Urgency Must Underscore Every Aspect Of Climate Action: Helen Clarkson  

By Rajiv Tikoo, Naina Gautam March 01, 2023

There is a need for strong instruments to make the financing not just available but also viable to sustain innovation and meet just transition goals, says CEO of the Climate Group 

Urgency Must Underscore Every Aspect Of Climate Action: Helen Clarkson  
We can’t be complacent; if anything we need to go faster.

Helen Clarkson is in a hurry. It is with this urgency in her thoughts and actions that she tries to catalyse climate action across geographies and sectors. It helps that the CEO of the Climate Group sits also on the board of We Mean Business Coalition, and Sustainable Development Capital Energy Efficiency Income Trust. She addressed the recently concluded World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS 2023) organised by TERI. In an email interview with Rajiv Tikoo and Naina Gautam, Clarkson talks about various facets of climate finance, just and equitable transition and related issues. Edited excerpts:   
What was your takeaway from TERI’s WSDS 2023?

It was great to see this year’s focus on resilience, and other important themes central to India’s G20 leadership, such as green growth and just transition. The strong conversations are critical to shaping India’s G20 presidency and the Clean Energy Ministerial later this year.   

We are at a pivotal moment, where the world has seen some great wins in the transition to net zero – but we can’t take our foot of the gas, we need to speed up. We are entering a new phase in decarbonising the global economy, and we need to scale up our skills, the resources and our ambition to meet our targets. So, it is hugely important that some of the world’s top leaders gathered to talk about sustainable development issues.     
What are going to be the defining issues for climate action in the near future?

Climate finance is one, and we need to decide what it means to have a just transition – are we really doing enough to ensure a just and equitable transition? Are we prioritising the right people and communities – the ones who are most at-risk and have suffered the worst impacts of climate change? Also, who benefits from the changes in our economies, where are the jobs?   Time simply isn’t on our side. We have had years of climate conversations with not enough action. We need to go further, faster. Urgency must underscore every aspect of climate action.   
Why has climate finance continued to be a lingering challenge?

Through working with sub-national governments in India and across the world, we know that funds don’t always get to the right place, where the action really happens. We need strong institutional mechanisms so that sub-national governments can tap into some of this international finance.  And we need strong instruments to make the financing not just available but also viable, to sustain innovation and meet just transition goals. Simply pledging climate finance isn’t enough.

Recently, we organised a roundtable for Indian states and philanthropies and participants talked about their action plans and strategies in place. They flagged finance as one of the key barriers, but also key opportunity on climate action. They talked about ideas such as forest backed bonds, payment for ecosystem services, climate budgeting, emissions trading and for states to be ready with bankable projects for philanthropies to support.  

The Climate Group’s work covers a wide spectrum of climate actions, but what are your priorities?

We work with some of the largest companies in the world to drive impact at scale in the most polluting sectors – energy, transport and industry. With our members we drive demand for clean energy, clean transport, and low-carbon steel and concrete. These sectors are vital in decarbonising the global economy; we can’t achieve change without them.

How do you see your role between states and companies?

The roles of states and regions on the one hand and large companies on the other are vital. As said, we can’t be complacent; if anything we need to go faster. States can drive change at ground level and use their influence to shift policies, and companies can drive demand – for example, for electrical vehicles or clean energy.  With our members we drive that demand at scale, across the globe, and we are convinced that can have a huge impact on the transition to a net zero future.