The Environment

Here’s why finance ministers are key to conservation efforts

June 30, 2016  • Brett Jenks & Margot L. Pritzker

Brett Jenks is an Aspen Institute Catto Fellow, Braddock Scholar and John P. McNulty Prize Laureate. He leads Rare and its marine program, Fish Forever, which aims to restore sustainable fisheries for vulnerable coastal communities around the world. 

Brett will moderate a panel titled ”When Faced with Economic Ruin, Financial Leaders do Prioritize Climate Change. Here’s How,” on July 1st, at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Margot Pritzker: Last year you were both a John P. McNulty Prize Laureate and Braddock Scholar for Rare’s work on Fish Forever. How has that experience shaped this past year?

Brett Jenks: The McNulty and Braddock teams have been great partners, and the exposure within the Aspen Global Leadership Network has helped advance Rare’s program, Fish Forever, in some interesting ways. One example is our growing partnership with hedge fund manager David McCormick, who is helping to involve finance ministers in restoring coastal fisheries and coral reefs in tropical countries. As a former under secretary of the US Treasury Department, he understands why finance ministers are key to protecting natural assets.

MP: Environmental ministries are often typical partners for conservation organizations. Why are you focusing on finance ministers?

BJ: Finance ministers have the power of the purse. Traditionally, we look to treasury secretaries mainly in times of financial crisis. However, if we’re going to create a more sustainable world, we need to help finance ministers get ahead of the resource degradation curve to prevent a growing array of problems.

I once asked an environment minister what he needed to safeguard his county’s natural assets. He said, “I need to become finance minister.”

Coastal fisheries are a great example. The vision behind our Fish Forever program is to empower coastal communities to restore their own fisheries and, in the process, safeguard the reefs and mangroves on which their economies and cultures depend. If you see the ocean as an asset and calculate the upside of restoring it, the return on investment for a project like that is significant. But doing so in developing countries requires support via national budget allocations, international lending, private capital, and philanthropy. Finance ministers are key to creating these kinds of coalitions. It’s interesting: I once asked an environment minister what he needed to safeguard his county’s natural assets. He said, “I need to become finance minister.”

MP: I know that reading “The Tragedy of the Commons” as an AGLN Fellow initially inspired this work. What are you reading these days?

BJ: I’m halfway through E.O. Wilson’s new book, “Half Earth.” The author is a hero of mine, and his writing has had a big influence on me over the years. All of us at Rare spend so many of our waking hours executing against our plans for restoring fisheries, conserving watersheds in the Andes, or boosting organic agriculture in China. His writing puts these efforts in perspective: as humans, we are just one of millions of species inhabiting this planet; the others are all counting on us to get our act together.

MP: What were you thinking about when putting together your Aspen Ideas Festival panel?

BJ: We’ve been envisioning bringing together finance ministers, development banks, and philanthropists to address some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, like climate change, deforestation and overfishing. The goal is a “blended finance” approach for conservation, and this panel personifies the concept. David McCormick is a former under secretary of the US Treasury; Paula Caballero runs the agriculture and fisheries sector for the World Bank; and Jeremy Grantham, while known for his storied investment career, is an incredibly thoughtful environmental philanthropist. I am excited to listen to this conversation and even more delighted to moderate it.