What lies in store for energy and climate policy in the U.S. and other nations in 2021? With a new administration in Washington committed to addressing climate change forcefully and new commitments to reducing emissions by other governments around the world, the potential for making headway on this existential threat seems possible, though significant challenges remain.
In this first edition of Columbia Energy Exchange in 2021, host Bill Loveless is joined by Rachel Kyte, the dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University. With her distinguished career at the World Bank and the United Nations and now in academia, she’s an ideal guest to help think about what the new year will mean for energy and climate policy not only in the U.S. but also globally.
A 2002 graduate of Fletcher’s Global Master of Arts Program, Dean Kyte returned to the school outside Boston in 2012 as a professor of practice and was named the 14th dean of the Fletcher School in 2019. She’s the first woman to lead the nation’s oldest graduate-only school of international affairs.
Prior to joining Fletcher, Dean Kyte was a special representative of the UN secretary general and chief executive officer of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Before that, she was a vice president and special envoy for climate change at the World Bank.
A native of England, she earned her undergraduate degree in history and politics from the University of London.
In their conversation, Dean Kyte and Bill talk about the increasing risks posed by climate change as we begin 2021 and the challenges facing world leaders, including President-elect Joe Biden, in setting agendas and building public support for emissions reductions. Diplomacy, of course, will matter significantly as the U.S. rejoins the Paris climate agreement, and Dean Kyte offers her insight on how relations among the U.S. and other nations might play out.
They also talk about the state of climate activism today, especially as it pertains to young people, as well as environmental justice and the role of women in energy.
Bill Loveless: Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Bill Loveless. And on behalf of Jason Bordoff, and everyone at the center, I wish you a Happy and Safe New Year and this first show of 2021. Our guest is Rachel Kyte, the Dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University with her distinguished career at the World Bank and the United Nations and now in academia, she's an ideal guest to help us think about what the new year will mean for Energy and Climate Policy not only in the US, but also globally.
A 2002 graduate of Fletcher's Global Master of Arts program, Dean Kyte returned to the school outside Boston in 2012 as a professor of practice, and was named the 14th, Dean of the Fletcher School in 2019. She's the first woman to lead the nation's oldest graduate only School of International Affairs. Prior to joining Fletcher, Dean Kyte was a special representative of the UN Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the UN's Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Before that, she was a vice president and Special Envoy for climate change at the World Bank, a native of England; she earned her undergraduate degree in history and politics from the University of London.
In our conversation, we talk about the increasing risks posed by climate change as we begin 2021. And the challenges facing world leaders, including President-Elect Joe Biden, in setting agendas in building public support for emissions reductions, diplomacy, of course, will matter significantly as the US rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement. And Dean Kyte offers her insight on how relations among the US and other nations might play out. We also talk about the state of climate activism today, especially as it pertains to young people, as well as environmental justice and the role of a woman in energy. Well, here's our conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Dean, Rachel, Kyte, welcome to Columbia energy exchange.
Rachel Kyte: Nice, lovely to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Bill Loveless: Well, you've had a distinguished career in academia, at the United Nations at the World Bank, with so much experience over that period of time, particularly in this field of sustainable development. But looking back over your career, what was it that inspired you to get into this line of work?
Rachel Kyte: I think two things, one, was always interested in how things connect to each other. Right? So we're growing up in Western Europe, in the UK, in the 80s thinking about our place in Europe, which seems quite strange now, as we've just gone through Brexit and understanding that peace in Europe dependent upon how we use the environment and the relationship of Europe to the rest of the world would depend on how we reformulated a sort of colonial relationship into one where we were seen as a force for good and understanding that if pollution went up in behind the Iron Curtain and came down in Western Europe as acid rain, then we would need to all work together to find solutions and then understanding that the role of women was fundamentally so all the way through sort of just finding that things always interconnect and being inspired by the complexity really. And then I think the other thing is that people would sometimes, bluntly, sometimes subtly, sort of intervene in my life and sort of say, you should look at this, or you should be thinking about that, or why don't you think about doing this. And so there have been a number of people who have just sort of come into my vision as it were, and sort of like pushed me to perhaps, be bolder, or to take on jobs and take on tasks, which perhaps I wouldn't have put myself forward for otherwise.
Bill Loveless: And now, of course, at the Fletcher School, you have the opportunity to do that with your students there.
Rachel Kyte: Yeah, that was a big inspiration for coming to Fletcher is the interdisciplinarity, the complexity of the world and this very strong feeling that I have that we need younger leadership in positions of power now, not in 2030 years, you know, we've got an extraordinary journey, or the planet does over the next 20 to 30 years. And so now's the time to put your best team on the pitch as it were, and if they're young, mixed with more experienced hands, I think that's important.
Bill Loveless: Well, the year 2020 was one of ultimate turmoil with the pandemic as well as political racial, social unrest in the United States and abroad and the impacts of climate change, only worsened. It seems as though the goal of achieving a cleaner world has become that much more difficult. Are you hopeful that things will take a turn for the better in 2021?
Rachel Kyte: Yes. So at the end of 2020, after the Climate Ambition Summit, I was talking to friends, you know, colleagues, comrades, I suppose in the battle, on climate change and it's a sort of hopeful pessimism or stubborn optimism, as Christiana Figueres calls it, which is that there are real causes for hope. But there's an extraordinary mountain to climb and so you find yourself on any given day, being really sort of terrified or sort of overwhelmed by the task in hand and at the same time, really inspired by a big shift either in the financial markets or in the fact that the Federal Reserve joins a group of central banks that are working on this issue.
I mean, it's always that mix of the two. But I am hopeful, because I do think that COVID pulled the band-aid back on the intense inequality in the world, which has to be part of the solution as we decarbonize, we have to make the economy work for people better than it does today and for the planet. And I am hopeful that there is a mobilization across all sectors of the economy across the public and young people in particular. And of course, we have a Biden administration, which means that all of the major players in the sort of “race to zero”, and now limbering up or have started the race.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, it's still the numbers are daunting. There is a new report from the United Nations Environment Program, it only adds to our concerns over the risks of catastrophic warming. This report noted that nations would need to roughly triple their current emissions cutting pledges to limit Earth's warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels. To reach the loftier goal of holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, nations would need to increase their targets at least fivefold recall UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, at a recent event at Columbia saying to put it simply the state of the planet is broken.
Rachel Kyte: Yes, and I think he went on to say just a few days after that we cannot hand to our children, a broken planet and a mountain of debt. And so they're in 2021 is an absolutely fundamental year, because in 2021, we're going to make big decisions about this extraordinary amounts of money that we are going to spend that we weren't planning to, in order to recover from COVID. And to make ourselves more resilient to future pandemic shocks, but also, in the course of recovering from the economic downturn of COVID put ourselves into a trajectory for cleaner growth, cleaner development, and building that resilience that we've so easily understood that we don't have now.
And so it's a sort of once in a generation opportunity, as well as now, having made the challenge even bigger as it were, and at the beginning of a decade where, as you said, we can't push all of the climate action back to the middle of the century, in order to get to where we want to be by 2050. Half of the emissions that have to be avoided have to be done this decade. And so there's not a moment to lose. And there's no room for profligacy, so we can't sort of send one signal with one policy action and then try to send another with another. I mean, this really is where we need what Tony Blair used to call 25-30 years ago, joined up government.
And there is a role for government, the private sector is pushing back the boundaries of technological capability of understanding what may or may not be possible in the energy transition, or how to provide everybody with healthy diets nutritionally, that are good for the planet, the technology, much of it is there, it's not deployed, and then there is more technology to be discovered. But the role of government is to make sure that people don't get left behind and make sure that every penny that we've spent now is pointing us all faster in the same direction. And that hasn't been in view until perhaps the last three months of 2020.
Bill Loveless: You mentioned COVID and unlike COVID, when it comes to the climate change, there simply is not a vaccine to deal with this quickly. You know, I wonder if the behaviors we've adapted to it for the pandemic over the past year have some relevance, some application as we consider how we deal with a warming planet.
Rachel Kyte: Yeah, that's a really it's a really good point. Because we've discovered a lot about our own resilience, right? You can't put a gate around yourself or you can't retreat somewhere, if you're dependent upon frontline workers for your health care or for your food delivery and things like that, and I think that we've learned a lot about the importance of resilience, the importance of community. Now, are we good enough to be able to embrace that, because that's going to be fundamental in adapting to and living with the climate change impacts, which we've already sort of baked into the planet because of the emissions of the last, you know, 30-40 years. Big question mark I think.
Secondly, I think we have to look at the role that science plays and how we think about policy. So we were very clearly and specifically warned about a pandemic, respiratory zoonotic disease, very precise warnings were coming from the international system in 2019. And we, for a number of different reasons, just ignored them. And so this is a risk in plain sight. Climate change is the mother of all risks in plain sight and we still sort of find ourselves turning away from really facing up to what the science is telling us.
So I think that, yeah, I think there are lots of lessons to be learned from from COVID, but I do think that there has been something of a shift in our understanding of resilience. And you see that in sort of companies that perhaps are changing a little bit of their mindsets around just in time, global supply chains, and sort of working out how to make resilience in your supply chain, an important driver of investment. So I think we're going to start to see different ways in which the COVID experience affects the way we think about ourselves. But the basic idea that the inequality within our society is a large driver between behind the deaths that we've seen, and the morbidity that we've seen, is something we really have to get our arms around, because in climate change, it is the most vulnerable that are other poor, the lower income, racial minorities in different countries. And we haven't talked enough about what it's going to take to protect everybody.
Bill Loveless: You mentioned the incoming Biden administration in the US, how can leaders like President-Elect Biden convinced the public that the threat is greater than many realize and that stronger actions are needed to address it?
Rachel Kyte: Well, so that's really interesting, because we've seen in the pandemic, that leaders in societies with high levels of social trust, or higher levels of social trust, have messaged differently and done better in terms of unity, of response and just managing the pandemic. And, and so you've got to build back social trust. So first of all, leaders have to get to the place where they are taken at their word, and their word is trusted. And part of that has to be, we're in this mess, we're in it together, we're going to get out of it together. I'm with you. I don't have every single answer right now.
But I'm confident that together, we will establish them. So between government and the private sector, and communities and mayors and cities and ordinary citizens, together, we are going to be able to do this. And that's a very different message than the one that we've had in the United States, or we've had in the UK where my family lives still over the course of it, so I think that so it's a reset of like, we're in a mess. We've got to take some urgent action, we're going to have to do it together. And then it's a question of, of is that can you see a pathway through? So will there be jobs? Will there be a safety net? Will there be protection? Will you be reimbursed if your crops fail? Can you live in a comfortable home? Will you be able to put a desired plate of food in front of your children? We have to talk about it in those terms.
And of course, the answer to all of that is yes. There are more jobs in renewable energy than there are in the waning tail end of the fossil fuel era. There will be good local jobs in making all of our housing stock energy efficient. There will be good jobs in making sure that we protect carbon in soils and change the relationship of farming to food. But it requires a consistent message of I'm with you. I'm here, we're here, the government is here and of course, in a country which for 35-40 years, the rhetoric has been a war on government, you know, that it we are resetting a little bit, I think what the public space needs to be, and the kinds of conversations we have that I'm under no illusions about how easy or difficult that is, I mean, I work in a university where it's very difficult to protect the space for different views to be heard, respectfully, and so we have to dial that down while dialing up the sense of urgency,
Bill Loveless: Right? It's a big task. I mean, it comes at a time when there's so much disagreement in the US as well as in other countries. Here we see so much partisan divide, you know, there are many people who are not convinced that Biden in fact, was elected president, there's many people who dispute the need to wear masks in public. So to convince them that there's this threat from the climate and that they need to adjust their lifestyle starting soon, is tough.
Rachel Kyte: Yeah, and I think you can't send a message that, you know, you Joe Blow, you know, working paycheck to paycheck or, you know, close to the line, as it were, need to make lots of changes, and then this guy over here, you know, with a lifestyle, which is burning up much more often, you know, can find a way to sort of escape the rules. And I think that this is one of the shifts in communication around climate is that for, for most of my sort of professional engagement in this issue, there was always a discussion around, you know, what we need to mitigate, we need to improve, we need to incrementally improve the performance of the oil and gas sector or whatever.
And it was always this sort of like, well, if 80% gets better than 20%, can. And so everybody would imagine that they were in the 20%. So somebody else has to do something. And I can continue to do what I'm doing. And I think what the science has done over the last two to three years, is and the understanding that we have about what happens at three degrees of warming, what happens at two degrees of warming, what happens at one and a half degrees warming, is that there isn't you have to do something, and I can keep on doing what I'm doing. Everybody, every country, everybody, every sector of the economy has to do something differently, if we're going to decarbonize and build a more equal society.
And so, you know, even within the sort of movements that have been working on climate, we have to change our mindset and our rhetoric, you know, so I see this now with the oil and gas industry, right? You've got some companies saying, okay, we are actually in the business of producing less, and certainly reducing the emissions with everything that we do, including scope three, which is what people do with your product. And then you see other oil and gas companies still sort of talking about becoming more efficient, or measuring the energy intensity of their operations, so that they can reduce that, and perhaps reducing emissions on certain aspects of their production, but not on others. And I think that represents the group that we're talking about actually producing less and emitting less that that's where the debate has gone. The debate about becoming, you know, an oil and gas company that succeeds because it's improved its energy intensity. That's really not where the discussion is anymore.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, it has really changed. And recently, you know, Axios, reported recently that Joe Biden faces a tough balancing act as he calls for more global action on climate change, while also reassuring the world that the US is onboard for the long haul. What will it take for the Biden administration to follow through on its commitments to achieve net zero emissions by 2050? How likely is he is he to take concrete actions?
Rachel Kyte: So the world kept moving on when the US walked away from the table in 2016 2017. And the world has kept trying to figure out what to do hoping that the US would come back, needing the US to come back, but not sort of suspending everything, while the US got itself sorted out. And so as the US comes back into the international arena, in a leadership role, and the US has to understand why I've talked about this that there is a little bit of scar tissue in the international community, which is, you know, you left us once you're going to leave us again, right so it's a little bit of nervousness and trust building them. Because everybody now understands the mannishly of the US Electoral System because everybody was watching for the last four years, right?
So I think that the early announcements by President-Elect Biden, Vice President-Elect Harris as they built their team have been very, very well received for two reasons. One is that everybody that they have nominated is ready to go on day one. And secondly, it's a total governmental whole of government’s approach. So you've got an international team that is going to be led by former Secretary, Senator John Kerry. And that's going to embrace the international dimensions of the Treasury, the International dimension, its Department of Energy, International dimensions of what they do with development, finance, as well as then the role of an envoy mirrored by a domestic team of coordinating every Ministry of government, you know, led by, you know, one of the toughest smartest people in the business, Gina McCarthy. So that's quite extraordinary. So now, climate becomes this threat of the performance of the US economy domestically, and who the United States is internationally.
And we've never seen that in the US administration before. And if they pull it off, and there's no reason to believe that they won't, it means that understanding climate risk in the work of the Federal Reserve, or the work of the Treasury, or the work of every department of government, internationally and nationally, is part of the mission that's setting up the government for success. Now, what do they have to do in 2021, they have to come out with some specific commitments beyond just the excitement that we've got a government that now wants to engage again. And before we arrive at the climate talks in November, the US is going to have to say what it is where it expects to be by 2030, it's going to have to sort of talk more about what its netzero commitment for 2050 years, it's going to have to resubmit a more ambitious plan to the United Nations.
And I would expect it to play a very important role on key discussions with China and with the EU, around urgent action on financing the transition for poorer countries on I think, how do we get coal out of the economy in Asia in a more a quicker way? Where is the need for collaboration on technology, Mission Innovation, things like this, areas where the US was very, very engaged before this Trump hiatus?
Bill Loveless: You mentioned John Kerry, who's dedicated much of his career to addressing climate change his appointment, on the face of it seems obvious, but still, it's worth discussing a little bit, why him for this position? And why him now for this task? I mean, how will he go about doing this?
Rachel Kyte: Well, because I think, well, first of all, he's close to the president-elect, right. So you have to, if you're an envoy, everybody has to know that when you're speaking to speaking for the big guy, so there's no question there. Secondly, he's intimately familiar with all of the aspects of the brief. And so he doesn't have to take, you know, two to three months to get up to speed. Thirdly, he's known and trusted around the world. He was an architect for Paris. And that iconic photograph of him is in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations signing the Paris agreement, which I remember I was there with his granddaughter on his knee.
It's, sometimes pictures speak much louder than words. And I think that that really symbolizes that the US is there, they've put one of their lions of foreign policy into this job. I mean, this is probably the sort of most senior political diplomat that we have in the United States, and most of them, so that, you know, the biggest lion has been put on the biggest task, right? So you can't underestimate the signaling that this sends. It's certainly woken things up in London, because, you know, now they have to deal with this very big dark chart, John Kerry, right. So it's not just that the Biden ministration. They're now sending in like this really imposing and towering figure, in more ways than one, two, to sort of push things along. So the UK, which is a little shambolic at the moment Brexit bit behind in the planning for cop 26, lots of ideas very complicated brief, you know, now has a very serious pressure on it from the US to sort of perform.
And now how will he go about his job? I think it the energy transition has to move more quickly. There has to be solutions on finance because it's very difficult for developing countries to come to the table, if they really feel that they are consistently let down by the developed world, but it's really about the relationship with Brussels and the relationship with Beijing and the relationship with Delhi. These are fundamental relationships. And John Kerry brings a lot of a lot of prior relationships, a lot of trust, a lot of knowledge and savvy to that negotiation, so that the deals will get made in a, you know, a flight path between Washington, Brussels and Beijing.
Bill Loveless: You mentioned China, and of course, China has come out with his 2016 carbon pledge with really little in the way of interim benchmarks. John Kerry has said that the US has to find a way to work together with China on climate, something that would be tricky. It seems as a matter of politics, what do you think is possible between the US and China?
Rachel Kyte: Well, so two things in the in the middle of December that the Chinese did start to put more meat on the bones of their 2016 commitment. And they started talking about the amount of fossil fuel investments. And you started to see a seriousness within that big commitment in terms of how they're going to get there. So I think that that will continue. And I think all eyes are on the 14th year plan coming out in 2021. And that will start sort of show the the flight path. And so there's you are continued dialogue between the US and China, really where trade meets environment meets climate, I think that this is going to be very important. Where I think there's real room for a dialogue between the two is on how countries operate outside their own jurisdiction.
So the Belt and Road initiative of China and there's lots of scholarship coming out now about what exactly is going on lots of people tracking, what is being funded on the Belton Road, how it's being funded, who's funding it from within the Chinese System. How much of that can you actually expect to be built? So, I mean, just to lay it out that the Belton Road initiative at the moment has hundreds of sort of coal fired power plants and coal related infrastructure on the books, if that were to be built, then we, you know, China, first of all, would miss all of its targets. And secondly, we would not be on a track for where we need to be.
Now, how much of that gets built, how it's financed? What the engagement is, with China, around China's footprint across Southeast Asia, Asia and into Africa, what's the dialogue between China and the United States and the West, really, in terms of how they help other countries to pursue an energy transition, that's going to be a very, and it's not a matter of finger wagging? China is by far the largest investor in energy infrastructure in Africa, for example, there are huge green and clean infrastructure needs in countries around the world. And so the world looks to China because the West's financial assistance for infrastructure just hasn't been there over the last 20 or more years, clean or otherwise. And so it's not a question of just sort of saying, no, you can't do this. It's like, how do we together using the multilateral institutions that both sides have built from the traditional multilateral development bank's to the new development bank's?
How do you help countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, meet their energy needs, but do so in a very different trajectory than is currently the case. And at the moment, there's a lot of people sort of pointing it, everybody else saying, well, you need to stop doing this. And you need to stop doing that at some point, we have to have a conversation about, well, while we're stopping funding, coal, and we're stopping funding, projects, which aren't going to be economically aren't going to produce an economic return, we have to look at where is the financing at scale that will come in and take some of the risks so that we can get move more quickly with the gas transition or with other forms of modern renewable energy. And that conversation hasn't really taken place, I think not sufficiently at the moment. And that's something that John Kerry studied in detail.
Bill Loveless: Do you think the announced targets for emissions reductions in China, the EU, the UK, Japan, others, other places mean we've reached a turning point where suddenly climate solutions impossible or is that just an irrational thought?
Rachel Kyte: No, I actually I actually do think it's significant because I mean, if just go back five years, right, so in Paris, one country came and talked about net zero and that was Ethiopia. That was dismissed because people either didn't think it was serious. So they didn't think melas and now he was serious. The conversation then was about, do we bother about having long term targets and plans? Or do we just do short term every five years. And so Paris baked in the five year ratchet every five years, countries would have to come and up. But it also put very quietly in their language about long term plans.
And then for the last five years, that debate has taken hold and so you started to see this commitment to the sort of point on the horizon to which we're all headed so the net zero target around about mid century, and then this ratcheting up at the same time. Now, you know, the ratcheting has missed gears in many countries, sometimes because of COVID, sometimes using COVID as an excuse. But though that that points on the horizon, and then having the vast majority of the global economy commit to that is very important, because that is starting to send very clear signals into the financial markets.
So you're seeing extraordinary movement now in between central banks, asset owners, asset managers, insurers beginning to, you know, sort of work out how are we going to transform our businesses into a world where everybody's agreed that that's the sort of arrival point. And I think without those 2050 targets, it would have been, you know, perhaps the science was clear, and perhaps these sort of alliances would have happened anyway, but I think it has definitely pulled things forward. So we need that long term pool, but we need the short term push. And I think it is significant to, certainly politically for the EU 55%. I mean, that filters down into very specific spending decisions over the next 3, 4, 5, 10 years. So I'm in the UK 68% as a target, it really takes away the room for policy incoherence. That means that policy on housing development, policy on transport spending, policy on energy, policy on agriculture, food, land, resilience, and land restoration, it all asked to now meet that 68% target. So I think these things are important.
Bill Loveless: Diplomacy of Colossus, a big part of your portfolio, you're at the Fletcher School and you spent again, much of your career observing and the actions of among nations around the world, what, after four years of the Trump administration's America first approach to foreign policy and the departures of many from the State Department what condition is us diplomacy in?
Rachel Kyte: Racket? And, and it's going to be built back. And I think the appointment of Linda Great Winkel Thompson, to the United Nations and with the mandate to restore the glory to the State Department is really important. And that glory is a more diverse diplomatic corps that represents America as it is today. So I think you can, you know, sort of, “kill more birds with one stone,” really, it's a chance to sort of innovate and renovate and restore all at the same time. And I think the US has taken a beating really in that sort of just stepping back from multilateral fora, no matter how inadequate those bilateral/multilateral fora have proven to be, means that you're not in the room.
And so other people, you know, nature abhors a vacuum, and so other countries and you've seen, you've seen China sort of nibbling away at parts of the United Nations system, which it regards is important for itself, so much more muscular Chinese presence with appointments that you need, oh, the FAO in, in Rome, the Department of Economic Social Affairs in New York. And you're going to continue to see that you seen a little tussles between the US and China and others around mandates and senior appointments and multilateral development banks. And then of course, you saw some rather sort of unsophisticated diplomacy around the election of the WTO, Director General in the latter months of 2020. So I think the US bilaterally has an opportunity now to restore sort of a real muscle to the State Department's, I certainly see extraordinary young people coming through, desperate to play a role in public service and really wanting to come in and be able to build an extraordinary career at the State Department.
So I'm not at all worried about the sort of appetite of young people to serve, I think that's there. But I think the US also has to work out how it wants to show up multilaterally. And that's not just an agenda on the far right, that's also an agenda on the left as well. There is an insularism on the left as well, and that we need a new form of multilateralism, modern form of multilateralism, we need a reset moment for the Bretton Woods institutions, the Secretary-General has spoken powerfully about the fact that the institutions we have today were designed more than 75 years ago, 70 years, 75 years ago, at a time when many of the countries that exist today weren't free. They were still under colonial mandates. And so if you had a blank sheet of paper, would you design it the way that you have it now?
No, no, we won't be able to resolve the indebtedness problem of the world just with a conversation between a few men in a smoke filled room in Paris, which is how we used to do it. Now you would need private equity at the root table, you need China and India at the table, you need those who are borrowing at the table, the multilateral banks, but new multilateral banks, maybe some bilateral finance.
So we have to set the tables differently for the problems that we have today. Can we build new institutions? Probably not we need to change the ones that we've got. That's tricky. And it's going to require the United States at the table that is prepared to engage with China, as China assumes a bigger role in the global economy despite bilateral security tensions, it's going to require a view from the United States about what we need in terms of a multilateral approach. And it's not clear to me that view is that there's a clarity on that view, across the Democratic Party from sort of the center to the left.
Bill Loveless: You know, before we go, there's two other topics I'd like to take up with you. Climate Activism and woman and energy and on climate activism, it's something that takes many forms in the US and around the world and for young people, it's a matter of particular urgency, how has climate activism evolved over the years? And what makes it most effective?
Rachel Kyte: I think the most effective climate activism is that that's come from the truth that fit of people's lives and communities. And I think that if you look 20-30 years ago, the environmental justice movement, it was rising up because there was being ignored by government, it was also being ignored by big environment organizations sitting in Washington. And so what's inspiring to me is that young people just don't see, they don't see the sort of struggle for a fairer cleaner world, in silos, which is how a lot of activism sort of got separated out in the in the decades before now.
So the intersectionality or the struggle for racial justice, climate justice, is seen as two sides of the same coin. And I think there's a lot for us to learn that those of us who are older and have been around a bit more, because I think that that's a truth that many organizations and progressive movements missed out on. The final thing I would say is that I've been really struck by, you know, especially the young women on Fridays, you know, Friday's for the future, and then the sunrise movement elsewhere. I mean, basically, when I've talked to young middle schoolers, and high schoolers, who've been striking on Fridays, you know, what they want from their governments is that the government's tell the truth.
They don't want to be the government. They don't want to, you know, go and sit in that they want government to speak to the people truthfully, and say, we are in a desperate, you know, desperate situation. This is what the science says, and therefore, urgently, we need to work together. And I think that that sort of very sort of simple that tell the truth, and the truth will set you free. It does allow them people to find their own ways of organizing themselves and becoming part of the solution. And we're going to need everybody to be part of the solution.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, I, one of your recent tweets that noted an article in, in from Bloomberg that reported that companies with greater gender diversity in boardrooms show better performance at addressing climate change. Can you talk to me a little bit?
Rachel Kyte: Yeah, I was like, well, here we go again. I mean, how many times do we have to sort of see this data point? So there's lots of studies of longitudinal studies of teams, that when they're more diverse, they have a different appreciation of risk. And you know, if this is the sort of Mother of All risks as climate crisis that we're in, then just being able to have a diverse perspective and diverse response to how do we manage this risk, how do we see this risk? And what are the Pathways Forward?
I think it's fundamental. And there's lots of evidence that it isn't just about putting, like one person on the board that's different, whether it be a woman or be somebody from a different ethnic origin or whatever, right? It's about having enough, two or three people. So there's this also the psychological phenomenon, that when the minority becomes more than it reaches about 25%, the majority think that it's taking over and I saw that on the board of the World Bank, when I was Vice President at the World Bank, I think the board of the World Bank, for the first time had six women on it at that time, I think the board of the World Bank just had 24 or 25 chairs, and some of the very, you know, important men on that board, were you would you would think that the sky had fallen in that there were five or six women.
So you need you can't be the only voice, you need to be one or two. So we have systematically seen data for many years from the private sector, from research from psychological studies that show how teams work well, and diversity of perspectives and the kinds of decisions that teams make. And I think that it's, you know, it's been proven of companies as they understand how big a risk we face that to look at this now, then there's an argument about to use quotas or not or whatever. But you're going to start seeing more and more investor action and more shareholder action. You know, if the boards aren't considered to be capable of helping companies maneuver through what is going to be a tumultuous decade, then I think investors will ask for those boards to be different.
Bill Loveless: Well, 2021, not to mention, the decade ahead of us will be crucial for addressing climate change. And many of these same issues we'll be we'll be hearing about going forward. Dean Rachel Kyte, thanks for taking the time to join us on Columbia Energy Exchange.
Rachel Kyte: Well, it's lovely to be here, have a healthy and I hope productive 2021.
Bill Loveless: Same to you as well. For more on Columbia Energy Exchange and The Center on Global Energy Policy, find us on the web at energy policy.columbia.edu and on social media at Columbiauenergy for Columbia Energy Exchange. I'm Bill Loveless. We'll be back again next week with another conversation.