Takeaways From Our Professional Learning Workshops: Q&A With Robert W. van Zwieten

by Laurel Zaima and Cassie Xu |September 26, 2022

The Columbia Climate School offers Professional Learning workshops for lifelong learners that seek to broaden and deepen their knowledge from Columbia content experts in the fields of climate and sustainability. These programs aim to prepare learners to understand, analyze, and apply cutting-edge research to the complex problem of our changing climate. In the Professional Learning workshops, participants engage with leading faculty and researchers in small group settings to allow for specialized instruction and personalized interactions, while allowing for the flexibility required for professional careers and time differences. The knowledge and skills gained from these workshops accelerate participants’ education and career aspirations with many of today’s most in-demand skills.

This fall, the Professional Learning program is offering two workshops. The ‘Climate Risk and the Law’ workshop led by Romany Webb of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law will uncover how climate science is currently and could be used in the future by administrative agencies to inform policy-making and regulatory action on climate change. The ‘Predictions, Projections, or Portents – Weather and Climate Modeling’ workshop led by Simon Mason of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society will examine how good (or bad) weather and climate forecasts are and addressing the question of how much confidence can be placed in any of the models.

We will be hosting information sessions for our fall 2022 workshops. The ‘Climate Risk and Law’ info session will be held on September 20 from 5:30 to 6:00 PM EST; sign up here to attend. The ‘Predictions, Projections, or Portents – Weather and Climate Modeling’ info session will be held on September 27 from 5:30 to 6:00 PM EST; sign up here to attend. Participants who attend an info session will receive a 10% discount to use during registration. Those interested in future offerings are encouraged to subscribe to our mailing list to receive the most up to date information.

Robert W. van Zwieten headshot

Robert W. van Zwieten, based in Manila, Philippines, has three and a half decades of experience spanning both global finance and sustainble development. In his professional life, he focuses on sustainable finance, energy transition, and strategy engagements.

Participants range from working professionals who are looking to further their current career, or change their career pathways, and individuals that are dedicated to lifelong learning. We recently had an opportunity to learn more about one of our workshop participants, Robert W. van Zwieten. Below, he shares more about his current role, the workshops he participated in, his motivations for signing up for professional learning, and the impact the workshops made on his career and professional interests.

Tell us about your current role and your responsibilities within the organization.

Professionally I have become a “portfolio man,” so I wear a few different hats, which makes for a busy, exciting, and rewarding work life. All my engagements are at the intersection of sustainable development, finance, and climate. I am currently a part-time managing director with PwC Southeast Asia Consulting, focused on sustainable finance, energy transition, and strategy engagements. I continue to run my own boutique advisory firm, and serve as a board member of several companies and as an advisor to development institutions, investment funds and a family office. I am also a fellow with the Climate Policy Initiative, an ambassador of the World Benchmarking Alliance, and, finally, I teach part-time as an adjunct professor in finance at the Asian Institute of Management in Manila.

What drew you to the Columbia Climate School’s professional learning programs this past academic year?

First, being deeply involved in clean and renewable energy, climate finance, and the energy transition in Southeast Asia, I was delighted to learn that Columbia University, one of my alma maters, established the Columbia Climate School, with the level of academic rigor that you’d expect from Columbia. Second, I am deeply committed to continuous learning in my fields of work. To that end, you need to find high-quality learning programs that fit into your professional schedule, which this offering did well. It just made for many very early mornings in my Asian time zone. Finally, I did my LL.M. at Columbia Law School, so it also felt a bit like a virtual home coming.

What workshops did you participate in and what valuable knowledge, skills, and/or tools did you gain from the experience?

I participated in “Harnessing Capital for Climate Solutions: Science, Sustainability and ESG” and in “Decarbonization – Policies and Practices for Countries and Companies.” In the Harnessing Capital program, we did a deep dive into the latest available science of climate change and its drivers, which was very illuminating for me, as well as the downstream ramifications of climate change. The session on carbon credit markets advanced my understanding significantly. In the Decarbonization program, the focus was on the opportunities and challenges of decarbonization and what it means in practice, from the multi-disciplinary perspective of international law, economics, development and climate policies, technology, finance, and carbon or greenhouse gas accounting. The case studies were very helpful in enriching our learning.

How do you think the Columbia Climate School’s professional learning opportunities have contributed to your current role and overall career goals?

As a consultant, advisor, and entrepreneur, you owe it to your clients and to yourself to refresh your knowledge base and intellectually challenge yourself constantly. The School’s offerings allow you to gain so much more depth and breadth of knowledge and insight in the field of climate. My work in energy transition, carbon markets, and electric vehicle adoption in Asia has benefited a lot from the programs. I will come back for more enrichment as soon as I have recovered from those very early mornings!

Do you have any feedback or advice for others who are thinking about participating in upcoming workshops?

Climate change is this and the next generation’s biggest challenge, and an existential one for all life on this planet. I cannot imagine any job in which deeper knowledge of this challenge would not be useful. Inform yourself of the facts and make a difference!


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