How Morgan Stanley Helps Scale Transformative Solutions in the Fight Against Climate Change

How Morgan Stanley Helps Scale Transformative Solutions in the Fight Against Climate Change

By bringing finance and technology together to scale innovative solutions, Morgan Stanley helps work to mitigate the global climate crisis.
By bringing finance and technology together to scale innovative solutions, Morgan Stanley helps work to mitigate the global climate crisis.

N ine years ago, when Morgan Stanley founded our Institute for Sustainable Investing, we understood that real progress in the fight against climate change is possible only through interdisciplinary, scalable solutions that combine financing, technology, collaboration between the public and private sectors and more.

That is why we are proud to sponsor Sotheby’s in the presentation of photographer Sebastião Salgado’s documentation of the Amazon and their support of Instituto Terra, a nonprofit Salgado and his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, founded in 1998. The work of Instituto Terra in transforming Brazil’s Vale do Rio Doce from a deteriorated land to a rejuvenated Brazilian Atlantic Forest demonstrates how the dream of two people can have significant impact.

As the climate change crisis reaches a critical stage, many more such initiatives will be necessary. The world needs more efforts on a global scale that help transform minds, restore environments and support the people that live in them.

Sebastião Salgado, Anavilhanas National Park, State of Amazonas, Brazil, 2009 (left), and YANOMAMI INDIGENOUS TERRITORY, STATE OF AMAZONAS, BRAZIL, 2014 (right).

The Inequity of Extreme Heat

The urgent need for incremental efforts is stark. This year marked a summer of record-breaking heat, as millions faced life-threatening temperatures, rivers were turned into mudflats and wildfires consumed forests. While the world’s whole population will feel the impact of extreme heat, the consequences will vary enormously depending on the built environment. The number of paved surfaces that absorb heat, the amount of tree covering to provide shade, the size of buildings that can prevent heat from escaping the streets and the quality of housing can all make a major difference in whether heat is simply uncomfortable or dangerous to life.

In U.S. cities, remnants of discriminatory redlining policies and underinvestment in community resources are important reasons why the worsening impacts of extreme heat are disproportionately felt by lower-income families and communities of color. In fact, areas with higher rates of poverty can have average temperatures as much as 4⁰C (or 7⁰F) hotter than wealthier neighborhoods.

The same is true on a global scale; people living in lower-income countries are already 40% more likely to experience extreme temperatures than those living in higher-income countries — and the gap is expected to widen in the coming years. These communities have largely been excluded from important conversations and policy decisions around climate that affect their own lives and their own well-being.

Global leaders must act now to protect the most vulnerable and avoid increasingly catastrophic outcomes. It is one of the reasons why Morgan Stanley mobilizes capital markets for solutions that can help support diverse communities and a more sustainable future. For example, the Morgan Stanley Sustainable Solutions Collaborative, now in its second year, selects innovative and systemic sustainability concepts to receive grants and a year-long partnership with the firm to help these ideas achieve a broader scale.

ISeeChange, one of this year’s Collaborative grant recipients, is directly tackling the issue of extreme heat. And like the Salgados, it is using the power of storytelling to do it. ISeeChange — a New Orleans-based data and community engagement platform that lets users share personal stories, photos and community anecdotes on extreme weather events — has helped illustrate how both rising temperatures and flooding disproportionately impact low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Founder and CEO Julia Kumari Drapkin explains, “ISeeChange combines a photojournalism approach and an anthropology perspective, empowering everyone as reporters, photojournalists and climate scientists to show how communities are experiencing environmental and social change.”

ISeeChange aims to harness its citizen-documentarians’ efforts to partner with cities, engineers, educators, researchers and local organizations to create change. For example, the city of Miami uses ISeeChange to track flooding and its impacts on communities. Using ISeeChange data, the city generated more than $20 million from the state of Florida for resilience investments to address storm water flooding, Drapkin says, and Miami Dade County will also use ISeeChange to address heat and flooding.

Two sites near the Instituto Terra headquarters reveal the destruction of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest (right) and the results of the organization’s reforestation efforts (left), as seen on November 22, 2019. Photos by Christian Ender via Getty Images

Working Together to Cool Cities

Documenting the effects of the climate crisis is a powerful tool for change — but to make a difference, people in a position to see the big picture must also take action. One optimistic development is the creation, in several cities, of a Chief Heat Officer role. Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Athens, Greece; and Freetown, Sierra Leone, have appointed officials responsible for preparing their communities for the challenges ahead and protecting their cities’ most vulnerable residents from the realities of a warming world.

As Chief Heat Officers work to make their cities cooler, they might be inspired by Instituto Terra’s reforestation efforts. Urban forests are an effort that could help mitigate global warming and its ramifications for marginalized communities. Just as the Amazonian rainforest is crucial to absorbing carbon emissions from around the world — and its deforestation poses an urgent risk to that — trees in cities have a role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the local level.

That is why the Morgan Stanley Sustainable Solutions Collaborative also selected Trees As Infrastructure as one of its grant recipients in 2021. TreesAI is an open-source platform, built by UK-based Dark Matter Labs, that measures the environmental and economic benefits of trees in cities and helps finance urban forest restoration at scale. “The initiative is establishing urban trees as a critical part of urban infrastructure,” says Carlotta Conte, TreesAI’s Infrastructure Mission Lead. “Urban trees can clean the air around us, reduce temperature and provide social benefits, neighborhood cohesion benefits and healthcare benefits,” she says.

Sebastião Salgado, Zo’é Indigenous Territory, State of Pará, Brazil, 2009 (left), and Ethiopia, 1985 (right).

A Long-Term Commitment to Sustainability

Protecting the environment and the world’s diverse communities is a complex challenge, requiring individual efforts and coordination between companies, investors, civil society leaders, artists and activists. Morgan Stanley is proud to be part of this effort. The firm’s key sustainability efforts include:

  • Our Global Sustainable Finance Group, which was established in 2009 to offer a fast-growing array of sustainable solutions across Institutional Securities, Investment Management and Wealth Management.
  • Our Institute for Sustainable Investing, which was founded by our Chairman and CEO to help mobilize investment capital to sustainable enterprises and support the next generation of sustainable leaders.
  • Commitments to mobilize $1 trillion in sustainable solutions by 2030 and reach net-zero financed emissions by 2050.
  • Efforts to build a diverse and inclusive workforce and a resilient company whose leadership, employees and stakeholders drive and support Morgan Stanley’s global sustainability strategy and priorities.

Morgan Stanley will continue to facilitate solutions that help address the significant sustainability challenges we face today. From exploring innovative ways to limit extreme weather events to supporting large-scale efforts to help mitigate the effects of climate change, we know that we must act immediately and together if we are going to help pursue a more sustainable and a more equitable future for all.

Cover image: The Atlantic Forest extends along Brazil’s coast from Rio Grande do Norte to Rio Grande do Sul, and inland as far as Paraguay and the Misiones Province of Argentina. Photo by Ricardo Siqueira / Brazil Photos / LightRocket via Getty Images.

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