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ESP Alum Focuses Career on Clean Energy Solutions

MPA in Environmental Science and Policy alumnus James Vener ('07)
MPA in Environmental Science and Policy alumnus James Vener (’07)

MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) alumnus James Vener (‘07) entered the program with the intention of transitioning his career from environmental engineering to environmental policy, but was surprised to discover an interest in clean energy. Since graduating, James has applied the policymaking skills and understanding of microeconomics he obtained through the MPA-ESP program to positions at the United Nations Environment Programme’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (UNEP-DTIE) Energy Finance Unit in France and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bureau of Development Policy’s Environment and Energy Group in New York, where he currently works to establish policy and market reforms to stimulate the clean energy solutions.

1. What is your current job?

I am working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) where I dedicated my time on a programme that supports Low Emission Capacity Building for 25 partner development countries.  The programme is a country-driven initiative with two overall objectives: to build public sector capacity on developing greenhouse gas inventory systems, nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs), low-emissions development strategies (LEDS), and monitoring, verification, and reporting (MRV) procedures; and to build private sector capacity for mitigation actions.  I work as a country focal point, support low carbon planning, and provide guidance on methodological issues and technical implementation of project activities.  Prior to this position, I worked five years with the UNEP-DTIE Energy Finance Unit in France. With UNEP, I helped scale up investment in clean RE/EE technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia through developing green markets.

2. Do your current job responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program (MPA-ESP)?

When I began the MPA-ESP program, I intended to shift my career focus from environmental engineering to environmental policy, but I never thought my focus would be on energy issues. I always held great interest in climate change issues so the adjustment to specialize in clean energy was a natural one. I became aware of energy policy opportunities while at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and, upon graduation, the energy policy and carbon finance (supporting low carbon, greenhouse gas reducing projects) sectors were among my principal targets for employment.

3. What skills has the MPA-ESP program taught you that you think have proven useful to your current position?

The main skills taught to me through the program were having a good refresher of micro-economics and good vision of policymaking practices. The program had a strong focus on relating real-world case studies to theories and encouraged students to engage in creative problem solving based on realistic scenarios. The public speaking element and opportunity to evolve leadership qualities throughout the program were also quite useful.

4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through this job?

I am looking to build on my base knowledge of micro-finance and green business markets, international development, and green technologies.  This position offers me the experience of learning in practice how to collaborate with a diverse group of stakeholders to streamline their operations.  So, a good deal of politics and nuance is involved and offers a view behind the scenes on UN and government operations.  I intend to gain experience putting micro-finance into action, providing advisory services to policymakers, and refreshing my knowledge of hydropower plant construction and operation.

5. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefitted you professionally and personally?

Prior to SIPA, I worked in the engineering sector and at SIPA, I was partnered with classmates from a diverse background with economists, political scientists, and business persons.  This made for interesting discussion and varied perspectives, and led me to gain experience keeping an open mind to all colleagues’ potential.  This was particularly relevant working in the United Nations system.

6. What kinds of environmental initiatives do you hope to start in your new position?

My main area of interest at UNEP/UNDP is to enact a financial delivery method to scale up dissemination of RE/EE technologies.   A typical initiative would involve collaborating with eco-entrepreneur SMEs to help them partner with local financial institutions to put in place a sustainable financial delivery mechanism so the technologies are affordable with enough profit to attract replication amongst lenders and project developers.  To create substantial change within a market, leveraging private sector finance through a relatively small amount of public funding would be the major goal for this type of environmental initiative.

7. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MPA-ESP program to further your career?

Since graduation, I have made extensive use of the SIPA alumni office for information on employment, networked with other colleagues in Paris and New York and gained valuable contacts in organizations I would like to work for, and attended academic events to continue my training.

Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program enroll in a year-long, 54-credit program offered at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, in partnership with the Earth Institute. Throughout this one-year program, students are immersed in courses that combine Columbia University’s hands-on approach to teaching public policy and administration with pioneering thinking about the environment. During the summer semester, students learn the fundamentals of environmental science, while in the fall and spring semesters, they focus on the policy and economics necessary to becoming successful environmental analysts and managers. Visit our website to learn more about the program.

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