Dawn Wells is an Advisor working with The Climate Board team, providing support on research and strategy. With extensive experience in both the private and public sectors, Dawn has worked with leading organizations such as the United Nations, co-managing a $100 million annual program portfolio for the Africa region. She co-authored the OECD's high-level 'Paris Alignment' report, which resulted in the declaration to terminate official development finance (worth $161 billion in 2020) for unabated international thermal coal power generation in 2021. Dawn has also co-developed climate adaptation indicators for UN SDG11 (Sustainable cities) at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and has undertaken projects in India, Uganda, and Kenya with The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Dawn received her bachelor's degree in Sustainable Development from Columbia University, and as a Masters Laureate with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs "Make Our Planet Great Again’ initiative, holds an MBA from IPAG Business School in Paris. Her thesis examined how digital disruption in the energy sector could drive decarbonization.
During my time working with multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), my work was focused on establishing new global norms and standards and providing governments guidance on what policies achieve the best outcomes for both climate- and development-related goals. As these policies are adopted and implemented, they have a knock-on effect on the private sector. More specifically, at the OECD we were creating guidance and standards so organizations mandated to alleviate poverty and develop economies did not undermine their other mandate under the Paris Agreement’s Article 2.1 to develop countries and provide aid “consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.” The alignment issue presents a real challenge for development cooperations, but also for the private sector as they try to reconcile growth and emissions reduction targets. In our analysis, it was critical to understand the environmental and economic drivers and challenges that countries are facing, so that we could make solid policy recommendations and frameworks. These variables are unique to each actor. With that in mind, when companies are building their reporting structure, it is critical that they understand the unique drivers and challenges for their business and use that as a foundation for what they report, and which targets they set. It is not “one-size-fits-all” so companies should approach frameworks more as guides on how to measure and track what is material to their business. If each individual company can accurately track where they are, use that data to set goals to improve, and have methods in place on how to improve, that is where real impact can happen.
One of the most important places to start with a diverse set of stakeholders, is to understand where stakeholders’ sensitivities lie. It is crucial to remember that not everyone’s expertise, incentives, or demands are the same. Organizations should therefore take the time to identify how stakeholder priorities differ and find a way to get everyone aligned. Getting to alignment with stakeholders is simultaneously the most important, and the hardest part of an impact assessment, and this is where the devil is in the details. For example, a stakeholder may be extremely motivated to have a sustainable business, but not know where to begin and feel intimidated by the process. Yet another may care about sustainability, understanding very well what needs to change, but their role explicitly demands them to deliver on an outcome that doesn't prioritize a green transition. To address these challenges, organizations should prioritize regular communication that serves to 1) educate so that there is a common understanding accessible to all stakeholders, 2) establish transparency, 3) provide a space for each of the stakeholders to voice their concerns, and 4) provide a space to problem-solve so that each stakeholder can participate in a meaningful, even if incremental, way. If stakeholders don’t feel heard, perceive that their challenges are not seriously considered, or simply don’t understand how they can tangibly conduct impact assessment, reporting or improvement initiatives, they will abandon the mission.
One reporting function that proved to be helpful in our analysis was the data reported by governments to the OECD, through the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Creditor Reporting System (CRS). This data marks which development finance is climate related. While we could estimate how much development co-operation as a whole is integrating climate objectives across activities, there was still no real guidance up to that point on how to align those two opposing demands (growth vs emissions). Ultimately, we developed a framework from scratch. Once the purpose of the framework was clearly defined - in our case guiding the integration of climate objectives in development co-operation - we identified the required data required. The CRS data was one element of that, but it was also important to identify more details on the different project activities, the funding sources, and the emission reduction targets. We accomplished this through a survey as well as a desk review. Once the data sources are identified, a reporting mechanism needs to be established as well as detailed reporting guidelines. In our case we engaged with implementing agencies, partners, and stakeholders – many of whom have their own independent systems of reporting. In a corporate context, the reporting function would involve key members of management, the sustainability/CSR team, the finance department, project managers, human resources, the environmental, health, and safety department, supply chain and procurement teams, as well as external stakeholders, to ensure comprehensive data collection. The reporting mechanism should define a way to take disaggregated data and collect and present it in a unified way.
It is important to recognize that voluntary sustainability reporting is just good business. Understanding the physical risks associated with climate change, such as extreme weather events and sea-level rise as well as the transition risks associated with the shift to a low-carbon economy, is imperative to prepare for any price shocks. Beyond that, it is an essential tool for organizations to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable practices and to build trust with stakeholders. In terms of regulations, while some corporations may not be legally required to report on their sustainability practices right now, the policy landscape is shifting. The EU recently adopted the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) which requires reporting on sustainability metrics, and, in the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has proposed sustainability-related disclosures that would require companies to disclose climate-related risks in their annual reports as well as their greenhouse gas emissions and plans to reduce them. To this end, companies should be proactively preparing for the coming regulations.
While working on the ‘Paris Alignment’ report for the OECD, we were developing a novel framework for development cooperation (which includes governments, aid agencies, multilateral organizations, and development banks) so operations across the board could align to the objectives of the Paris Agreement. This was announced publicly as an initiative of the OECD’s Secretary General at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP24 - so the report was always intended to be on public record, and there was a lot of attention on it from the start. This added to the pressure to “get things right”, but also to the intensity of stakeholder participation, who would be the ones ultimately held to account once we set the new standard on how to do ‘Paris Alignment’ was published. The report itself is the intellectual and evidence-based foundation that would go on to guide policy member states would eventually have to sign off on. During the drafting process, our approach with stakeholders was very much a “listen and learn” approach. We conducted a survey of 22 development co-operation providers, including governments and multilateral actors, to gain insight into their challenges. From my perspective, this is a strategy organizations should try to emulate. We ended up directedly integrating the responses to note the challenges, into the report.
The initiative was launched in December 2018 by OECD's Secretary General Angel Gurría at the UNFCCC COP 24. Stakeholder groups were assembled within the first few months, and we had an unusually tight timeline for the drafting and publication of a report of this nature—only nine months— because it needed to be ready for launch at COP 25. This was a particularly short time frame as we had 4 high-level stakeholder groups to engage and receive feedback from: the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), the DAC Network on Environment and Development Co-operation (ENVIRONET), the High-Level Advisory Group (HLAG), as well as the Informal Expert Group (IEG), a group of technical experts working within government agencies and multilateral development banks (MDBs). We kept to a very tight schedule so that iterations reflected feedback in a timely way. This facilitated the collection of a diverse array of perspectives that had to be managed and reconciled. If we had an outlying opinion on a topic, we held deeper discussions with that stakeholder and identified the language they would be comfortable with while ensuring that our meaning and impact were not altered. I want to emphasize that this was not a simple process. For example, one stakeholder, upon reviewing their investments close to the end of the consultation process, raised strong objections to some of the language without previous foreshadowing or communication on the issue. We worked with them late into the night before the report went to the printer, to not only to reach an agreement on how to change the language but also respect the meaning and intent, as well as the input from all of the other stakeholders. Despite coming to an agreement, this stakeholder was still not entirely content. We had to make honest concessions while maintaining the integrity of the report and our evidence-based recommendations.
In order to start this process, before we could begin outlining how to do “Paris Agreement Alignment”, we had to define what alignment was. Our aim was to create a definition and guidance that could be used across all actors in development, so understanding how individual stakeholders were approaching this issue was critical. We did this through a literature review of the policies that had been created by development actors in an attempt to respond to the new alignment requirements. Sources included a policy statement produced by MDBs describing how they were starting to define alignment, as well as government agencies, like French Development Agency . Then we went back to the original text in Article 2.1 of the Paris Agreement and defined the characteristics of “Paris Alignment” would be. That is – which activities should be included in development, and which activities should be limited based on strict adherence to the text within the Article. Then we assessed which, if any, of the ad hoc efforts were meeting that definition, and—for those that did not—how they fell short. From there, we developed a primer for those grappling with policy revision in the form of a “Challenge - Solution” form. The takeaway for private sector actors trying to create an internal framework is to define what “sustainability” means relative to your specific sector - what is inclusive and what is limited to that definition. No sector is ‘climate-blind’, but it is true that environmental impacts are largely sector dependent. Leverage what data is already being collected by your organization — be it financial data, inflows and outflows, or KPIs. Finally, identify areas of improvement to meet that definition. This could include adding a new metric to the information you gather or strengthening an internal policy by being more specific and/or going further.
I like to think of data in the context of health — health of a business, health of a population, and health of the planet. Data is really just a tool to do a sense check of where you stand and where you need to improve to meet goals as they relate to this triple bottom-line. With that in mind, having good data is the foundation for long-term strategy. If you don’t know what your baseline is, it is difficult to plan how you will reach your goals or even establish short, mid, and long-term goals. In that sense, data is most useful over long-term sustainability journeys, but it does require short-term action to collect, as well as thoughtfulness around which metrics you choose to collect and how they can be aggregated. With regard to messaging and insights, reporting should provide clear and actionable recommendations that stakeholders can use to drive long-term sustainability efforts through near term actions.
Throughout the entire process we shared the changing drafts and iterations with stakeholders, so that when the final draft went to publishing, there were no surprises. We interacted with stakeholders as partners rather than recipients of the report, because as the actors who would ultimately have to implement these changes, their feedback was invaluable. One of the ways we provided routine updates was during the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) meetings – regularly scheduled roundtables composed of development ministers, heads of aid agencies, Paris-based delegates of DAC members, and officials from OECD member capitals. We also sent out recurring drafts of the report with a period of feedback to our four stakeholder groups. A few months prior to the official launch at COP25, we convened a roundtable discussion with the stakeholders at Climate Week in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly. For this event we produced a policy highlights product that foreshadowed the contents of the report and served as a discussion piece. This allowed them to express public support or reservations and served to manage expectations and give them confidence in our process. As we neared the end of drafting, we allowed a final round of comments with a clear deadline. Once finally complete, we shared a final, embargoed version of the report with stakeholders, explained when the launch would happen, and invited them to attend.
Once they report went to publication, we launched it at COP25 with an official event in the form of a panel discussion. The report laid a solid foundation — why Paris Alignment was needed, what it is, and how to do it. Having brought the stakeholders along the journey and getting their buy-in, we were then able to have meaningful conversations about what policy changes were feasible. These conversations happened both bi-laterally and through the DAC meetings where member states could use the evidence from the report to find consensus on how to move forward. As a result of the report and the subsequent meetings, the OECD DAC Declaration aligned official development assistance (ODA), which totaled USD 161 billion in 2020, with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. There were several outcomes from the Declaration, but the most significant was that, starting in 2021, ODA was banned from using unabated thermal coal power generation. Our evidence and recommendations in the report are more rigorous concerning the reduction of fossil fuel dependency, but we still considered this a win since it was a big step forward from the alternative.