One concern looms large as the world rushes to increase expenditure to tackle climate change: where will the money come from? Here’s the Means & Matters guide to the countless organizations, sectors, and businesses investing billions in climate action, whether through sustainable infrastructure, innovation, carbon offsetting operations, or individual steps to reduce emissions.
WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND WHAT THEY’RE NOT DOING WITH THE MONEY
INDIVIDUALS: SMALL-SCALE INVESTORS WITH BIG-TIME INFLUENCE
“Carbon is present in everything we do, from the food we consume to our clothes and homes we live in. “This is something that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of,” said Duncan Grierson, CEO, and Founder of Clim8, a green investment app. “However, a Swedish schoolgirl demonstrated to the world that no person is too insignificant to make a difference.”
This is especially true when millions of people are concerned about the same issue (view Bridge Payday).
In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2020, 62 percent of Americans said they were seeing the consequences of climate change in their own neighborhoods.
They’re also inspired to take action. The average annual climate-related spending by households in both 2017/2018 and 2019/2020 was $55 billion, a steady increase after a 50 percent increase between 2013 and 2018. 1,13 The majority of consumers buy electric automobiles and put solar panels on their homes. Some people are even attempting to reduce their carbon footprint. Others are putting their money into more long-term investments.
Sustainable investing strategies are now used by one out of every three dollars professionally managed in the United States, and 86 percent of investors feel companies with leading sustainability policies make superior long-term investments.
The disadvantage is that individual financial power is just far smaller than that of other actors such as governments, banks, and companies regarding the types of direct capital flows required to meet global climate targets.
While $55 billion isn’t insignificant, it represents less than ten percent of total climate financing for 2019 and 2020. People do not have the power to make the large-scale infrastructure decisions required to prevent climate change. A single-family, for example, cannot wake up one day and decide to fund a light rail system in their community.
They can, however, and increasingly do, use their purchasing power to influence the companies that do. In another way, people can elect politicians who will invest in light rail, and then pay to ride it. In 2019, nearly half of consumers indicated they’d be prepared to pay more for sustainable products—and Gen Z, the next generation of consumers, said they’d be willing to pay 50-100 percent more. Climate voters donated tens of millions of dollars to pro-climate action politicians in the 2020 election.
“It’s critical to understand that customers are not completely to blame for the climate issue,” Solomon stated. “However, they have enough numbers to sway the people who are exacerbating the crisis.”
GOVT. AND INTERGOVT. ORGANIZATIONS: BIG SPENDERS WITH BIGGER THOUGHTS
Governments and multinational organizations, such as the United Nations, are the most prominent climate change funders. Climate finance from public sources amounts to $321 billion, or 51% of total global pledges.
Regrettably, the rate of increase in public investment is slowing. After two consecutive growth seasons of 24 percent, spending in 2019/2020 grew only 10% over 2017/2018. Given that the target should be closer to 450 percent, the CPI study sums it up best: “This is concerning.”
However, the European Union, which leads the pack in terms of public spending, provides us reason to be optimistic. Between 2014 and 2020, the EU promised to spending at least 20% of its budget on climate-related projects.
The EU will have achieved these aims with yearly climate change mitigation expenditures of more than €34 billion (equivalent to $40 billion) by 2023. The EU isn’t going to stop there.
The EU intends to expand climate investment to 25% of overall expenditure between 2021 and 2027. The United States has slipped behind its European counterparts in terms of climate change financing per capita.
While it’s impossible to quantify the exact amount of recent US climate expenditure—the previous administration was notorious for not using the word “climate” in budgets—apparent it’s that some investment was made.
The United States, for example, gave roughly $170 million to international environmental funds in 2018, despite backing out of other previous obligations, such as donating to the Green Climate Fund, the world’s largest international climate change fund.
The Biden Administration aspires to get back on track. The original infrastructure bill proposed by the Obama administration includes $73 billion for renewable energy grid upgrades, $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, $17.5 billion for clean buses and ferries, $66 billion for Amtrak, and roughly $1.3 billion for water restoration.
With the intricacies of any final legislation tied down in Democratic discussions, commentators are worried about Biden’s ability to take a leading role on climate action heading into COP26 in Glasgow. Simultaneously, several states have maintained or increased climate investment.
In its 2021 budget, California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, pledged $15 billion in climate spending over several years.
Meanwhile, China, the world’s top emitter of CO2, proposed a $57 billion budget for ecology and environmental protection in 2020 to become carbon-neutral by 2060. Air pollution prevention and control and water and soil protection will be the focus of the fund. While raising the amount of public climate investment is important, boosting the strategic approach to these expenditures is also important.
BANKS SUPPORT: CLIMATE INVESTORS WHO CAN CHANGE THE GAME
At best, the link between banks and climate change appears hazy. But it’s not as complicated as it appears: most of the money people deposit in the bank is returned to them in the form of loans. The four largest US banks (Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America) have supplied about $1 trillion in fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure funding in the five years following the Paris Agreement.
In their 2021 report, the Climate Policy Initiative writes, “Banks are playing a more significant role as an intermediary of sustainable and green debt products, as well as a larger trend of setting climate-related targets.”
There’s no denying that the banking industry has historically underinvested in climate change—but if there’s a silver lining to CPI’s new research, it’s that commercial financial institutions have boosted their spending by 154 percent since the organization’s previous study in 2019.
The banks look to be on the right track. According to a Bloomberg study of financing data from the first few months of 2021, banks are on track to lend more to renewable energy projects this year than to fossil fuel projects.
In addition, 63 global banks totaling $40 trillion in assets have joined the Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), pledging to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 through their investment and lending portfolios. To keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, annual climate investment must climb by 454 percent by 2030, so banks’ 150 percent increase isn’t exactly a silver bullet.
However, considering the industry’s size and power, it’s good to see banking going in the right direction.
INVESTORS IN FUNDS AND INSTITUTIONS: PRIVATE INVESTORS ARE RISING BIG ON CLIMATE CHANGE.
What exactly is this category? Institutional investors, such as pension funds, are important stock market movers, and “funds” encompass things like venture capital and private equity. Most people find this category’s expenditure a little perplexing, yet it all fits under big-time private sector investing. Fortunately, the growing popularity of ESG investment is encouraging these forces to direct money toward environmental goals.
Here’s an example of a venture capital investment that many people are familiar with:
Beyond Meat is a plant-based burger firm with a tasty enough product to get people thinking about the tremendous environmental impact of industrial farming. According to one study18, if everyone in the United States replaced a quarter of their meat consumption with plant-based proteins, they would save 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
Investments in sustainable food innovation could help us get there: plant-based protein shipments to restaurants increased by 20% in 2020, compared to a 2% increase in meat shipments.
Beyond Meat is a case study on the influence that climate-focused startup funding could have.
Beyond Meat, which is funded by venture capital, had a market valuation of roughly $6.7 billion as of October 2021.
Strategic investment in potentially game-changing innovation is just as important as substantial investment in the critical climate finance paradigm change. It would have been unthinkable not long ago for many people to give up personal car ownership. However, millions of people may now live without a car thanks to the billions of dollars invested by venture capitalists in micro-mobility solutions like e-scooters.
Climate tech VC funding increased by 3750 percent between 2013 and 2019, according to a PwC research. More than 1,200 climate tech entrepreneurs have received a total investment of $60 billion, thanks to the efforts of VC firms such as Khosla Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and others.
Since 1988, 100 firms have been responsible for 71% of all industrial greenhouse gas emissions around the world. That’s a depressing fact, but it also clarifies things: Climate investment by the private sector should not be seen as philanthropy, but rather as a necessary and appropriate response to the environmental damage that corporations have caused.
During our March call, Climate Policy Initiative analyst Matthew Solomon told me, “The historically and present greatest polluters can and should both increase their climate financing and reduce their involvement in dirty finance.” “They’re the ones who started the situation, so they should foot the bill to rectify it.” However, if you emit hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 year, you’re in the best position to cut it.”
Globally, firms invested an average of $124 billion on climate action in 2019 and 2020, down from $183 billion in 2018 and 2018. They’re also investing in a lot of harm. Anti-climate politicians receive roughly twice as much money from corporations as those who vote in support of climate action, with a large portion of it coming from companies that would otherwise promote climate action programs. For example, fossil fuel businesses may invest millions in renewable energy but also spend millions lobbying against climate legislation.
The energy sector’s continuous investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, even while it dabbles in renewables, is far more harmful.
“Every dollar, euro, or yen spent on new fossil-fuel power plants puts us at risk of falling short of our Paris targets,” Wetherbee warned. “We already obtain so much electricity from high-emission sources that the marginal generation we add today can only afford to be zero-carbon.”
There are some encouraging signals. Companies are being compelled to act as a result of market pressure, and some are doing so. Apple, Google, Facebook, and other IT firms have pledged to run their data centers entirely on renewable energy. Patagonia and REI, two companies known for their long commitment to climate change, illustrate the market value of the environmental investment. Furthermore, the growing number of B organizations reflects a global trend toward incorporating sustainability into business structures. Over 200 of the world’s major corporations have pledged to go net-zero by 2050.