What is your role within the PIER project?
My primary role is acting as the team’s resilience coordinator. I support with research and project design to ensure PIER interventions have a clear tie to climate risk and include activities that enhance resilience. In addition, I lead the monitoring and evaluation work for the project. I work closely with the team to track PIER activities in each country and advise on data collection methodologies, aggregate data in ways to show our impact (i.e. show outcome analysis for a certain intervention or country) and report back to our client, the U.S. Department of State. Finally, I lead one of our interventions in Vietnam in partnership with BSR (Business for Social Responsibility). This intervention works to enhance capacity and awareness of the private sector in Vietnam on climate change risks, climate adaptation and resilience. We’re working through partners like Vietnam’s Chamber of Commerce, which has access to a huge variety of small- and medium-sized enterprises. We are also working with a few large companies that have recently expanded operations to Vietnam.
What excites you about the project?
Before joining Winrock, I worked primarily in research organizations, trying to understand how to define/quantify the adaptability or resilience of an entity (business, city, country, etc.). While I found that work important and fascinating, our engagement ended at information-sharing, and often whatever recommendations came out of our analysis were difficult to implement given lack of financing. PIER activities take the next step; we leverage best practices and create tangible, scalable case studies of implementing resilience initiatives by increasing capacity, mobilizing investment and enhancing the enabling environment.
What are some of the challenges you’ve come across during the implementation of the project?
Globally, people are tuned in on the climate mitigation side, but adaptation, for some, could still be a relatively new concept. Perhaps just that terminology is new; experiencing negative impacts and developing strategies to mitigate that risk and become more resilient to future risks is innately human. I think the challenge of engaging the private sector, for example, is to articulate why it should get involved and how climate challenges are affecting the bottom line. The language of risk mitigation lines up well with the private sector, but that next step of seeing where there are resilience benefits and where actions could produce resilience benefits for nearby communities has continued to be a barrier. We must make sure that we’re speaking the same language, using the same terminology, and helping the private sector connect those dots outside of just mitigating risk. On the policy side, there are barriers to engaging the private sector as well. There’s a lot of interest but there aren’t clear mechanisms for engagement — and sometimes there are even burdensome, bureaucratic processes that would disincentivize a private-sector entity from getting involved. The interest is there on both sides, but there’s work to do.
What does progress look like at the end of the PIER project?
Progress would be seeing more private-sector companies interested in this work and putting money into these sorts of initiatives, as well as seeing national-level government policies revised to encourage this kind of collaboration. In addition, PIER case studies and learnings that are scalable/applicable to other country contexts would be a major contribution to the field. There is a lot of attention on financing in the adaptation space right now. Figuring out what sort of mechanisms or ideas really work across government scales and across countries is the next step forward, and PIER can be a thought leader in that.
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic is going to affect the thinking around climate resilience, especially for the private sector?
On the negative side, when something so disruptive and filled with uncertainty like this happens, it’s hard to prioritize something that can feel far off, like actions to enhance climate resilience. It’s going to be hard to get people to focus, especially private-sector entities, and really dig in on climate change, when there is something so presently disruptive to their supply chain, their workforce and their profits. It is essential that we acknowledge that and do what we can to work within that narrative.
On the positive side, we’re currently seeing what it looks like to have a coordinated global response to a major shock. I don’t think anyone would say that what’s happening right now is a perfect response to COVID-19, but we are seeing this mass mobilization at a scale that we’ve never seen before. Imagine what we could achieve if we could apply that learning to climate change.
Are there any policy changes that you would like to see in the next five to ten years regarding climate resilience?
I think we need to continue to build up the international-level agreements that already exist and figure out how to push them forward and implement them on the national level. We have things like the Paris agreement that give an indication of where the adaptation space needs to go. Let’s provide clear support across countries on how to achieve those targets, how to measure impact, and how to share learnings with peer countries.
In addition, I would like to see more breaking down of barriers to engage the private sector. As an example, PIER’s work in Peru with Obras por Impuestos (“Work for Taxes”) shows a mechanism that is already established within the government to engage the private sector and mobilize private-sector dollars toward resilience; it allows companies to allocate their tax dollars to a social project in their community. However, private companies either do not know about it or find the process burdensome. That’s the low-hanging fruit here — breaking barriers to engagement before starting over with new policy.
Do you have any advice for young people who are hoping to get into climate resilience work?
When I started in this field around six years ago, we talked a lot about how to change the narrative that adaptation means failure or that adaptation is accepting the fact that climate change “won.” The field was also still focused on how you define adaptation and how you measure it. There’s been tremendous work in such a short amount of time; it is very rare that I have to justify adaptation as a worthwhile field or go looking for definitions or metrics. (In fact, there are arguably too many now.) Since then, understanding case studies of how to work with public private partnerships has evolved and now we are tackling this finance question. So, my advice would be stay on top of the field because it’s evolving rapidly. Learn who the big players are and who’s putting out the right publications and newsletters with the cutting-edge information. Stay on top of the exciting innovations happening in the field, but more importantly, understand your niche and put your energy there. You don’t need to know everything about everything. I’m never going to be a finance expert, but I want to make sure I’m staying on top of the climate finance innovations because it’s important to the field as a whole.