Indaba Update – May 2020

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May 2020  in·​da·​ba | \in-ˈdä-bə: noun. Origin 1827, Zulu nation
Discussion of matters, affairs, strategies, and accounts of import relating to climate finance.  
Sean Penrith – Gordian Knot Strategies
Credit enhancement hiding in plain sight

I remember reading the piece by Curley and Haislip in 2014 that covered the innovative use of a credit enhancement. It began, “On August 13, 2013, the state of New York set an important legal precedent that could help to retard climate change and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States.” Enraptured, I digested the anatomy of how a bond issued by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) was secured by a financial guarantee provided by the New York Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The transaction that funded residential energy efficiency measures was such a milestone that it was recognized as the National Deal of the Year by the Bond Buyer, the authoritative publication in the public finance industry. The transaction was lauded for its significant reduction of the bond debt service and establishment of a nationally replicable model. I was convinced that it would indeed be replicated across the country. Not the case.

CWSRF is a federally supported and state-run financial assistance program overseen by the EPA that supports water quality improvement projects in this country. SRFs have been capitalized from federal appropriations and 20% state matching contributions and retained earnings since inception. With a total capitalization of approximately $51 billion through 2018, CWSRFs are are authorized to provide financial assistance by making loans, purchasing debt obligations, securitizing financings, and providing financial guarantees. Non-point source projects are eligible under the CWSRF program. Under federal authority, eligible recipients include municipalities, farmers, non-profit organizations, individual home owners, commercial businesses, and many more. Eligible projects include those that deliver ecosystem services, including source water protection, water conservation, and projects or programs that mitigate the emission of air pollutants such as mercury and nitrogen that impair water quality.

Over 96% of the financial assistance has gone to sewage treatment plants. The remaining 4% has gone almost exclusively for agricultural non-point source water pollution reduction projects. Under Title VI of the Water Quality Act of 1987, states are given several options to finance clean water projects. For example, §603(d)(1) provides that they can make direct loans for terms of up to 30 years. Paragraph (2) authorizes SRFs “to buy or refinance the debt obligation of municipalities and inter-municipal and interstate agencies within the State.” And, Paragraph (3), which is the most important and yet underutilized provision, authorizes SRFs “to guarantee, or purchase insurance for, local obligations where such action would improve credit market access or reduce interest rates.”

Generally speaking, available resources, provided from new appropriations and dollars recycled from prior project commitments are encumbered by new projects. This fuels the common perception that such encumbrances leave no resources that can be dedicated to expanding SRF product offerings to additional forms of financial assistance such as financial guarantees.

However, future project encumbrances are not a limitation on increased SRF utilization. Often there are sufficient SRF resources that could be pledged to support guarantees that would qualify for triple-A claims-paying designation. Most SRFs have pledged cashflows supporting triple-A ratings for their pooled bond indentures that are in excess of that needed to support such ratings given required rating agency stressed loss assumptions. An SRF guarantee product can be positioned as a pledge relying on a subordinate lien on the equity turnover from the bond indenture. Repayments of direct loans held on the SRF balance sheet could also be added to the credit assessment which would only deepen guarantee capacity. For most if not all programs in the country, the assumed net of loss cashflows required to establish lending program triple-A credit support plus the pledge of available equity balances should provide ample resources to support a top rated SRF guarantee product that could serve market-based solutions for cost effective investment in water quality protection and nutrient mitigation.

I am convinced there is an opportunity to access the credit enhancement in a ground breaking manner to support natural climate solutions in this country while positively impacting water quality and quantity. In 2014, the EPA Financial Advisory Board (Board) produced a report that analyzed the potential of CWSRFs to provide credit guarantees to support projects not traditionally targeted by the lending program, given priority considerations. Specifically, the report evaluated the prospects for tapping the federal authority granted by Title VI, Section 603(d) of the Act to support such projects by providing financial assistance in the form of credit guarantees for Green Infrastructure projects. The goal was to identify a mechanism by which states could expand overall financial assistance capacity that would further national clean water goals.  
The conclusion of the Board’s report was clear. They found that CWSRFs have the capacity to offer credit triple-A rated guarantees. They determined that for each dollar of recycled CWSRF program equity, $3 to $14 of CWSRF guarantee capacity could be provided to fund projects in addition to current project funding levels. The Report concluded that leveraging recycled dollars in this manner could support as much as $50 billion in guarantee capacity if all programs took advantage of it nationwide.
The central premise to this finding is that the current strength of SRF balance sheets can enable SRF administrators to use the guarantee to meaningfully expand funding capacity without reducing current levels of lending activity. On behalf of one of our clients, American Forest Foundation, we are actively exploring how to structure just such a guarantee to support their Family Forest Carbon Program. 

The prospect that SRFs could offer guarantee products to provide financial assistance to underserved project categories without diluting the capacity of the established below-market lending program is significant. It is a powerful credit enhancement tool hiding in plain sight.

On The Road

Sheltering in place in Portland Oregon for a while still.
Our Expertise:

  • Climate finance mechanisms
  • Carbon acquisition portfolio design
  • Impact funds
  • Carbon markets and policy
  • Strategic planning
Contact us for more information

 * Financing Options for Nontraditional Eligibilities in the CWSRF Fund Programs. Report

 * CORSIA Eligible Emissions Units. Report

 * Running the Risk: How Corporate Boards Can Oversee ESG Issues. Report

 * COVID-19 pandemic jeopardizes Art. 6 negotiations. Report

 * Emergence of heat and humidity too severe for human tolerance. Report

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Indaba update – Jan 2020

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January 2020  in·​da·​ba | \in-ˈdä-bə: noun. Origin 1827, Zulu nation
Discussion of matters, affairs, strategies, and accounts of import relating to climate finance to accelerate a low-carbon economy | Sean Penrith – Gordian Knot Strategies
Foresight, Imagination, and Competence 

I had never heard Jeremy Grantham speak before. While I had read about this reputed British investor and his knack for predicting economic bubbles, actually hearing the co-founder of Grantham, Mayo, & van Otterloo (GMO), a Boston-based asset management firm, is quite phenomenal.

Last week I was in New York to attend the 7th Annual Conservation Finance Investor conference hosted by Credit Suisse and sponsored by The Conservation Finance Network and Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. Wilson Ervin, Vice-Chairman at Credit Suisse in the group executive office joined Grantham on stage after the opening remarks by Marisa Drew, CEO of the Impact Advisor & Finance Department at Credit Suisse.

The conference theme, “Defining the next decade” was apt for the series of thoughtful missives Grantham shared in rapid-fire mode in response to Ervin’s questions relating to climate change. It’s rare to hear someone equipped with mountains of stats and supporting case data boldly list sectors of global industry for “behaving badly.” While Grantham called for holding irresponsible market actors accountable, he also acknowledged the positive force for change they offered if they chose to voluntarily act. Exhibiting his impeccable grasp of the English language, Grantham declared to all of us in attendance that “25 basis points was just the price for doing the right thing” when it came to being a responsible global corporate citizen. He went on to make the case that the majority of capital is currently controlled by those that do not believe in the risks posed by climate change concluding that, “There is a great opportunity to make money betting against them!” This tracks with well with his historical outlook. In Grantham’s 2008 GMO letter to investors, he said, “To avoid the development of crises, you need a plentiful supply of foresight, imagination, and competence. So it’s more or less guaranteed that every time we get an outlying, obscure event that has never happened before in history, they are always going to miss it.”

Before moving on to topics that included fertility, life expectancy, and regenerative agriculture, Grantham shared that everything has ended worse this past decade than the decade before, “That is not winning!” he said crisply. Grantham cited Sir John Hicks when observing that developed countries are not making a profit under the “Hicksian income” definition. Sir Hicks (8 April 1904 – 20 May 1989) was an influential British economist well regarded for his perspectives on income and consumer demand theory. Sir Hicks stated, “The purpose of income calculations in practical affairs is to give people an indication of the amount they can consume without impoverishing themselves.” Until we can charge these externalities relating to a changing climate and value of our natural ecosystems to the balance sheet, one may conclude that we might face a similar decade.

However, the conference was buttressed by two major announcements that signal pivotal change is afoot. BlackRock adopted foresight and declared that climate change will have a significant impact on the global financial system. BlackRock announcement that they will embed climate change in their investment decisions came across the wires on Tuesday (1/14). On Thursday (1/16) Microsoft took ownership. They pledged to remove the organization’s entire carbon footprint by 2050, accounting for all of its impact since its inception in 1975! These giants just set the stage for a positive decade as we approach the call of delivering squarely on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

On The Road

Client Meeting – Jackson, MS
January 28 – 29, 2020

Client Meeting – DC
March 3 – 4, 2020
Our Expertise:

  • Strategic planning
  • Climate finance mechanisms
  • Impact funds
  • Carbon markets and policy
Contact us for more information

 *Microsoft will be carbon negative by 2030. Article 

 *World’s Largest Asset Manager Puts Climate At The Center Of Its Investment Strategy. Blog post

 *The responsible consumer. Report

 *Alternative Proteins: Exploring the Asian appetite and conservation potential. Report

 *Investors and the Blue Economy. Report

Happy new decade!

2019 was happily a very busy year for us. We engaged with wonderful clients on impactful work centered on climate finance, carbon markets, ESG frameworks, carbon foot-printing, and natural climate solutions.

In 2020, we aim to be more diligent about making time for regular blog post updates, so please stay tuned.

Wishing you and our planet a meaningful year.



Indaba update from Sean Penrith, Gordian Knot Strategies

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February 2019  in·​da·​ba | \in-ˈdä-bə: noun. Origin 1827, Zulu nation
A forum to discuss matters, affairs, strategies, and accounts of worldly import relating to climate finance to accelerate a low-carbon economy | Sean Penrith – Gordian Knot Strategies
Sleepwalking into a crisis!

Take a look at Figure 1 on page 5 of the most recent Global Risks Report 2019 by the World Economic Forum. The green diamonds signifying environmental risks jump out at you. It’s worthwhile examining the definition of a “global risk.” It is defined in the report as “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, can cause significant negative impact for several countries or industries” in the next decade.

Ranking the top 10 risks by likelihood, half of them are in the environmental risk category! They include (1) extreme weather events; (2) failure of climate change mitigation & adaptation; (3) natural disasters; (6) man-made environmental disasters; and (8) biodiversity loss & ecosystem collapse. That is not all. Large-scale involuntary migration (7) and water crises (9) are all exacerbated by our changing climate.

The 2018 GRR identified environmental degradation as a key area of risk. Extreme weather events and natural disasters ranked #1 and #3 in 2017.  And in 2016, failure of climate change mitigation & adaptation hit the top of the charts in terms of impact! Comparing the 2019 report to the 2018 report, there is an increase in the pace of biodiversity loss and the impact of extreme weather events that will disrupt the supply of goods and services by an additional 29%.

The total tally for 2018 in terms of economic losses from natural and man-made disasters hit $155 billion. The Institute for Public Policy Research states that further disruption in agriculture, energy, public health, immigration, and economic growth could ignite a cascading effect and create a real and present global crisis that will be dwarf anything we have seen.

GRR19 highlights the need for 20% more in financing to address the $18 trillion gap in infrastructure capital. Infrastructure, whether it is green or gray, needs to be resilient to such extreme weather events. Public sector balance sheets are simply too thin to address this need without partnering with the business community.


I can’t think of any catastrophe with this level of forewarning that goes largely unheard. Time wasted now just translates the need from prevention to adaptation.

To thrive in 2020

When Satya Nadella took the top spot as CEO for Microsoft, he tells us that he asked himself, “Why do we exist? What if we just disappeared?” A straightforward yet key question for any business whether at launch stage or mature phase. The World Economic Forum (yes, I have been reading a lot of WEF material lately) projects that in order to thrive in 2020, the most vital skill you will need is complex problem solving. Answering the evolving question of why a business exists, or what a business needs to be the best at in the world to succeed can be a complex strategic endeavor with lasting outcomes.

In this age of climate disruption that is impacting infrastructure, supply chains, food production, energy supply, public health, green spaces, and our housing, the opportunities to offer solutions to these complex and intricate problems abound. Philippe Le Houérou, CEO of the International Finance Corporation said, “There are literally trillions of dollars of opportunities for the private sector to invest in projects that will help save the planet. Our job is to go out and proactively find those opportunities, use our de-risking tools, and crowd in private sector investment.”

I have found that many times, it helps to view an endeavor from an entirely different perspective. When Alexander the Great came across the intricate (Gordian) knot that bound the Phyrgian wagon yoke to the pole on the acropolis of the city, he reasoned that it made no difference how the knot was undone. So he brandished his sword and cut through the knot in a single pass. He then rose to prominence as ruler of Asia.

These quantum leaps are what we need in the face of a changing climate. Social and environmental entrepreneurs, financiers, and investors need to slice through their own versions of Gordian knots to catapult them to success.

Let me know if I can help.

* World Economic Forum ReportThe Global Risks Report 2019 14th Edition

* Institute for Public Policy Research ReportThis is a Crisis: Facing up to the Age of Environmental Breakdown

* Impact Entrepreneur and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Report Building an Impact Economy: A Call to Action for the Philanthropy Sector

* ESM Corporate Roundtable  – 19 Mar ’19 – Washington DC

*ESM Steering Committee Meeting – 4 & 5 Apr ’19, Minneapolis, MN

2019 ….Ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition | January 2019

Happy New Year!

It’s been a while since I connected with you since I stepped down at The Climate Trust in March. I have spent the better part of 2018 working on the Noble Research Institute’s ambitious national Ecosystem Services Market program to advance soil health.

I tried hard to limit my news intake over the holidays. The quick succession of headlines in the closing months of 2018 relating to our changing climate was tough to digest. The special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented some hard choices if we are to avert the catastrophe of a 3°C world within the narrow window of just the next 12 years!

This was followed by the 4th National Climate Assessment released by the White House and 13 federal agencies. Their economic message was pretty precise. Without action, GDP in the US would drop 10% by virtue of the impacts from climate change by the end of the century.

At the Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, 200 countries made progress on advancing the 2015 Paris Agreement. Rules were agreed to track and report emission reduction progress, but the outcome stopped short of elevating the level of ambition necessary in light of the IPCC and 4th NCA reports.

A disappointment was the stalling on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement that covers cooperative approaches (Article 6.2) and a new market mechanism (Article 6.4) intended to enable international carbon market mechanisms to help fulfill a country’s nationally determined contributions (aka their plan to achieve at least the 2°C threshold). While full of jargon, this is provision is vital if we are to truly expect the crucial investments from the private sector. Until this market mechanism is solidified, private capital will wait on the sidelines.

Despite this, the World Bank Group is trying to crowd in private investment. WBG recently announced it would be amping up its capital commitment to support the climate change agenda to $200 billion over five years.

Many experts have pointed to the treasures of investing in the transition to a lower carbon world. New Climate Economy just released a report that found that choosing the appropriate paths to address climate change over the next 3 years could unleash $26 trillion worth of benefits and enroll 65 million workers by 2030.

I loved what United Nations Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, said in Poland when addressing the need for countries to act. “From now on, my top five priorities will be ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition,” she said. Just marvelous! That is what we need from our governments, agencies, policy makers, NGOs, investors, corporations, industry, insurers, and citizens.