Key Takeaways

  • After leaving the White House, Gina is working at Tufts University, particularly with the Fletcher School, focusing on international climate policy and engagement, especially with countries in the global south.
  • Gina is engaged in domestic initiatives through Mike Bloomberg’s group “America Is All In,” where she co-chairs a group promoting the understanding and implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act across the US, focusing on clean energy transition and climate solutions.
  • Gina discusses how the narrative around climate change has shifted to one of profitable investment and opportunity. The Inflation Reduction Act, with its $370 billion investment, fosters this transition. She highlights the role of businesses in participating in the carbon credit market and generating revenue through reductions in carbon emissions.
  • Gina acknowledges the challenges in the carbon credit market, such as credible carbon accounting, and stresses the need for meaningful and verifiable credits. She also discusses the importance of private sector investment in climate action, especially in the global south.
  • Gina emphasizes the importance of working with countries to develop their own sustainable development strategies, going beyond individual projects to encompass sustainable economic development.
  • Gina reflects on the outcomes of COP28, noting significant steps in climate finance, commitments to renewable energy capacity, and the establishment of funds for the global south. COP28 marked a turning point in global climate action with a broad approach to climate and environmental issues.

Executive Summary

Hey folks, welcome back to The Leader Show with Lou Carter. We are joined by Gina McCarthy. Gina is the first White House National Climate Advisor and former US EPA Administrator. Under President Biden, Gina’s leadership in the Climate Policy Office led to historic climate actions in the US, including job creation, clean energy innovation, and investments. 

Her efforts were instrumental in implementing climate and clean energy provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. These actions restored US global leadership in climate issues and set a new national target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030. 

So, without further ado, let’s delve into the insights Gina shares in this episode.

Championing Climate Action And International Collaboration Post-White House

Lou starts by praising Gina for her leadership in the Biden administration and her role in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. He asks Gina what she is currently focusing on.

Gina responds by discussing her long career in government, emphasizing her commitment to environmental and health issues, particularly air pollution and climate change. She mentions that currently she’s working at Tufts University, particularly with the Fletcher School, on international climate policy and engagement, especially with countries in the global south. 

Gina also highlights her involvement in the private sector, working with companies like TPG and Pegasus Capital Advisors. These companies focus on carbon credit markets and investments in developing countries, particularly in the global south. She highlights her role in managing food and water systems in countries like India and co-chairing discussions between the US and India.

Apart from that, Gina is engaged in domestic initiatives, working with Mike Bloomberg’s group “America Is All In.” She co-chairs a group that promotes understanding and implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act across the US, focusing on clean energy transition and climate problem solutions.

Opportunities In Carbon Credit Markets And Clean Energy Investments

Next, Lou discusses the importance of businesses coming together for positive change, such as reducing carbon emissions and creating cleaner air. He asks Gina how businesses can get involved in initiatives like the carbon credit market, America Is All In, or Pegasus Capital Advisors, especially in emerging markets.

Gina responds by emphasizing that the narrative around climate change has shifted from one of disaster and sacrifice to one of profitable investment and opportunity. She explains that investments made to transition to a low-carbon future can also be profitable for businesses. 

Gina highlights the role of the Inflation Reduction Act, a $370 billion investment, in fostering this transition. This act aims to create optimism and encourage private sector investment in clean energy, leading to economic growth and job creation while benefiting the planet.

She also points out that businesses can engage in the transition by participating in the carbon credit market. This approach allows them to generate revenue through legitimate reductions in carbon emissions, not just within their own companies but also across their communities and business networks. 

The Role Of U.S. Businesses In Carbon Credits And Emission Reductions

Moving on, Lou mentions the competitiveness of U.S. companies, highlighting the need for them to be proactive in adopting zero-emission products and carbon credits to remain competitive globally. He inquires about the timing and process for companies to get involved in these initiatives and whether there are specific requirements or metrics to meet.

Gina responds by acknowledging the importance of credible carbon accounting and the challenges faced in the carbon credit market, especially regarding the permanence and legitimacy of credits. She mentions ongoing efforts to make the market more rigorous and consistent, with companies like Rubicon Carbon at TPG working on this. 

Furthermore, Gina highlights the long-term yet urgent nature of the climate transition and the increasing engagement of the private sector, driven by the framing of climate action as a business opportunity. She explains that the market needs to be attractive for private sector investment, especially in the global south, and mentions concessionary funds and new funds being raised for climate-related losses and damages in these regions.

Gina concludes by emphasizing that the current situation is not about portraying businesses as the problem but rather recognizing and seizing the business opportunities that climate action presents. She asserts that investments in climate solutions are not only profitable but also beneficial for the climate and public health.

Gina McCarthy On Supporting Inclusive Growth And Renewable Energy In Developing Countries

Lou puts forth a question from a person called Stephanie about incorporating sustainability into the practices of countries in the global south, particularly those in the early stages of industrialization. 

Gina responds by mentioning the importance of working with countries to develop their own sustainable development strategies rather than focusing on isolated projects like a single solar array or wind turbine. She expresses frustration with superficial efforts that don’t consider the broader systemic impact. Gina highlights the need for these strategies to encompass not just greenhouse gas reductions but also sustainable economic development.

Additionally, she asserts that winning the fight against climate change requires enabling these countries to shape their own sustainable futures. This includes opportunities for both public and private investments, as well as concessionary and for-profit endeavors.

All in all, Gina emphasizes that addressing climate change is not just about individual projects but about a concerted effort to support countries that have been left behind in developing their own sustainable economic development strategies. 

Gina Reflects On Major Strides In Global Climate Finance And Renewable Energy Commitments

Lastly, Lou asks Gina to elaborate on COP28, highlighting its significance and potential for driving sustainable economic strategies.

Gina shares her experience at COP28, noting that she attended with some reluctance due to past COP events not delivering substantial results. However, she found COP28 to be different and more impactful. McCarthy highlights several key outcomes from the conference:

The UAE announced a $30 billion fund, marking a significant step forward in climate finance.

Hundreds of countries are committed to tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030 and doubling energy efficiency opportunities worldwide.

There was a clear statement on the need to transition away from fossil fuel dependence, recognizing that fossil fuels and clean energy are incompatible.

The establishment of a $700 million loss and damage fund specifically for the global south.

COP28 included a focus on health, oceans, plastics, and food systems, indicating a broad approach to climate and environmental issues.

Overall, Gina sees COP28 as a turning point in global climate action, with concrete outcomes and renewed momentum. She acknowledges the challenges ahead but remains optimistic about the available resources, innovative solutions, and the potential for small investments to yield significant results in the fight against climate change.

Thank you for your time!

Transcript

Lou Carter : Our guest today is Gina McCarthy. She was the first White House National Climate Advisor and former US EPA administrator, one of the nation's most respected voices on climate change, the environment and public health. As head of the Climate Policy Office under President Biden McCarthy's leadership led to the most aggressive action on climate in US history, creating new jobs and unprecedented clean energy innovation and investments across the country.

Her commitment to bold actions across the Biden administration supported by the climate and clean energy provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act restored US climate leadership on a global stage and put a new US national target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030 within reach.

Gina, it's great to have you today in the Leader Show. Welcome!

Gina McCarthy : Thanks, Lou. It's great to be here with you.

LC : We're going to learn so much today about the things you're doing, which is just awesome. I mean, how you're bringing the new generation into new climate change issues, new environmental issues with your work with Bloomberg at Tufts, and the COP 28 things that people should know about because this is the new generation of innovation, of technology, of where we're going when it comes to environmental and climate change issues.

So, Gina, welcome to this is awesome to have on the Leader Show. Can't wait to dig in and hear more about all of your cool new stuff you're doing today.

GM : Thanks, Lou. It's great to be considered a leader, especially in your podcast. I know you speak with a lot of really great people, so I'm really excited and honored to be here. Thanks.

LC : Well, it's a treat to have you here today with your amazing leadership you've done for the country and in the Biden administration, and what a great, amazing work Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. What you're doing now, I mean, you're really at the forefront of what this country ought to be doing to help with so many important economic and social issues.

So, let's dive in. I'm going to let you kind of bring us to it. What are you focused on these days, Gina? I mean, besides everything else you have in your life, you're doing amazing things and I don't know how you keep it all together. It's amazing. So tell me what you're focused on.

Gina’s Journey In Climate Advocacy And Environmental Action [02:40]

GM : Well, I'm not sure. I do keep it together, but I'm busy. Let's just put it that way. Look, I've been in, I was in government since forever, like decades and decades and I could say decades more. And it's been an interesting journey leaving the White House in government just about a year ago and now trying to figure out what's my mission. And frankly, I've always done environmental work. I started out at the local level. I went and then worked for five governors, actually six and a couple of presidents most recent it being President Biden and all that time, my main goal was to address the environmental challenges we were facing because I have a real affinity to focusing on health and the impacts associated with air pollution and other challenges we have environmentally. And then the issue of climate change began to be very prominent.

And so that's been the issue. I think that is the existential challenge of our time right now. It's not that I'm taking away from my attention to the larger environmental issues, but it's hugely important for us to think about climate change. Not just a planetary problem, but as a people problem, a people problem, a resource, a natural resource challenge. And so when I left, I decided I was going to do a bunch of different things and see what I could do to make a difference.

One of the things I'm doing is working at Tufts University. Now, Tufts is where I got my master of science. I was excited to go back there. They have a Fletcher School, which is an international diplomacy school. So there I'm working with folks in the Climate Policy office and other venues to actually see how we could work much more effectively internationally to develop plans that are meaningful for climate action in the countries that are developing those plans, not the US deciding what's best for everybody, but focusing on that and how we can sort of engage, especially the countries in the global south, which really have been feeling the impacts that we created for decades because we were the ones that generated the carbon emissions that are now impacting the planet and they're looking for ways of having us step up.

And that's one of the ways of doing that. But Lou, as we talked about before, I'm also looking at private sector investment. Look, the issue of climate change is global and it requires significant investment to make that transition away from our dependence on fossil fuel, which is both contributing to climate change into the pollution that is challenging, like 90% of the world that lives with dirty air. So we're working on a number of efforts internationally to try to address that. I'm working with private sector companies like TPG, which is a very large company that's focused on looking at the carbon credit market, legitimizing it, making it an opportunity to reduce the cost of investments in countries that need investment the most. I am working for a company called Pegasus. Pegasus Capital Advisors is a smaller company, but they are very focused on the global south.

They are very focused on the Green Climate Fund, working with the UN, finding ways of managing food systems and water systems and countries like India. In fact, I'm co-chairing a group between the US and India of what we call track two discussions, which basically are folks that had leadership positions in governments both in India and the US, and now are no longer in those positions but can continue to have an influence, continue to talk about strategies of collaboration and cooperation between the countries and how we can move both of our countries and frankly the rest of the world forward.

So, I'm a busy woman. I'm working on one big initiative called, our climate, Our Common Air, which is working with the UN and international folks on cleaning up that air pollution. And so I'm running around a mad woman, hopefully not just entertaining myself but actually making a difference.

In particular domestically working with Mike Bloomberg's group called America Is All In. I'm co-chairing a group that really goes around and tries to make sure that the Inflation Reduction Act is understood across the country. We go to places that aren't the most glamorous at times, but are places where people need to know the opportunities of the Inflation Reduction Act, which is really supercharging our ability to make that transition to clean energy and be competitive against fossil fuels so that shift can be made that is so important to our climate problem. And so that's one of the fun groups that I work with and it's fun, it's exciting, and it's exhausting.

LC : That's part of the mission, isn't it? I mean, exciting, exhausting to create, not just change, right? Bring people together in times of strife when we're focusing on so many of the things that is about conflict come together for something good, right? Cleaner air carbon emissions reduction, things that we can really control and we can come to consensus about. And I wanted to jump into that because businesses these days, we have the Newsweek Excellence Index, who are companies who are socially responsible, sustainable.

If I am a company and I want to get involved, say in your carbon credit market with America Is All In, right, or Pegasus Capital Advisors, what do I do? Or even with the un, because I always found when there's opportunities in emerging markets or markets that need that are in need, well that's a good opportunity to give number one. And then number two, you can build in those emerging markets and grow throughout time. It's just good business. So tell me, how would I as a business get involved as A CEO or even head of whatever it might be, ops, who am I? How do I get involved with you?

Embracing Profitable Solutions For Climate Change And Clean Energy [09:26]

GM : Well, Lou, you hit on a really fundamental point, and that is that for far too long, we've been talking about climate change as a disaster that needed all of us to sacrifice. Well, now that is no longer the framing of this discussion. It doesn't have to be because what businesses want to do to invest to make their businesses more solid and to make their opportunity for profits external for investments they may want to make, it is exactly the same investments you'd want to make to shift to a low carbon future.

It's amazing the technologies and solutions we have available today that are cost effective, that are profitable, if you embrace and invest in them. One of the reasons why I returned to government with President Biden and when in the White House was because his framing was one that said, okay, if we need to shift to clean energy to take care of the planet and keep people safe, we can actually do it in a way that makes people money, that lowers cost to families, that grow good paying clean energy jobs that really attracts investment.

And so the Inflation Reduction Act was a 370 billion investment to entice that kind of flow of optimism of I can fix this, we can grab it, and it's going to be good for me and my families and workers, our economy, and by the way, the planet. And so that's the framing that we embraced and what we've seen in just a little over a year with the Inflation Reduction Act that we've already had 310 billion of investments by the private sector. We're talking about investments across 45 states, 388 projects, 211,000 new clean energy jobs. That's what the private sector can do if the public sector provides a mechanism to attract that investment in and speeds the way in which that transition can happen.

Now, the other way that businesses can engage is basically in their own business. One of the reasons why you look at a credit market is to be able to make sure that there's a way of reducing greenhouse gases for businesses and for them to be able to do it in a way that's cost- effective for them to be able to participate in a credit market so that if they're investing, they can get revenues for legitimate ways in which they have generated lower carbon emissions in the companies themselves and basically the entire community in which they operate, the businesses that they affiliate with, the products that they do, the way they sell it

And so there's remarkable ways in which I think the business community today is beginning to see that transition and young people are as well. It's sort of there's an optimism below every discussion that I see that is now way more opportunistic and optimistic than it ever has been before. And it makes it a whole lot more fun and exciting.

LC : It does. And to have that support of that new generation coming in is just extraordinary. We need that population set. And the other question is, when I say need, I think about the competitiveness of United States companies in America and how they need to be competitive now and to provide those jobs and get products, create products that are zero emission carbon credits is just good business for them because if we don't do this fast, fast enough, we're going to get acquired by so many other companies in other countries because they are making the shift or they have a greater economic position.

Their position is very different than we have. So the question is what's the timing around this? So what kind of company be thinking about, should they be starting now? How do they get involved in it? Are there metrics they require to get into the UN to get there or things they have to say, we promised this plan and we'll get there by this time. Is there a process behind it?

A New Era Of Rigorous Accounting And Profitable Climate Investments [14:00]

GM : Yeah, there's a whole lot of companies that are available that people can choose from, many of which do very credible carbon accounting. Now, there's been a lot of drama over the past year about the carbon credit market because portions of it have not been as stringent in terms of looking at the permanence of those credits. And so there's been some challenges that have arisen that has made a lot of companies and a lot of nonprofits that work in this space and for-profit companies just take a step back and say, how do we get more rigorous about this? Because nobody wants companies to work hard and then to see sham carbon credits being offered to them at low price that are not meaningful. And so there's a lot of work going on to actually develop that market. There are some really good companies that are doing carbon credits at TPG.

We have a company called Rubicon Carbon that looks at good carbon accounting. And so all of these things are going to be necessary, and there's ongoing dialogue about how to do it in a way that's much more consistent and verifiable because we need to be helpful to companies who really want to be good to make sure that the credits that they're purchasing are actually going to be meaningful in the long run. And that's really the challenge with climate change is this is a long-term transition, Lou, but it needs to be done quickly.

And so there's all ways in which I think the private sector is now getting engaged like it's never been before because it is an opportunity framing. Nobody's going to ask companies now to come in and spend a lot of money that they can't then recoup. We have to be realistic about making this carbon market aggressive and amenable to private sector that wants to invest in the global south and make a decent return.

There's a lot of concessionary funds right now that are available and out of the last conference of the parties, which is the annual meeting where we get all of the leadership across the world to talk about climate. And it's also an opportunity for basically this year in Dubai, there were a hundred thousand people attending that conference looking at the new technologies, the new opportunities available, and one of the outcomes of that was significantly more funds being raised for what we call loss and damages in the global south.

So that's revenue that those companies can be able to have that then can attract private investment to actually join. And the UAE where the conference of the parties was held last December actually has developed a 30 billion fund that they are going to use, not for concessionary, it's a for-profit fund, but they're going to do it in a way that they think will attract hundreds of billions of additional dollars working with the private sector. So this is no longer about business is bad, it's what the problem is. This is basically a business opportunity framing that, I mean, certainly we have to watch what's happening in businesses who aren't doing the right thing, but honestly, people are jumping in with two feet because it is the opportunity of a lifetime to actually invest not just in enterprises that are going to be profitable, but profitable for all of us from a climate standpoint and from a health standpoint as well.

LC : It's a perfect segue into the global south, and it's a question that Stephanie Ijo says, the global south insists of developing countries or countries who are just moving into their industrialization stage. How do we inculcate sustainability into their practices? It says the war happening now in the Middle East proves us that we're very dependent on fossil fuels. How are we moving away from that to sustainable and renewable energy sources? I think a relevant question to what you're saying.

Advocating For Sustainable Development Strategies Beyond Single Projects [18:20]

GM : Yeah, it sure is. And one of the things I would say is, first, it is a really good question. One of the things that I'm trying to focus on is how do we really work with countries to develop a sustainable development strategy of their own? I am really sick and tired of folks that claim credit for putting up a solar array in the middle of nowhere and don't think about that in a more systemic way, one little wind turbine.

And when you're dealing with the global south, those countries are interested in defining their own future. Many of them are through something called Jet P. These are actual work that is going on that Tufts and others help with to get countries to define their own future. And that future cannot be about greenhouse gas reductions only. It must be about a sustainable economic development strategy.

That's the most important thing is that we think about this not as a one shot project, but as an opportunity for those countries to define a future for themselves. That's how we're going to win because every jet piece strategy I have seen provides opportunity for both public and private investment, concessionary and for profit, for additional profit. That's very meaningful. And that's the only way we're going to win globally. I can't fix climate change in the US with expectations that we have no sort of responsibility to also work with countries that have not yet had a meaningful opportunity to develop appropriately to develop in a sustainable way.

So, this is not about single projects. This is about a concerted effort for these countries who have been left behind to get the kind of public and private investment by defining their own sustainable economic development strategy moving forward.

LC : That's a great point is about what do we do to define that sustainable economic strategy in an innovative way, right? And COP 28 that you were mentioned before seems like it's a step in that direction. Could you tell us a little more about COP 28? It seems really exciting.

COP28: A Turning Point In Global Climate Action With Concrete Outcomes And Renewed Momentum [20:37]

GM : Yeah, for those who have never attended a COP. I will have to tell you, I went a bit reluctantly because I've been to many, many of them, and most of them really deliver much. It's good to get together, hear about things, but they don't. I felt like this cop was very different. It was different because it actually came out with some really significant opportunities to move forward. I mentioned the UAE $30 billion fund. That's a significant step forward.

It actually had hundreds of countries committing to triple global renewable capacity by 2030. That's a big deal also to double energy efficiency opportunities across the world. It actually, for the first time, made a statement that wasn't just about, we like clean energy, but it was saying that fossil fuels, our fossil fuel dependence has to be transitioned out. We need to keep pushing that down. That was a big win in a big signal that clean energy can win, but we have to recognize that fossil fuels and clean energy do not go together.

We have to start pushing in a direction that actually moves forward with fossil fuel reductions. We now have over $700 million in a loss in damage fund specifically for the global south. And we had a health day for the first time, yippee. It was great to have. We talked about oceans, we talked about oceans plastic, we talked about food systems, which are going to be critical in many, many countries. And so it was a good meeting with a lot of concrete outcomes, and it was an opportunity for the first time, I think, to have a lot more subnational level work.

Lou, I don't know how you feel about it, but I've been working in government for a long time, and I have a firm belief that change happens by being optimistic. It happens by generating hope. And we are there now. I heard about the Inflation Reduction Act everywhere I went at COP 28 because everybody was saying, okay, you are generating real money and change is happening.

Well, we're generating real money in environmental justice communities. We are making sure that equity is a fundamental consideration. It's that same consideration we have to have in other countries who aren't even in the gates yet, nevermind out of the block. And we have to actually meet our obligation to those countries by working hand in hand with them. And it was just really exciting to see momentum again, to see the world feel like it was coming together.

Now, are we anywhere near where we need to be, Lou? That's the challenge. You mentioned it earlier. If we cannot accelerate this, we will lose. And so we have a lot of resources, I think at the table now. We frankly have every innovative solution we ever need. We just have to put it together, work together, invest in it, and watch how the benefits like in the IRA, the benefits of small investments that they can yield big results. And that's what we have to have.

LC : Love it. Gina McCarthy, what a great show with you learning so much about your work and your innovations and you're at the forefront of this movement and that your passion, clarity, articulation is so apparent as you are the leader of this movement. To me, I think you have to do a Gina McCarthy presidential campaign next. So this is a wonderful thing. I can see the passion in you and your clarity. It's just wonderful. So Gina McCarthy, thank you so much for joining us today on the Newsweek Leader Show and all good wishes and hopes for you in all of your wonderful work you do for this country and so many around the globe.

GM : Thank you, Lou. Thanks for inviting me. What a great show.