing on biodiversity conservation. It is easier for companies to see a direct link between their operations and carbon emissions, but it is less intuitive to see how their business affects or intersects with biodiversity, conservation, and species protection.

I also see the conversation on climate change shifting with a new administration in place. There is a renewed sense of hope that we will see true investment in climate solutions at scale and that we may be able to shift our carbon trajectory to get ourselves on a better pathway. Municipal and state governments have been propelling us forward for the last four years and I think we’ll finally see true leadership at a national level moving forward. Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and the recent U.S. Earth Day Summit commitments are indicators of that. 

Your team focuses on developing and implementing sustainable, market-led solutions to environment-related issues in emerging markets. What insights have they gained over this past, very unusual year?

What is interesting is that despite such global devastation and despair, we have witnessed extraordinary resilience across our projects. For example, the fisheries supply chain in Ghana was barely impacted by COVID, showing that while key fisheries themselves may be on the brink of collapse, the supply chain is quite stable.And we’ve seen in places like the Philippines that where there was supply chain disruption, technology and innovation have enabled creative responses, such as using ecommerce to help fishers pivot to domestic markets.

I also have to say that donors and development partners didn’t miss a beat. It’s been pretty incredible to see how, despite the new challenges and travel restrictions, we’ve found a way to continue working toward our environmental goals. 

What do you see as the role of the private sector in solving today’s major environmental challenges?

The consumer market is changing and influencing the way the world does business. Consumers are demanding more from corporations in terms of social and environmental accountability.

Shifting consumer preferences are forcing companies to take more accountability over their entire value chains and not just their specific operations. And this is what is driving new corporate commitments around biodiversity and other environmental issues. The world is more interconnected than ever before. It is much more difficult to turn a blind eye to social and environmental injustices in global supply chains.

The more we see leading companies take a stance on environmental issues, the more pressure it puts on governments and other businesses to follow suit. A good example of this is in renewable energy. In many places the private sector is out ahead of the government in divesting from coal and scaling up renewable energy investments. Many businesses know the shift is inevitable, so they would rather be leading than complying at a later date. I’m seeing this all over the world, not just in the U.S. 

Climate change is moving front and center on the global agenda. What do you see as the major ingredients needed for effective solutions, globally and at a local level?

We need a multi-stakeholder approach that encourages climate action from all sides—public, private, civil society, research institutions, etc. Policy drivers need to encourage collective action; public funding needs to foster innovation in the private sector; decisions need to be driven by science; and civil society organizations need to use their reach to influence decision-making at all levels. 

I also think we’ll need a combination of natural climate solutions and technology. The more emissions reductions we can achieve through natural climate solutions—that is, conservation, restoration, and improved land management to boost carbon storage or limit emissions—the more we’ll be protecting other precious natural resources and endangered species. But, at the same time, technology is critical in achieving carbon reductions at scale—things like carbon capture and storage, battery storage, new circular economy technologies, among others. 

Lastly, we need to find a way to get the private sector to help finance climate change adaptation measures. The private sector has been intimately involved in mitigation in many aspects, but slow to support adaptation measures and investments that will protect communities. This is an area of need—as well as an area of opportunity for us to get creative in deploying cross-sector collaboration for climate impact.

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