Research shows that’s roughly how much the world would need to invest by 2050 to reduce CO2 emissions to “Net Zero,” mitigating many of the risks of climate change, says Robert Brammer, Ph.D., President and CEO for Brammer Technology and retired Chief Technology Officer for global aerospace and financial services firms.
So, where do you find that kind of money?
“One sector, among others, that is currently not sufficiently engaged in climate change mitigation is the financial services industry,” says Brammer. “Although climate-related activities in this sector are growing rapidly, the level is still far below what is necessary. We're not going to mitigate and adapt to climate risks with government grants, contracts and regulations alone. Governments just don't have that kind of money. We need much more engagement by industry.”
Banks, insurance companies and asset managers are examples of financial institutions that must become much more active in addressing climate issues. They, according to Brammer, are indispensable players in meeting what he considers the planet’s most serious challenge.
Today’s climate-related investments are on the order of maybe two hundred billion dollars a year, a far cry from getting to the $50 trillion needed between now and 2050, says the philanthropist and former principal investigator for NASA and NOAA earth science programs.
However, we do have a shot of getting there. “There’s enough money in the world to mitigate many climate change impacts,” he says. “But it really requires leadership, innovation, incentives, communication, and people getting behind a number of activities,” such as the funding of wind and solar farms, carbon capture and storage technologies, electric vehicles, hydrogen-based systems, recyclable materials, and several other areas.
Marrying his passion for mathematics with his interest in atmospheric science is nothing new for Brammer — weather and climate have long been dominant themes in his career and legacy.
His father was an electrical engineering professor and a big reason why he grew up with a love of all things STEM. Brammer would go on to earn his undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan before completing both his master’s degree and doctorate in the subject from the University of Maryland.
During his Ph.D. program, he took a few courses outside the mathematics department in numerical weather prediction. That was his first foray into the atmospheric sciences, which gave him the opportunity to encounter “all kinds of intellectual scientific challenges, as well as dealing with something that's important to everyone in the world.”
He went on to win achievement awards for his work on NASA’s Apollo program, and has worked on many environmental, climate and security programs. He has recently become the chair of the Cleantech and Climate Change Committee for the American Bar Association and has initiated collaborations between the American Bar Association and the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures.
Now, he firmly believes that increased green financing and investing is the only way humanity has a fighting chance to deal with the climate-related risks coming to them.
“If we don't get enough finance involved, then we’re just talking about it, but if you can get enough people engaged with lending or investing in creating new companies and other initiatives, helping businesses transform, then there are many possibilities for significant improvements.”
Corporate funding on the order of billions of dollars geared towards climate initiatives like those set up by Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, along with some large venture capital firms, are one piece of the puzzle to getting us closer to essential risk mitigation, Brammer says.
And it’s not just the tech giants making changes. JPMorgan Chase— while reducing their financing of coal, oil, and gas companies — says it will invest $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years towards climate action and sustainable development. They say that money will help facilitate the shift to electric vehicles and speed up the power sector’s transition to green energy.
It’s the inadequately leveraged relationship between climate and investing that motivated Brammer to create a new program at the University of Maryland that combines finance and climate science, separate programs that have collaborated very little. Students from different majors get to collaborate and compete for prizes awarded to those with the best projects to address climate change.
“I wanted the university to do things in climate finance. It has leading science and business programs, but they were not sufficiently connected. I like putting things together,” said Brammer, who sits on one of the university’s boards. He is also an Adjunct Research Professor in both the Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Department and the Finance Department.
An involved patron of the sciences, Brammer has been a member of AAAS since the mid-80s and a fellow of the American Meteorological Society for over 20 years. He is also one of the generous donors that brought AAAS’ How We Respond project to life, which highlights how U.S. communities are actively responding to climate change and gives other communities a template for how they can effect positive change.
“It’s where the rubber meets the road,” says Brammer. “It’s not just writing papers about climate change or giving speeches about it; these are people doing real things to help people and their communities. AAAS has an essential role.”
He adds that battling the climate crisis isn’t only a matter of reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also addressing challenges like water management and increasing the resilience of our infrastructure. Parts of the U.S., for example, can be inundated with water while others suffer from a lack of it.
Recent events have shown just how important these types of projects are, says Brammer. Hurricane Ida, for example, left a trail of destruction in her path last month in cities like New Orleans and New York, causing deaths, destroying homes, submerging subway lines, and inflicting catastrophic damage to the electrical grid.
In the past, scientists struggled to convey to policy makers why people should care about climate change, says Brammer. That communication is now improving and is key to getting things moving at a larger scale and turning words into actions.
“Because now, we all need to stop just talking about it and start doing things that will have significant impacts.”