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COP26 Through the Eyes of Three Tuck Students

Tuck sent a delegation of six students to the 26th Annual United Nations Conference of Parties, in Glasgow. Three of them share their experiences and takeaways.

Tuck has long participated in the annual U.N. Conference of Parties that addresses climate change.

COP26 Logo

For students who attend, it’s an experience that stays with them and builds upon the many climate-related courses and programs available at Tuck. This year, COP26 was held in Glasgow, Scotland, and it generated more than the usual amount of attention, due to a year of catastrophic climate-change-related weather disasters, including record heat waves, droughts, flooding and forest fires. Through sponsorship and organization provided by the Center for Business, Government and Society (CBGS) and the Revers Center for Energy, Tuck sent a delegation of six T’22s to COP26, where they had observer status and could sit in on negotiations and panel discussions, and network with professionals at the intersection of climate change, business, and public policy. They were led by Hannah Payson, executive director for the Center for Business, Government and Society, and Tracy Bach, a law professor, experienced climate change law and policy analyst, international negotiations advisor, researcher, and social entrepreneur who has been attending COP for years.

“It’s critical that our students have a front-row seat as they prepare to tackle these challenges as business leaders,” says Payson.

“Exposing Tuck students to the mechanics of decision-making in a real-world context is at the heart of how Centers amplify the MBA curriculum with transformational learning experiences,” adds April Salas, the executive director of the Revers Center for Energy.

Three of the students who attended COP26 from Tuck are Abigail Gary, Kaitlin Horan, and Sam Gant. Here’s a bit about their backgrounds, why they went to Glasgow, and what they got out of it.


Abigail Gary T’22

Abigail Gary came to Tuck with five years of experience working with governments in Chile and Peru on public-private partnerships in the education sector. She came back to the U.S. a little disenchanted about working in government, and curious about the role businesses can play in making change. Before enrolling at Tuck, Gary worked with a foundation that does CSR consulting for large Chilean multinational firms, and that solidified her interest in not only attending business school, but also getting a master’s degree in public policy. She’s currently a dual-degree student at Tuck and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “I thought it would be really important to be able to speak the business language, not just the impact policy language,” she says. “I wanted to be able to make the business case for these public policy programs.”

At Tuck, Gary is a fellow at the CBGS, a director of the Tuck ESG (environmental, social and governance) Fund—a student-led fund that invests in equities with an ESG negative and positive screen—and a director of the Tuck Social Venture Fund, which does impact investing in early-stage companies. Those experiences have taught her a lot about the importance of proper measurement in impact-related endeavors. “Right now is an interesting time for ESG metrics,” she says, “because people are starting to measure, standardize, and audit it. That was my main reason for attending COP26.”

The highlight of her trip was attending a panel discussion on standard setting, organized by the British Standards Institute, where panelists talked about creating ESG metrics that can apply across countries and industries. Afterward, she got a chance to speak with the panelists directly and ask questions about materiality—the threshold for disclosing risk in financial statements—and how to make it applicable to multiple industries. “The main message was that we need these metrics so we can create consistency across the board, but we also need flexibility. This will help mitigate some of the greenwashing we are seeing and make us able to compare impact assessments from different companies.”

Gary left Glasgow more motivated and energized than she expected. Previous COPs have made little progress on a binding global agreement to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and this version didn’t produce many breakthroughs. Still, Gary is optimistic because of the massive collaborative effort every country is making towards reducing climate change. “Seeing everyone working on the problem, that was powerful,” she says.

Conference rooms at the summit were equipped for in-person and virtual discussions. 

 

Samuel Gant T’22

Before starting at Tuck, Sam Gant spent six years working in Africa, doing economic development work and program design in Uganda and Burkina Faso, CSR consulting for the gold mining industry in Ghana and Burkina Faso, and behavior change consulting for UNICEF in Mali. He enrolled at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2019 and quickly realized he wanted to work in the for-profit sector. “The business community has more innovation, scale, and resources,” he says, “and companies have a really important role to play in creating positive social impact.” So he decided to get his MBA, and Tuck was the only school to which he applied.

Sam Gant

"COP has spurred me to reflect deeply on the role that I have played in exacerbating climate change, and what I can do going forward," reflects Sam Gant T'22 in a recent blog post to Tuck360 about his experience in Glasglow.

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He’s been very happy with his decision. “Going to COP26 is a great example of some of the amazing opportunities I’ve had from being a Tuck student,” he says. Other examples: he’s a fellow at CBGS, a non-profit board fellow serving with the Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity, and he co-hosted a panel discussion on supply chain sustainability in emerging markets, with guests from Starbucks, Patagonia, and other multinational companies.

In the long term, Gant is interested in working on CSR issues for firms, helping them think through their social and environmental impact. He wanted to go to COP26 to understand how the private sector is engaging in sustainability, and how governments and negotiators see the role of the private sector in reducing emissions.

At COP26, Gant focused his time on attending panel discussions and press conferences about the energy sector and private sector innovations. In one, he listened to CEOs from the electric power sector talk about initiatives they are undertaking to reach net-zero emissions. In another, he learned about the role of long-term strategies in market developments. “And I was able to make some really interesting connections with the head of the International Energy Agency, a senior manager at the International Chamber of Commerce, and Marsha Trant D’84 T’89, a senior executive at Avanade, a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture,” he says.

Gant is measured when he talks about the outcome of COP26. He acknowledges that the language in place now in the Glasgow Climate Pact is insufficient to stop the planet from warming more than 1.5-degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, the threshold for irreversible change. And yet, the Pact is an improvement over previous international agreements, so the movement is in the right direction. He was most moved by the 100,000-person march across Glasgow on the Saturday between the two weeks of meetings. “I think there was a really strong dynamic of urgency and accountability that did affect what happened in the negotiation rooms,” he says.

Students took a hike along Loch Katrine in the Highlands during their time in Scotland.

 

Kaitlin Horan T’22

Kaitlin Horan became interested in climate change through the gateway of health care. Before Tuck, she worked for Epic, the electronic medical records company, and started thinking about the environmental determinants of health, such as access to clean water and exposure to extreme weather—two areas closely tied to climate change.

Curious about the role business could play in climate change mitigation, Horan organized her Tuck experience to take advantage of as many climate and sustainability-related programs as possible. She took the courses Business and Society and Capital for Social Impact, taught by Curt Welling; lined up a summer internship with Valo Ventures, a venture-capital firm focused on climate change, the circular economy, and empowering people; and is working on an independent study on the value of biodiversity in agricultural value chains. She is co-chair of Tuck Sustains, the student-led group that works toward a more sustainable campus, and the Impact Capital Club, as well as a fellow for CBGS and the Center for Private Equity and Venture Capital.

At Valo Ventures, Horan researched methane emissions monitoring, offshore wind technology, and carbon pricing mechanisms. “The opportunity to attend COP and understand how nations are thinking about those problems was really attractive to me,” she says. “It was a privilege to be there."

Horan was pleasantly surprised to be able to sit in the same room as the parties who were negotiating the central agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact. That experience allowed her to better understand the negotiation between developed and developing nations around the definition of climate finance, and how much funding developed nations should provide to developing nations for climate mitigation and adaptation. “To see that play out in real-time, and watch different countries submit their opinions, that was fascinating,” she says.

The two most memorable aspects of COP26, for Horan, were the development of the groundbreaking Global Methane Pledge—100 countries including the U.S. and the E.U. agreed to reduce methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030—and President Obama’s speech, which was a hopeful call to action to younger generations. “There’s an interesting tension in how you work between generations to build a solution that’s sustainable for everyone,” she says.