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Trees near the tennis courts.

Sara Jane Ahmed '12

From Philippines and Bangladesh

Self-designed major in energy and development and economics

Sara Jane is one of the 2021 recipients of the Climate Breakthrough Award for her work with economies that are most exposed to climate impacts. She received an honorary degree during the inauguration ceremony for C. Andrew McGadney, the 20th president of Knox College.

Sara Jane Ahmed '12

Where are you from? How did you end up at Knox?  

I am from the Philippines and Bangladesh. I studied economics and a self-designed major in the realm of energy and development. I ended up at Knox because of a book called Colleges That Change Lives, recommended by my guidance counselor in high school. 

What did you study at Knox? How did Knox impact your career choices and lead to your deep expertise in financial and energy markets?

Knox impacted my career choice with the mentorship and support from professors such as John Spittell, Wagner Distinguished Chair in Business and executive-in-residence; Roy Andersen, Charles W. and Arvilla S. Timme Professor Emeritus of Economics; and Jonathan Powers, assistant professor and chair of economics, who encouraged me to not shy away from new approaches and bold integrative strategies. Knox provided me with many opportunities to pursue research in microfinance and rural electrification with support from Richter Grants and the Ford Fellowship.

Knox was also a place of learning outside the classroom. A moment I recall vividly is that I had to skip an important class just before exams because it was my late grandfather's 80th birthday. The professor told me that spending time with grandparents is a beautiful thing and then moved to synthesize the last lecture in 30 minutes. That professor is none other than John Spittell.

Can you tell us more about your strategy of using finance to combat climate change? What was your inspiration for this strategy? 

Climate vulnerabilities are a threat multiplier impacting the cost of capital and debt levels, exposing economies and communities. Economies on the front line of the climate emergency, such as the V20 Group, face very high capital costs due to a variety of country-related risks, particularly climate risks. Capital cost hurdles continue to prevent or delay resilient and sustainable development among climate vulnerable economies. However, these economies should not be penalized by growing climate risk that ultimately leads to high capital cost and impairs low-carbon and climate adaptation investments.

Access to lower cost of capital can improve debt sustainability and enable sustainable and resilient investments to succeed. Finance can be an important tool to support transition efforts between now and 2030. For example, the provision to provide financial cooperation guarantees can help with credit-strengthening and ultimately reduce cost of capital. This is the next big opportunity for G20 and G7 to make a quick difference on risks and green transition for climate vulnerable developing countries.

Please tell us how the Financial Futures Center was founded, and talk a bit about its people, programs and work.

The Financial Futures Center was founded in August 2020 during the pandemic with the mission to support climate-vulnerable developing countries in catalyzing economic transformation through a strategic investment agenda to boost economic growth while accelerating planetary prosperity and tackling frontline climate threats. This is done by launching progress with five years of fast-tracked action aimed at achieving, by 2030, “climate prosperity,” and the reversal of systemic climate vulnerability toward becoming climate resilient economies with a high share of renewable energy in the power mix. 

What about your role as finance advisor to the ministers of finance from the world's 55 most climate vulnerable countries or the V20 group? What are the most challenging, and conversely, most rewarding aspects of this role? How do you operate in this role while also running the Financial Futures Center?

The most challenging aspect of this role is that the V20 representation in global governance decisions remains weak and continues to result in outcomes that do not go far enough to protect the interests of the world's most vulnerable groups on the planet. At the same time, while we are running against the clock to transition all economies, there is sustained interference from business as usual, protecting legacy players and systems. The Financial Futures Center complements my role through the team of technical experts and partners to ensure that we are putting forward practical solutions to support climate vulnerable developing economies and communities.

The most rewarding aspects of this role are the opportunities to work with colleagues across many institutions with a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, as well as developing country governments and communities, and to build on their successes and be able to channel financial or other types of interventions precisely to support their resilience building efforts. Shared leadership is key to designing and driving resources rapidly towards a resilient, sustainably powered economy for all.

Can you talk a bit about the Climate Prosperity Plan? We understand it is a package of policies and financial mechanisms. How will you use the funds from the grant you received to support the CPP?

Climate Prosperity Plans (CPPs) are transformational strategic investment initiatives aimed at climate-vulnerable countries by mobilizing finance, especially through international economic cooperation. CPPs are a signal to the investment community because vulnerable countries cannot afford to and nor will they wait for the largesse of developed countries. CPPs are undertaken and driven by a singular ambition: roll out early; be economy-wide and ambitious; and create enduring renewable energy and resilience strategies. CPPs are designed to unlock investments in countries struggling to realize long-term development strategies amidst the constraints imposed by the climate crisis and formidable development challenges that have over decades exponentially increased the cost of capital in vulnerable countries. By doing so and by working with developed countries and other Global South countries, they help accelerate changes needed in developing countries through increased climate-sensitive trade and economic cooperation, leaving behind the world of shared vulnerabilities with shared prosperity as the ultimate global prize.

The Climate Breakthrough Prize will go into developing a framework macro-economic model for the creation of climate prosperity plans, including the development of an integrated set of modeling systems, national and subnational data, among other items. The prize will also support working with local partners in-country on Climate Prosperity Plans across 10 countries of the V20 as a starting point.

What advice do you have for Knox students who want to pursue paths like yours?

Don’t be afraid to find your unique path.

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Printed on Sunday, April 21, 2024