Game Changer: Elena Crete (United States)

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Elena Crete is a Manager for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), where she focuses on special initiatives for the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) and other climate and energy projects for SDSN. Elena serves as the central SDSN lead for the annual Low-Emissions Solutions Conference (LESC), launched at the United Nation’s Conference of Parties (COP22) in Morocco. Part of Elena’s core portfolio is to help bring low-emission solutions to decision-makers across networks and sectors to help implement the Paris Agreement. Elena also serves as the Secretariat point person for the Hong Kong Network, Japan Network, Indonesian Network, South Korea Network, and the Southeast Asia Network. Prior to these professional experiences, Elena completed a Masters of Arts in Climate &  Society and a Masters of Science in Sustainability Management from Columbia University and earned an Earth Science Bachelors Degree from the University of New Hampshire.

Q & A with Elena:

Q:  You’ve mentioned there’s a report coming out soon that presents some research that aims us at becoming “carbon-neutral.” Can you tell us a little more about how that document is being prepared and how it will help to generate impact?

Elena Crete, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network – COP22

A:  In recent years, the world has been inundated with daunting headlines of more frequent and intense extreme weather events (floods, droughts, fires, hurricanes), potential crop failures (coffee, chocolate, grapes), and mass extinctions (polar bears, fisheries, and bees) all at the hand of human-induced climate change. While these headlines make for provocative stories, they tend to bear more questions than answers. What actions are causing these changes, can we predict what will happen in the future, how do we mitigate this trend and stabilize our climate?  This month the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) will release a report, the Roadmap to 2050: A Manuel for Nations to Decarbonize by Mid-Century. When Jeff Sachs and I were attending the annual United National Climate meeting “COP,” we were struck by the lack of optimism in the stories being told and how much the conversation had not changed since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. So, we set out to develop a report with which we could change the headline from impending gloom to economic boom. Rather than relishing in the potential reality that we are all trapped in a massive global consumption engine of which we have no control, we wanted to credibly articulate, “we know the way, here are the technologies, we must act now.”  So, in April of this year, (2019) we invited 100 of the top engineers from aviation, cement, steel, petrochemical, shipping, buildings, power, transmission, renewables, and other energy-intensive sectors to discuss what technology options are available for countries today to decarbonize  their entire society and showcase the cadre of economically viable options that can actually put our global economy on the path to carbon neutrality. And that’s just what our report will show. After it is released on September 23rd, we look forward to working even more closely with industry conglomerates to address some of the gaps in scaling these technologies and to better understand what implementation challenges may come about in more resource-constrained contexts and how to overcome those hurdles.

Q:  There’s an event in December that the SDSN is putting together to address circular economy in particular sectors. Who will be attending and what input do you need now to help you to put together a more targeted solicitation so that you can secure meaningful feedback?

A:  We are currently planning to host a Low-Emission Solutions Conference in December at this year’s United Nations climate meeting (‘COP25’) to showcase how different sectors can decarbonize and what the circular economy may mean to those stakeholders. The Low-Emissions Solutions Conference (LESC) is aimed at problem-solving, brainstorming, and global co-creation to inform nations about the latest technology developments. It brings together technical experts and world-leading scientists, engineers and innovators from business, academia, and cities, to share knowledge, exchange information, identify bottlenecks, discuss best practices, and prioritize future research in order to set common technological trajectories for a decarbonized economy as well as the transformations necessary in each sector. The successful implementation of the Paris Agreement will depend on the deployment of Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDSs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  Technological developments and innovative practices will be key in this process. We are hoping to cover the same topics discussed in our Roadmap 2050 report including power, industry, transport, and buildings decarbonization.

Q:  What are the challenges you feel you face in helping communities make the leap from theory to practice?

A:  Many times, there is a lack of access that creates the biggest challenge. Access to resources, access to expertise, access to knowledge, access to decision-makers to implement solutions, and access to trusted stakeholders. Our world is ripe with corruption in both the private and public sector and many times vested interests can inhibit progress even when the answer may seem simple and obvious. Even the win-win solutions, like renewables, can be demonized when the stakeholders have their fortunes deep in the wells of fossil fuel interests. Giving people access to vetted and unbiased knowledge can be nearly impossible in our very noisy and paranoid world of fake news and false headlines. Establishing the trust needed with a global network of experts helps us address this challenge of access and make science and research known throughout of network here at SDSN.

Elena’s Networking Interests:

  • Chief Sustainability Officers of cities
  • Energy regulators and policymakers
  • Public and private utility operators




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