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Henry M. Paulson, Jr., a Man of Big Ideas and Bigger Action

Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Laura Frederick

Laura Frederick

Grants & Development Writer

Each year, ELI hosts its Annual Dinner, bringing together the best and brightest environmental professionals to celebrate the accomplishments of the winner of the Institute’s Environmental Achievement Award. On October 25th, at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, D.C., ELI honored Henry M. “Hank” Paulson, Jr. for his efforts to improve cooperation on environmental protection endeavors between the United States and China.

Mr. Paulson has held many titles: a political leader, a diplomat, businessman, conservationist, and author. Many know him as the 74th Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, and before this, serving as Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. While Secretary, Paulson was instrumental in creating the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED), a framework for the United States and China to discuss topics related to economic relations between both countries. ELI President Scott Fulton has said that “the chain of events he helped set into motion played no small role in enabling the China/U.S. climate accord, without which the recently concluded Paris Climate Agreement would have simply been impossible.”

After leaving government, he founded and now chairs the Paulson Institute at the University of Chicago, which focuses on bringing the United States and China together to address today’s most pressing economic and environmental challenges. Other current efforts of Mr. Paulson’s include co-chairing the Nature Conservancy’s Latin America Conservation Council, which is advancing solutions to water security, sustainable food security, and smart infrastructure, and the Risky Business Project, which is quantifying and publicizing the risks of climate change.

ELI Award Dinner 2016

Henry Paulson receiving ELI's Environmental
Achievement Award

Mr. Paulson was introduced at the dinner by Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, who provided touching and congenial commentary on his professional and personal relationship with Mr. Paulson. Mr. Moreno noted that Mr. Paulson’s accomplishments have been, and continue to be “because of his tenacity, because of his capacity to think big, and more importantly . . . his ability to bring people together and to find common ground.

To hear Mr. Paulson’s perspectives on his far-reaching career and pressing issues across the globe, Benjamin Wilson, Vice Chair of ELI’s Board of Directors, conducted an informal interview with him.

Commenting on China’s role now that the Paris Agreement has gone into force, Mr. Paulson noted that though China faces significant challenges since coal and oil constitute the majority of China’s energy consumption, there is reason to be hopeful that China will be able to make good on its promises. He said, “First, they are going to get a natural pickup from what they need to do to rebalance the economy. They need to rely much less on energy-intensive manufacturing, to go up the value-added curve into services instead. Second, they understand the need to build capacity.” He noted that the Chinese government has reorganized the environmental ministry, working to train judges to appropriately address environmental law—an area of ELI’s expertise—and holding mayors and governors accountable for their environmental actions.

Mr. Paulson also discussed the important role of a continued U.S. relationship with China. He said, “When you think about almost any major issue, whether it’s driving global growth, all of the environmental issues, keeping the world peace, denuclearization, they’re all easier if we’re working with China, more difficult if we’re working at cross purposes.”

In addition, the interview explored the important connection between business and government in environmental protection. Where the public sector lacks funds, the private sector often has the financial ability to invest in green finance. However, Mr. Paulson noted that governments must create the conditions and framework for private capital to come in, citing China’s cap-and-trade system as one of the biggest models to drive private-sector capital.

Mr. Paulson concluded his remarks calling for the need to forge common ground in the fight against climate change and the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Hank Paulson was an ideal honoree as his environmental work and passion aligns well with ELI’s own vision of achieving a healthy environment, prosperous economies, and vibrant communities across the globe. He had great foresight years ago in seeing the imperative to join together with China to help solve the world’s pressing environmental challenges. ELI has pledged to partner with our Chinese counterparts to advance effective environmental law now and into the future.

All blog posts are the opinion of its author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ELI the organization or its members.