State of the Planet

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Student Spotlight: Funding an Equitable Clean Energy Transition

MPA-ESP student Shubhi Arora
Photo: Ngagoum Ndalloka Zita

Growing up in a small town in India, Shubhi Arora was no stranger to disruptive power cuts. Arora witnessed firsthand how low-income communities suffered disproportionately from poor energy access. “I worked in an oil and gas refinery for almost a year and it exposed me to the impact of the current energy system,” she says, but she also saw how the system might be improved.

With an eye toward progress, Arora became an engineering consultant for energy companies in India and spent four years working in nonprofit organizations. Now, Arora is a student in Columbia University’s MPA in Environmental Science and Policy Program (MPA-ESP), where she is gaining the skills to pursue a career in sustainable finance with a focus on funding the clean energy transition. Arora discusses her most memorable experiences in the program and her career aspirations below.

What drew you to apply to the MPA-ESP program?

I have lived in India all my life. India faces so many social and environmental issues, and I believe you can’t be ambivalent about such things.

I have an engineering background, but I wanted to diversify my skill set and explore the world of policy and finance to address climate change. I took a lot of online courses and volunteered with multiple organizations to expand my understanding of how to address these challenges. I discussed all this with a friend pursuing sustainability management at Columbia University, and they recommended I look at the MPA-ESP program at the School of International and Public Affairs.

Through research and connecting with alumni, I found that the MPA-ESP program offered exactly what I wanted—a year-long program that would not require me to take an extended break from my work. Additionally, in New York, Columbia offered an opportunity to connect with climate professionals and attend impactful networking events, such as Climate Week. The presence of renowned research centers, such as the Center on Global Energy Policy, also motivated me to apply as it aligned with my interest in energy. Lastly, the small program cohort was enticing because it allowed me to build meaningful connections with my classmates.

What has been your favorite class so far?

Honestly, I have enjoyed all my classes, but I have two highlights. “Financing the Energy Transition in Emerging Markets,” with Gautam Jain and Luisa Palacios, where we discussed how to mobilize capital toward clean energy technologies for equitable transition across emerging markets. In my previous role at Engineers India Limited, we often discussed the financial challenges of building a low-carbon economy.

The second class was “Impact Measurement and Management,” taught by Sara Minard. I learned in-depth about qualitative and quantitative metrics for measuring impact. We also had some amazing impact practitioners, such as a speaker from 60 Decibels who talked about data approaches for measuring impact at the grassroots level. We also refined a measurement and management strategy for an impact fund. That class provided great exposure that gave me hands-on experience in working in impact investing and change management.

Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular activities are you involved in?

I had the opportunity to be a Rising Solar Fellow through the Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) this fall. Through this fellowship, I attended the RE+ Conference in Las Vegas and the women in renewable energy reception organized by WRISE. It was an amazing experience that allowed me to meet professionals, specifically women, working in renewable energy. I had great conversations and learned so much more about the U.S. energy sector.

I have also been involved with the CleanChoices Foundation in India. I worked with them to create a milk bag collection initiative called the Milk Bag Project for community engagement and awareness regarding responsible waste management. I started this project in 2022 with my friends by collecting plastic milk bags in my office to ensure they were recycled rather than sent to landfills, and the project grew from there.

What are your career interests and plans for the future?

My main interest is energy. I grew up in a small town, where there were frequent power cuts, and I witnessed that low-income areas suffered more because of poor energy access. Considering India’s population size and energy requirements, oil and gas have helped build energy security and reduce the frequent power cuts, but it comes with a huge environmental cost. Most of the refineries in India are government-owned and have the large responsibility of reducing their negative impact. Considering the rising temperatures and the poor air quality across developing countries, I strongly believe that energy transition should be a lot faster than the current rate and we must build reliable clean energy systems for a just and equitable energy transition. From my experience and learning from SIPA, I can confidently say that this requires regulations, global collaboration and innovative financial tools, with a focus on community engagement.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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