Climate Policy at Fletcher: Then and Now

Alumnus Timothy Afful-Koomson and student Bethany Tietjen examine the future of climate following COP28
A composite image of Afful-Koomson and Tiejten in front of an orange semi-circle with text "Then & Now" overhead

In 1992, The Fletcher School took a bold step and created the first of its kind international environment program. Ever since, the school has educated global leaders and practitioners who shape climate policy, and students and faculty within the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy continue to conduct cutting-edge research to steer the dialogue on climate adaptation. 

Timothy Afful-Koomson, who received his PhD with a concentration in international environment and resource policy, international trade and investment in 2000, serves as the regional director for Africa for the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). When he stepped into the world of climate finance, he did so with the sense that he was taking a leap of faith. He had completed his master’s studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and while many companies were looking to hire GIS analysts, Afful-Koomson realized he had a different calling. 

“People thought that I was going crazy,” said Afful-Koomson. “At the time, there wasn't anything like climate finance or socially responsible investing (SRI), but I decided that that was what I was going to focus on, and it was a big journey. I had friends who thought I was going crazy because they didn't see any linkages between climate and finance. Now, almost every credible financial institution in the United States is hiring climate finance experts.”

His career has taken him the world around, from Merrill (Lynch) to the African Development Bank, where he served as Chief Climate Finance Officer. He helped train over 70 managers of financial institutions and coordinated the mobilization of millions of dollars of climate finance. When the opportunity arose for somebody to lead GFANZ in Africa, the president of African Development Bank and the leadership of GFANZ thought Afful-Koomson would be the best person to take the helm.  

Leveraging Finance to Meet National Targets

For Afful-Koomson, climate finance has an important role to play in combatting the climate crisis. During the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, he saw that while many expressed disappointment with the state of negotiations, through finance there’s the potential to push forward change.

“I believe that climate finance could play a very key role,” he said.

Assessing African countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reduce carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement, he notes that the price tag comes to about $2.8 trillion, a target they have not yet reached.

“There is a very big gap that we need to fill if we are going to meet our targets,” he said. “There are a lot of things that need to be done, and climate finance could play that role. You have policies and the targets, but where the rubber meets the road is implementation, and you need the resources to input.”

Preparing for Adaptation with a Human Perspective

While Afful-Koomson worked on climate finance at COP28, Bethany Tietjen F20 FG25 tracked the global goal on adaptation (GGA) negotiations.

“The negotiations were focused on developing the framework for the global goal on adaptation, which was established in the Paris Agreement in 2015, stating that countries should strive to enhance adaptation action, strengthen resilience, and reduce vulnerability, but it was very vague,” said Tietjen. 

“At COP28, negotiators did manage to reach an agreement on a GGA framework, but I think a lot of people were disappointed, especially developing country negotiators who wanted to have stronger language, especially surrounding climate finance for adaptation, and clear goals and metrics that countries could work towards.”

As a PhD candidate at Fletcher, Tietjen studies climate adaptation and how the U.S. government is developing policies to prepare for climate change at different levels, from local governance to international law.

Her interest in looking at climate through this lens began to develop during the three-year period between college and beginning her studies in the MALD program. Accepted to Fletcher through the deferred enrollment program, Tietjen spent the time exploring a multitude of interests. She taught English in Southeast Asia, where she frequently spoke with her students about environmental issues. While working in Guatemala on a permaculture farm, she observed the impact of climate change in an even more concrete way: farmers were migrating because they could no longer grow crops on their farms. 

During her MALD, Tietjen also studied gender and intersectional analysis, which contributed a significant dimension to her understanding of the ways in which the climate crisis affects people’s daily lives. 

“We see across the world that it's the poorest and often the most vulnerable in society that are most impacted by climate change,” she said. “I've always been really interested in the human dimensions of climate change. Blending the climate policy focus with the gender and intersectional analysis field at Fletcher has allowed me to bridge that.”

While the effects of climate change are already felt around the world, analyzing the impact on people’s lives provides invaluable data on adaptation. Tietjen pointed to the 1991 Cyclone Gorky in Bangladesh as an important—and harrowing—study.

“Over 90% of the fatalities were women because, when the cyclone happened, most women were working at home and reluctant to leave on their own, many did not know how to swim or their clothing made swimming challenging, and warning systems did not reach them,” she said. “By incorporating gender into climate policy and disaster planning, the next time that a big storm came, far fewer people died. Though there continue to be gender-based differences in disaster mortality across the world, lessons can be drawn from tragedies like Cyclone Gorky. Using gender-disaggregated data, along with data on other social markers, can lead to far better and more effective policy responses.”

Finding Hope Through the Challenges

While COP28 presented mixed results for forward movement, both Tietjen and Afful-Koomson continue working to shape the dialogue and move it forward.

Tietjen has found an opportunity to pursue this work through her fellowship with Fletcher’s Climate Policy Lab (CPL)

“Fletcher has really allowed me to both clarify my interests and passions and also given me the confidence to identify ways to make a difference in my fields of interest,” she said. “I started at Fletcher in 2018, still unsure whether I wanted to do a PhD and what direction that I wanted to take with my career. Fletcher is a place where I've been given the tools to feel more confident in my work and also have the freedom to explore different fields and approaches.”

“Before I was at Fletcher, I felt a lot of idealism and curiosity about climate and environmental policy, but I was not really sure how to make change,” she added. “Now I see, this is what I can do; these are ways that I can make a difference. Being at COP and seeing so many Fletcher alumni who are working in climate policy and finance, and seeing the many different paths that people take from Fletcher gives me a lot of excitement for what the future could hold, both for my own career as well as for students who are at Fletcher studying this topic.”

Read more about Fletcher’s PhD programs and the school’s 90th anniversary.