Financing a Fossil Fuel-Free Future

Spring 2021 Series

May 19, 2021 7:00 pm OnlineWatch on YouTube

Speaker BiosResources

Fires, floods, droughts, storms, all fueled by a warming climate, are devastating communities around the globe. How can we get the corporate world to face up to this emergency and adopt climate-friendly strategies? How can we get business to finally leave fossil fuels behind and redirect its immense financial might toward solving the climate crisis?

Speaker Bios

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Dr. Yue (Nina) Chen is the first-ever Director of Sustainability and Climate Initiatives at the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS). At DFS, Nina is charged with developing a portfolio of policy initiatives involving sustainability, green financing, and climate mitigation. Before joining DFS, she was the Nature Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Investments in New Jersey and then New York, where her work included developing innovative conservation finance programs and advising cities on attracting private capital to scale up conservation impacts. Nina’s career in finance spanned a wide range of areas at Goldman Sachs and Royal Bank of Canada, among others.

Alexis Goldstein is a former Wall Street professional who now works as senior policy analyst at Americans for Financial Reform. She writes on the financial markets at her newsletter, Markets Weekly. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Nation and Truthout.

Presentation slides from Alexis Goldstein|[Download PDF]

Tom Sanzillo is director of financial analysis for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). Tom has 30 years of experience in public and private finance, including as a first deputy comptroller of New York State, where he held oversight over a $156 billion pension fund and $200 billion in municipal bond programs.

Presentation slides from Tom Sanzillo [PDF]

Moderator Katy Lederer has written about climate change, energy and economics for The New Yorker online, The New York Times and n+1, where she is a regular columnist. She is a participant in the Climate and Sustainability Communications Network at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Our Energy Policy, a non-partisan consortium of experts from government, academia and civil society. Katy has taught poetry and climate change writing at Columbia and Fordham Universities and Barnard College. She worked in quantitative finance for twelve years.


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The fossil fuel industry and its financiers

By one estimate, close to four trillion dollars has been poured into fossil fuels since the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, most of it coming from only thirty-five private sector banks. The articles below explore the role of financial institutions and policies in promoting our current fossil fuel-based economy:

Stopping the money pipeline

The Stop the Money Pipeline (STMP) campaign is a national campaign to get the financial industry–banks, insurance companies, assets managers, institutional investors—to stop funding the fossil fuel industry and move into renewables. A major target is Chase Bank, which has poured $200 billion into fossil fuels since 2016. If you’d like to get involved, join the STMP Workgroup at 350Brooklyn.

The role of government

We no longer have a White House that actively promotes climate denial, and the President is talking up the need to invest in the climate transition. But what actions should the U.S. government take at this urgent moment that will really make a difference? And what can state governments do? These are live questions under debate, and too big to answer here, but here are some major categories of government action:

  • Stop using public money to subsidize the fossil fuel industry.
  • Require businesses to factor the reality of climate risk into their accounting practices and to fully disclose these risks. “U.S. financial regulators must recognize that climate change poses serious emerging risks to the U.S. financial system, and they should move urgently and decisively to measure, understand, and address these risks,” warns the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. New York is a leading example of a state demanding that insurers and banks recognize climate reality when they do the books.
  • Boost investment in clean energy, R&D and climate-friendly projects and technologies, both through direct public investment and the mobilization of private sector funding.
  • Make clear to money managers that they aren’t upholding “fiduciary duty” when they make climate-wrecking investments in doomed industries, and modernize financial regulation in a way that drives green investments.

To catch up on some of the current proposals and debates about government action:

Do we need a new way of investing to fund a livable world?

Cornell law professor and financial regulation expert Saule Omarova has called for the creation of a National Investment Authority that would channel public and private money to fund the transition to a green economy. “Democratizing the financial system, Omarova and others believe, is a crucial step toward enabling both the government and ordinary people to invest in a climate-friendly future.”