Return to site

State of Climate SenseMaking: January 2021 Top 5 Reading List

· Social Change

There has never been more momentum for the climate than this moment. It seems everyday a new billionaire wakes up and launches his/her own “Earth Fund” fund a la Jeff Bezos (February 2020). The world is paying attention to these wicked problems whether it's the natural disasters hitting their income statements or the massive opportunities to make some coin. With the new Biden-Harris administration and Democratic majority congress, America is already starting to feel the sails catching a great and much needed wind for this cause.

But the journey is just beginning. We are up against a massive challenge. Think Moonshot JFK. Lewis and Clark going west. Rocky in 15th round with Apollo Creed. We are in uncharted territory. We have to get prepared to better see the map and get to work. Be ready for the greatest adventure (and most challenging) of our lifetimes.

Here's some of the research reports I'm reading as I try to get smart and tactical about sense making on the State of Climate in January 2021.

1) Drawdown Georgia.

Project Drawdown is the most comprehensive list of solutions ever proposed to reverse climate change. “Drawdown is the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. This is the point when we begin the process of stopping further climate change and averting potentially catastrophic warming. It is a critical turning point for life on Earth.” While the book and organization has been incredibly successful in terms of media exposure, true success requires local traction. Drawdown evaluates a list of solutions for the entire world that may not be contextually relevant to local context.

Drawdown GA was the first state to analyze every solution and downselect those solutions relevant to Georgia’s specific context based on a criteria of technology and market readiness, local experience & data availability, technically achievable CO2 reduction potential, cost competitiveness, and social equity attributes. We need every state and city to do this work !

2) PWC's State of Climate Tech 2020.

We see a new climate tech industry coming of age as the next frontier. How are you positioned to be a serious player in a market ready for commercialization? To get an educational glimpse into some new invention, check out Tom Chi's inventive presentation on "Helping Humanity Become a Net Positive to Nature:"

Here are a few excerpts from the executive summary.

• More supportive policies and regulations: with over one hundred countries committing to net zero emissions economies before 2050, we can expect to see continued and rapid strengthening of policymaking over coming years, including carbon pricing, subsidies, standards, bans and phase-outs, public finance mechanisms and green infrastructure investment. This is important because there are non-financial barriers, from talent to regulations, which might get in the way of firms having as much of an impact as needed.

• Growing corporate demand: close to 300 major global companieand rising weekly) have made net zero before 2050 pledges, since the push for this target began in mid 2019. Individual great founders can make an outsized difference in climate action. A new class of ‘climate tech unicorns’ such as Tesla, Nest, Oatly and Impossible Foods have also emerged showcasing the viability of disruptive approaches in the consumer market that deliver substantial sustainability impact.

•The startups they create will take some time to reach scale however, and so the startups creating most impact in this business cycle (over the next 5-7 years) will likely be those founded in the 2010’s. New and cheaper technology advances and infrastructure investment have shifted the cost curve down, and powerful new technologies – like AI, cloud, blockchain, and advanced sensors – are not only enabling solutions to be optimised and scaled, but are offering entirely new business models. Startups leverage capital well and don’t need trillions to make a difference.

• Circa $60 billion as of 2019 is too low given the scale of the challenge, and more early stage investment needs to be stimulated, and the area needs to attract and support more top founders. The growth rate of climate tech from 2013 has been sizable, with more than 3750% increase over the 7 year period (2013-2019). Investors that represent over $45Tr assets under management (AUM) have signed on to drive action on climate change across their portfolios, from portfolio decarbonisation to climate risk disclosure and the use of shareholder levers.

3) Material Economics.

We have to confront our use of heavy industry that makes our society function.

We have to build the economic case for decarbonizing cities.

I'm not saying we need to make money on every deal to heal the climate but we do need a healthy portfolio of blended finance (traditional philanthropy to reasonable returns) to mobilize the right sizes of capital allocation. I will call out there is over $300 billion from the Giving Pledge (204 signatories at $1.2 trillion in May 2019) and Donor Advised Funds ($37 billion in 2018) just sitting there without a coherent integrated strategy for the regions or the problems we face. Still, the numbers we need to mobilize are bigger so the trillions in the capital market is needed (not withstanding their externalities).

Europe has been regretfully more advanced than the USA in recent years on this topic. Material Economics’s reports on "The Economic Case for Decarbonizing Cities" and "Pathways to Net Zero Emissions from EU Heavy Industry" are important to quickly learn from their progress and adjust as needed. The first report is for cities starting to work on decarbonisation, the analysis can help them to quickly understand the approximate potential and economics of key decarbonisation initiatives they can pursue, helping them priorities. The analyses made with the tool can help city decision-makers and stakeholders deepen their understanding of the economic impact of available decarbonisation options, identifying the initiatives that are likeliest to have a significant economic return to society, and quantifying the potential cost. The second report characterizes how net zero emissions can be achieved by 2050 from the largest sources of ‘hard to abate’ emissions: steel, plastics, ammonia, and cement. It is published as part of the Net-Zero 2050 series, an initiative of the European Climate Foundation.

4) In BlackRock’s Adapting Portfolio to Climate Change, it states “The green bond market has some $130 billion of debt outstanding as of July 2016 according to Bloomberg data, or just 0.15% of the total global fixed income market. We see green bonds becoming their own asset class. Several index providers have launched green bond indexes; S&P and Moody’s are developing green bond ratings methodologies; and public bodies are seeking ways to encourage the development of this nascent market.We see green bonds as part of the solution to finance the estimated $90 trillion of global infrastructure needed by 2030 to limit climate change.” See page 13 for more discussion. I'm generally interested in green bonds as a practical lever to fund this work.

5) This discussion is about Highest Use of assets in our neighborhoods. A classic example is a publicly owned middle school location adjacent to beachfront buildings with $100 million valuation in Brazil. Does it make sense for the middle school to be there if society could leverage more value with another use? I'm not saying put another $100 million building there but maybe something that contributes more to society's health and captures more value than the current arrangement. I find it fascinating to contemplate all the public and private assets that may or may not be organized for its highest use to market and/or community. This applies to less obvious situations like empty lots, abandoned buildings, government assets, squatters, etc. This reorganizing the public/private assets inventory for highest use is sometimes described as the “Hidden Goldmine." See more in this ADB Report.

Honorable Mentions:

6) This New Energy Nexus report is one of the first to showcase the specific intersection of digital financial technology and decarbonization, known as Climate Fintech. “Solving climate change requires creating a new inertia. Since the industrial revolution, large economies have been driven by carbon-emitting energy and industrial systems. The invisible engine underlying it all has been finance; and at last, finance is facing disruption. This report lays the foundation for why it’s so important to leverage this disruption for the benefit of people and the planet,” explains Marilyn Waite, Climate & Clean Energy Finance Program Officer William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. I especially like the Stakeholders, Trends, and Business Models that help frame the conversation on page 20-23.

I once pulled together a NEXUS session at the United Nations titled "Can Blockchain Heal the Planet?" 

Special shout out below to a few groups I follow not to mention my ETH account doubling in the last year. Since then I started collecting all the free coin in Coinbase and checking more regularly.


As of today, the the global crypto market cap is $992.59B. Hard to not pay attention to that albeit Bitcoin’s dominance is currently 65.11% (7.69% Ethereum) and daily 24 hour trading volume is $148.74B via

7) The Climate 21 Project taps the expertise of more than 150 experts with high-level government experience, including nine former cabinet appointees, to deliver actionable advice for a rapid-start, whole-of-government climate response coordinated by the White House and accountable to the President. The Climate 21 Project’s recommendations are organized across the following 11 White House offices, federal departments, and federal agencies.

Worth mentioning Joe Biden's website Climate Action Plan, the House, and the Senate all of a version of this. Will be interesting to see how the government takes this on ! I know that Biden named Gina McCarthy as the first National Climate Advisor where she will advise Biden on domestic climate change policy and lead the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy. Al Zaidi is the incoming deputy White House National Climate Advisor. I love that he is 33 years old around the age Thomas Jefferson was when he was writing the Declaration of Independence.

8) Urban Us's Urban Tech Playbook provides a "blueprint for evaluating urbantech investments with the following five-pronged approach:

    1. Aggregate insight and wisdom from LPs and Fund Managers leading the field

    2. Present a framework for understanding and evaluating the urbantech landscape

    3. Explore urbantech as a viable investment category through real-world case studies, in

      and outside of the Urban Us portfolio

    4. Illuminate best practices, investment strategies, and resources at the sector’s frontier

    5. Distill a compelling vision of urbantech’s future to guide continued strategic investments.

Not only did they they interview the who's who of cutting edge investors to inform their report, I find everything they do to be high quality and insightful. They provide practical examples of their own portfolio investments and I especially like the sectors described on page 6 and 7.

"Built Environment & Real Estate

Technology improving how we add capacity to urban spaces and increase efficiency in building it.

Infrastructure & Industry

Roads, bridges, utilities/smart grid, Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), equipment, manufacturing and efficiency.

Food, Waste & Water

Access to sustainable and healthy food, clean water, and the reduction of commercial and residential waste.

Public Health & Safety

Welfare and protection of the general public, environmental health and behavior, and city livability.

Energy & Grid

Renewable energy and energy efficiency that reduce environmental impacts.

GovTech & Civic Solutions

Digital upgrades to existing state, local, national and international government and civic functions including data collection and civic participation.

Transportation & Mobility

Changes of how we move people and things with autonomous vehicles, car sharing, electric vehicles and alternative transportation options.

Together these sectors represent about 25% of US GDP. According to the data he collected using CB Insights, urbantech investments totaled more than $75 billion from 2016-2018, representing roughly 17 percent of all global venture-capital investment. Between 2016 and 2017, urbantech investment more than doubled—from less than $20 billion to $44 billion—as its share of global venture investment surged from 13 percent to 22 percent."

I myself have developed a database of 2k+ “Regen Tech” companies innovating in the fields of Carbon, Waste to Value, Water, Energy, Food & Agriculture, Materials, IoT & Data, Finance, Media, Health, Heating/Cooling, and Housing. I've also spent a significant time making sense of a new taxonomy that outlines what information infrastructure exists for these new and hard to understand technologies, how to verify company claims with 3rd party scientific experts such as being done by Boundless Impact Research & Analytics (subscribe for much more visibility into this new taxonomy albeit not cheap), and what embedded market information is important to get smart on related to these companies operating within new industries (and sub-industries). For example, for all the companies within Waste to Value, there are even further distinctions in Waste to Energy, Methane Capture, Waste to Materials, Waste to Fertilizer, and Liquid Waste to Water. Each sub-industry has another layer of context, technology development, adoption, and relevant market forces to consider. This information architecture and market understanding hardly exists and is not widespread.

PS. What else would you add? I'd love to find more people to discuss these report nuances with.

Shoot me a message if that is you ! :)