Bank of America Women’s Leadership Series Emphasizes Roles of Corporations, Government in Climate Change Solutions
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HOUSTON, February 26, 2021 — Following a week where millions across the state of Texas experienced widespread power outages due to a severe winter freeze, the topics of climate change and energy are more relevant than ever. As part of its Bank of America Women’s Leadership Series, Asia Society Texas Center hosted Dr. Pratima Rangarajan, CEO of OGCI Climate Investments, and Lori Bird, Director of World Resources Institute’s U.S. Energy Program and the Polsky Chair for Renewable Energy, in conversation with Amy Harder, a national energy and climate change reporter and vice president of publishing at Breakthrough Energy, to discuss the complexities of climate change and the roles of government and private industry in transitioning our energy infrastructure.
Lessons from the Texas energy crisis
The program began with discussion over the recent Texas energy outage, as both Bird and Dr. Rangarajan agreed on the need for more preparation for the type of weather event that caused the widespread outages. Bird emphasized the importance for more investment in the grid to ensure stability during severe winter weather, noting that climate change is driving the intensity of extreme events. Dr. Rangarajan added that the frequency of such events has also been increasing, pointing to recent snow in Athens and Madrid. She said the important takeaway from Texas, and other climate instances, is the interconnectedness of the world and the necessity of collaborating on solutions. “Neither climate nor weather actually respects national or state boundaries,” she said.
Factors affecting climate change impacts
The speakers went on to discuss how climate change intersects with many other issues. Dr. Rangarajan mentioned the ability to react to and prepare for extreme weather events is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Bird added it is important to not lose sight of issues of inequity when finding solutions. She said energy crises like the one in Texas, along with COVID-19, highlight social disparities, as lower-income or disadvantaged communities tend to be the most impacted. In her view, investment in better energy infrastructure can help in creating new jobs that benefit those communities.
“We need to keep that in mind as we’re trying to address climate solutions: ‘How can we drive this transition in an equitable way that is sustainable and really benefits the broader society?’” said Bird.
Dr. Rangarajan added that, aside from carbon emissions, population growth should also be considered in contemplating future energy solutions as it affects our ability to solve the problem of climate change through renewable energy alone.
The roles of corporations and governments
Bird noted that many corporations have shifted their position on climate change in recent years. She emphasized that it is critical for all sectors, including oil and gas, to be part of the solution, pointing to the commitment from companies like GM in transitioning to electric vehicles and the overall investment in technology. However, both Dr. Rangarajan and Bird agreed that carbon emissions are not just a function of energy production but also consumption and, as such, technology alone is insufficient to address the problem.
The speakers indicated that while market factors will provide a general incentive to technologize in order to reduce carbon footprints, governments should also play a role. Bird suggested that governments should play a guiding role by establishing targets and setting initial rules to encourage the scaling of new technologies. Dr. Rangarajan noted that private company shifts toward climate change solutions have been voluntary and inconsistent in the absence of government policy. She mentioned specifically hopes for policies around curtailing methane emissions, increasing efficiency, and increasing carbon storage and capture.
In Bird’s view, the integration of climate policy through different sectors and at all levels of government is vital. She also stressed the importance of governments collaborating internationally and setting targets for progress — for example, in the Paris Agreement — though she acknowledged the challenges in establishing policies at the federal level to meet those international targets.
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The big picture
In summary, both speakers agreed that climate change is a serious issue, whose effects must be dealt with regularly. To confront climate change, they said we must improve our technologies and reduce emissions, and both the private sector and governments all over the world must contribute and cooperate on efforts.
“We are on this planet together,” Dr. Rangarajan said. “Unless we stop the blame game and really get cracking, we are not going to crack this.”
About the Speakers
Dr. Pratima Rangarajan is the CEO of OGCI Climate Investments, a fund set up to reduce carbon emissions in the energy, industrial, and transportation sectors. Before joining OGCI Climate Investments, Pratima was the General Manager for GE’s Onshore Wind product Line and the General Manager for GE’s Energy Storage startup. She had previously held the role of Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President, Emerging Technology and Research at Vestas Wind Systems. Pratima has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Princeton University and a BS in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Lori Bird is Director of World Resource Institute’s U.S. Energy Program and the Polsky Chair for Renewable Energy. In this role, she focuses on decarbonization by the utility sector and large buyers, increasing grid flexibility through market design, and transportation electrification.
Prior to joining WRI, she served as a principal analyst in the Markets and Policy Group of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where she specialized in renewable energy policy, solar and wind energy markets, and integrating variable generation into electric grids. At NREL, she helped launch the Solar Energy Innovation Network, a large, multi-year program designed to leverage research support to advance cutting edge solutions to solar market challenges. Earlier, she led extensive work on green power markets and stakeholder engagement activities on renewable grid integration. She also provided testimony to states on renewable energy policy and technical assistance to state agencies and international clients. Over her career, she has co-authored nearly 150 publications on renewable energy, including articles in a variety of academic and trade journals. She received several NREL awards for her sustained contributions in renewable energy markets.
Earlier in her career, she worked for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in Denver on the Million Solar Roofs Initiative and Hagler Bailly Consulting in Boulder, Colorado, where she prepared economic and policy analyses for clients such as utilities, U.S. EPA, and the World Bank. She holds a master's degree in environmental studies from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a B.A. in economics and environmental studies from Indiana University.
She lives in a passive-solar home with rooftop PV in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband and two children. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities and travel with her family.
About the Moderator
Amy Harder is one of the top national energy and climate change reporters in the country, having built up a reputation over a decade of being a uniquely balanced and influential journalist with respect across the spectrum. She joined Breakthrough Energy in early 2021 to launch a new journalism initiative covering the opportunities and challenges of the energy transition. She also writes on these topics in her regular Harder Line column for Axios as an outside contributor.
Before joining Breakthrough, Amy was with Axios full time since shortly after it launched in 2017. In that role, Amy reported on trends and exclusive scoops, while also distilling into understandable formats complex energy and climate issues relevant to people outside the industry. Harder has interviewed some of the biggest CEOs in the energy industry, and at the same time bridges the gap between what CEOs say and what everyday people care about. Previously, she covered the same issues for The Wall Street Journal, based out of its Washington, DC, bureau, and before that at National Journal, also in Washington DC. She was the inaugural journalism fellow for the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute for the 2018-2019 school year, where she moderated events and took part in other university initiatives. She has appeared on PBS' NewsHour, CSPAN, MSNBC, CBS, and NPR, among many other media outlets. She is regularly sought out to speak and participate in events, including moderating and participating in panel discussions and giving speeches around the country and world.
Amy’s arrival at Breakthrough coincides, serendipitously, with a move to Seattle. She is originally from Washington State and moved back in 2020, after a dozen years in Washington, D.C. She received a BA in journalism with honors from Western Washington University. She loves discovering the Pacific Northwest’s best trails for running and cross-country skiing.
Asia Society hosts today's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect Asia Society views.
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