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More Dollars, More Sense: How Investing in Our Planet Really Adds Up
April 20, 2022
This year, Earth Day arrives in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report, Mitigation to Climate Change. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it chronicles a “litany of lies” that have put our planet on a “fast track to disaster.” Repeated IPCC warnings about the impacts could not be clearer: Some damage will be irreversible. Coral reefs bleached. Glaciers melted. A million species, extinct.
Yet the report also highlights real grounds for optimism. We know what to do: Stop burning fossil fuels; regenerate nature; and invest to deploy already feasible mitigation and adaptation options and technologies at scale. The report additionally highlights the synergies between climate action and sustainable development, concluding that integrating equity and a just transition will accelerate action and amplify benefits.
Accounting for Returns on Investment
How do we get there? Among the gaps the IPCC repeatedly calls out is the dearth of policies setting clear long-term investment signals. To build support for such policies, decision-makers must be able to persuade taxpayers and investors that investing in climate action truly adds up. At Abt Associates, our data analysis and tools are already clarifying and quantifying the returns on offer across a range of mitigation and adaptation sectors and technologies.
For example: Abt estimates that, in the northeastern U.S., the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is delivering $5.7 billion in health budget savings and helping workers to avoid thousands of sick days caused by respiratory illnesses. Our Co-Benefits Risk Assessment (COBRA) tool developed for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is helping decision makers across the continental U.S. estimate air quality changes—and then monetize the health benefits. And for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Abt has deployed a flexible cost-benefit analysis tool in six countries to evaluate mitigation and adaptation options in diverse contexts; in Mozambique, the tool showed decision makers that a nature-based solution—namely, restoring mangroves to protect coastlines —provided greater economic value than building an earthen or concrete dike. By putting quantified information and flexible tools into the hands of public officials and businesses, Abt is helping them to build the case for ramping up investment in climate solutions.
Forging partnerships for climate investments
Knowing what to do doesn’t mean we’re doing it, and this IPCC report is just the latest to detail world-wide investment shortfalls, particularly in developing countries. Abt is working to mobilize new investments by convening national and transnational partnerships of public, private, and civil society actors whose collective resources and buy-in add up to more than the sum of their parts.
For USAID, Abt assembled coalitions of public and private actors to strengthen clean power systems within and across borders in the fast-developing Mekong Delta region. We’ve mobilized more than $7 billion for 10,000 MW of clean power generation that will avoid the release of 93 million tons of CO2 equivalent Today, our evolving collaboration with USAID, Bechtel, Orange, RESOLVE, and World Vision aims to channel investment and resources to electrify 10,000 rural health clinics in sub-Saharan Africa, bringing off-grid, clean energy to electricity-poor communities. Reliable electricity for lighting, diagnostic equipment, internet connection, and cold storage for vaccines will transform health outcomes and unlock economic empowerment for entire localities.
Centering Equity in Climate Action
The paradox of climate change is that poor countries and communities that have contributed least to the causes, i.e., carbon emissions, are on the frontline of climate change impacts. These countries and communities struggle to achieve basic living standards, let alone to build resilience and adapt to the hazards increasingly in play. The IPCC’s messages about broadening access to domestic and international finance, technologies, and capacity - and its call for a just transition-- are both emphatic and urgent. Equity is the cornerstone of Abt’s mission—and we are working across our entire portfolio to ensure communities everywhere thrive and prosper.
For example, we are supporting efforts to climate-proof housing for communities in Tuvalu, a small island developing country. In Egypt, we partner with agribusinesses to pilot business models that improve their supply chain resilience by connecting farmers and their value chain with climate-smart inputs and technologies, and more accessible finance. In Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Vietnam we are helping underserved female-owned small and medium businesses, including organic farmers, to attract investors and access new export markets for their sustainably produced agriculture . Integrating climate action across our focal areas including health, governance, agriculture, and monitoring and evaluation helps us to unlock co-benefits while protecting development gains against future climate-induced loss and damage.
As of this writing, three weeks have already passed since the IPCC mitigation report announced we have about three years remaining to turn this ship around. It is a shockingly short window in which to seize the world’s attention and commitment. Compounding this challenge is the fact that this “window of opportunity” is itself an overestimation, emblematic of inequities in play. Just ask any of the world’s poorest billion, whose vulnerability and exposure to climate hazards are ever-present, existential threats. For them, the future we downplay has already arrived.
Abt Associates’ integrated, solutionist approaches create and leverage opportunities around the world to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, their communities, and the environments in which they live, work, and play. Connect with us, get to know our staff, work with us to mobilize partners and investment so we can provide scaled-up climate solutions for all.