Solutions for climate change

Kathryn Murdoch

Climate change is the most urgent global issue facing humankind. The enormity of the problem and the seeming lack of consensus can be confusing for potential philanthropists. However, we do have the technological solutions and know-how at our fingertips to slow or even stop climate change.

There are many examples around the world of communities successfully cutting carbon emissions and reaping the financial benefits of lower energy bills, healthier work environments, and more sustainable industries. Although this is not yet being done on a large enough scale to have an impact, with a combination of communications, market stimulation and financial ingenuity, we believe it can be done.

In 2003, the Clinton Foundation started removing the barriers that had, for decades, prevented governments and communities from treating and curing HIV/AIDS in African, Asian and South American countries. We did this by making life-saving drugs affordable for governments to buy while still profitable for pharmaceutical companies to manufacture and sell. By negotiating on behalf of the countries that needed medications and tests, we gave pharmaceutical companies and their suppliers the mass market and long-term economic security they needed to lower the costs of drugs. As a result, the price of life-saving medications and tests dropped by 85 per cent. Communities finally began to win the fight against HIV/AIDS because they had the tools to do so.

The Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) is now aiming to stimulate markets in a similar way to help win the fight against climate change. Because urban areas create 75 per cent of CO2 emissions, attacking this area is a priority. In August 2006, CCI formed a partnership with 40 of the world’s largest cities through the Climate Leadership Group, or C40, to assist them in their stated goal of reducing emissions. As the exclusive implementing partner to the C40, CCI is creating a series of city-based programmes that provide them with the missing elements that encourage energy efficiency.

Building Retrofit Program

In May this year CCI launched its first major programme: the Building Retrofit Program. We brought together four of the world’s largest energy service companies (ESCOs), five of the world’s largest banks, and 16 of the world’s largest cities in a $5 billion agreement that will cut energy consumption by between 20 and 50 per cent in existing public and private buildings that participate in the programme.

We began with buildings because they can cause from 50-80 per cent of the emissions in most large cities. And while we are working with some cities on Green Building code programmes to limit emissions from new buildings, we created a programme on retrofits because a greater percentage of urban emissions is from existing buildings.

The Building Retrofit Program is giving public and private building owners access to the financing needed to install existing buildings with more energy-efficient products.

ESCOs audit public and private buildings and guarantee energy savings over time. Based on these guarantees, banks loan money to the owners to pay for the retrofits. In addition, CCI has negotiated with suppliers of major products like lighting, HVAC systems, insulation, roofing and window coatings to offer discounted prices for their products because the scale of the programme allows them to operate more efficiently.

The cities agree to put up their own buildings for retrofit and to provide incentives, such as faster permitting or tax benefits, for private building owners to do the same. Cities participating in the first round of energy retrofits are Bangkok, Berlin, Chicago, Houston, Johannesburg, Karachi, London, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, New York, Rome, São Paulo, Seoul, Tokyo and Toronto. We have local people on the ground in each city and we place technical experts where needed to ensure a tailored approach.

The Building Retrofit Program will also create a significant number of jobs in each city for the construction workers, engineers and contractors who will carry out the work. Each city will initiate, in cooperation with expert groups, a programme to train workers on the installation and maintenance of energy-efficient and clean energy products.

This programme will give companies a profitable new global market, cut costs and bureaucracy for building owners, and ensure important reductions in carbon emissions while creating healthier environments for people to live and work in.

We are developing similar programmes in transportation, water, sanitation, housing, street and traffic lighting, ports and airports.


The Clinton Climate Initiative takes a unique, businesslike approach. We move quickly as befits the urgency of the problem. Our aim is to achieve large-scale changes that are both environmentally and economically sustainable.

Accelerating change by highlighting best practice
Through our Best Practice project, we highlight all the good work that has been done by cities and other organizations throughout the world. After extensive fact-gathering and analysis, we are using the best of these case studies as a stimulus for action.

Adapting solutions globally
We are a global organization with the ability to adapt our solutions and strategies to local political realities. With a presence in 40 international cities, CCI is able to work effectively because politicians and business leaders trust our conclusions, knowing we have no vested interests.

Solving climate change requires that many different parties agree on a way forward. The Clinton Foundation’s convening power allows us to bring together diverse interests in partnerships to implement solutions.

Removing barriers
Applying innovative thinking to break through economic and political barriers is our core competency. Clinton Foundation experience in solving the economics of AIDS medications and working effectively on a global scale is now being applied to energy-efficient technologies.

Stimulating the market
There are cases, such as energy efficiency, where the market would eventually shift the world to more efficient products. With climate change imminent, we don’t have time to wait. By jumpstarting the market, we can speed up the process while knowing that it is sustainable in the long term.

Mobilizing finance
We can make a business case for action to financial institutions at the highest levels. In the case of the Building Retrofit Program, we mobilized $5 billion for the city programmes in a matter of weeks.

Cooperating with others
Where other organizations are doing good work, we will always choose cooperation over duplication. We now have 17 world-class technical partners for our cities work and many more on the research side.

Measuring success
Without a standard method to measure emissions, it is impossible for cities and businesses to set meaningful emission reduction targets. CCI has established a partnership with Microsoft, Infosys, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (see p49) and the Centre for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) to develop a series of web applications that will enable governments and companies to measure emissions, prepare inventories, and create policy scenarios. This is a multi-country, multi-lingual, internet-based software service that will be available 24/7 via a web browser for cities and community members.

We are working with international experts to ensure the measurement standard has the authority and reach to accurately compare data from different cities and countries. A standard allows policymakers and technical experts to construct ‘what if’ analyses of sustainable best practice programmes and direct funding accordingly. CCI intends for this online network to engage cities and companies in dialogue and the exchange of best practice. Once this tool is in place, cities will be able to accurately measure their emissions and track the reductions that result from CCI programmes.

Taking action now

Every piece of the puzzle needs to be addressed if we are serious about reducing emissions. That means providing cities and businesses and communities with the tools and support they need to fight climate change, breaking down barriers that have prevented cities from becoming more energy-efficient, and making energy-saving technologies affordable and accessible to everyone. It means looking at ways to make saving carbon economically viable and rewarding so that it creates new jobs and grows new industries. It means looking for solutions from all angles including reducing energy demand, sequestration through technology and forests, and changing our energy supply. It means both engaging politicians on the highest levels and doing the hard work on the ground.

This is the crucial moment for all of us to act. There is serious business in solving climate change. There are jobs to be created, industries to be grown, and economic opportunities to be harnessed. However, the market alone will not get there in time. Philanthropists can make a real difference to this problem, and one good option is by funding CCI programmes. We don’t have much time, but we do have real, working solutions, and together we can make a difference.

Kathryn Murdoch, Strategy and communications, Clinton Climate Initiative. Email

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