International development banking expert is the Grantham Institute’s newly appointed Honorary Senior Fellow in Climate Finance.
After a career in international development banking, financing sustainable projects, Dr Josué Tanaka brings a truly global perspective to his work. Dr Tanaka was born in France to Brazilian artists. His father’s heritage is Japanese Samurai while his mother’s family escaped Eastern Europe during World War Two.
Having mastered five languages, Dr Tanaka studied in the United States - graduating from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Science and Engineering, before completing a Master of Science and a PhD on ‘Urban Transport Finance Decision Making’ at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
His career took him first to the Brazilian Urban Transport Agency to work on accelerating the financing of public transport. He then moved to the World Bank in the 1980s in Washington DC, where he was an adviser to its then President Barber Conable, who was renowned for starting to consider the environment in development policy and finance. Dr Tanaka was also an economist for the World Bank’s first tropical forest conservation project in Madagascar and he led the implementation of an international environmental programme for the Mediterranean.
He joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) at its inauguration 30 years ago. For the last 15 years he was the EBRD’s Managing Director for Energy Efficiency and Climate Change, a department he set up to drive the growth of the Bank’s climate finance activity.
I grew up with the notion that whatever I did had to have a social meaning and a positive impact beyond bringing bread on the family dinner table – a broader purpose. Climate change has given me a strength of purpose and is what is driving me forward. Dr Josué Tanaka
Dr Tanaka has been teaching students on Imperial’s MSc Climate Change, Management and Finance (CCMF) since it began in 2016. The course is delivered jointly by the Grantham Institute and Imperial College Business School.
He says: “I grew up with the notion that whatever I did had to have a social meaning and a positive impact beyond bringing bread on the family dinner table – a broader purpose. Climate change has given me a strength of purpose and is what is driving me forward.”
We spoke to Dr Tanaka about his experiences and his hopes for the future.
What does your Honorary Senior Fellowship in Climate Finance at the Grantham Institute mean to you?
About five years ago I felt that the possibility of teaching would be very meaningful to transmit the knowledge I have acquired in my professional life to the next generation. I also felt that the concept of the CCMF programme at Imperial is outstanding and a strong driver of hope for the future – I hope one day every business student will study business methods and have a real understanding of the climate challenge.
Your original career plans didn’t involve climate finance as such – what led you to this point?
My initial focus was urban transport, particularly public transport. When I did my PhD in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the environmental dimension was emerging – a lot of the analysts at MIT were assessing the impact of reducing congestion on fuel consumption and pollution. We even used some of the first programmable handheld calculators to do this so these methods could be used by planning agencies across the world.
What did you learn from your time in Madagascar?
The island of Madagascar is like a living museum as it detached from the African continent over 100 million years ago and life evolved in a unique manner that led to a profusion of different plant and animal forms.
This incredible richness of biodiversity is being lost with every single square mile of forests being cut for firewood or for precious woods. I learned both about the unique value of this biodiversity and about the huge challenge of deforestation that remains significant to this day.
How did you come to work on climate finance for the EBRD?
When I was getting to my late 40s I started thinking: ‘Well, Josué, you have been involved in a diverse range of interesting activities including the opening of eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall, enhancing safety on the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and working for the reconstruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina following the war in the 1990s.’
But I had a big question which I use an analogy of a kitchen cupboard to illustrate. ‘Is the result of a career a collection of quality ingredients in the cupboard? Or do you try to make something with those ingredients - a recipe leading to a product that is more than the sum of its ingredients?’
And the answer to that question was getting involved in climate action launching the EBRD climate programme. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to develop a climate initiative that led to us supporting close to 2,000 projects with more than 40 billion dollars of EBRD financing and delivering annual carbon emission reductions of more than 100 million tonnes.
What is your advice to students of climate science and climate finance?
Students must understand that you will not have impact unless finance is available, and I’m talking trillions of dollars per year within a short time. Dr Josué Tanaka
Climate action requires a broad range of skills. You need to have basic scientific knowledge to understand what is going on and what can be done to address the climate change challenge. It’s also important to be aware of the implication of policies, such as carbon price, and how to compare the effectiveness of different policies.
In practice, climate finance is essential to achieving the Paris Agreement climate goals. Students must understand that you will not have impact unless finance is available, and I’m talking trillions of dollars per year within a short time - as we have less than a decade to shift the emissions curve.
The CCMF course provides business students with a climate understanding and climate science students with business skills. It is this combination of knowledge and skills that will make changes happen in practice. And unless they happen in practice, we won’t solve the problem.
Looking ahead to the UN Climate Summit (COP26) in November, what are the major issues you foresee?
From a climate finance angle, a major challenge is how to accelerate the transfer and delivery of climate finance to emerging markets and developing countries. This is where economists expect to see the main growth in carbon emissions and this is also where the challenges of adapting to climate change are most severe and with the deepest social impacts.
Furthermore, the pandemic is severely affecting the financial capacity of countries, cities and enterprises. So, as the world emerges from the pandemic, governments need to define green recovery strategies that contribute both to growth and employment in the short term while placing their economies on a pathway consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions.
What does the future hold for you?
As long as I have the energy, I will continue to work on a set of different activities promoting climate action. There is a lot to do and time is short. When I was preparing to leave four decades of work as a development banker, colleagues said ‘Josué, we cannot see you retiring’. To which I replied ‘I am not retiring, I am just moving to a new context in which to pursue my work on climate action’.
As long as I have the energy, I will continue to work on a set of different activities promoting climate action. There is a lot to do and time is short. Dr Josué Tanaka
I am starting a new phase in my professional life. The opportunity to work at Imperial is most valuable, allowing me to share experience with the next generation, which will have a key role in driving a successful transition to a low-carbon and resilient world.
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The Grantham Institute for Climate Change
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