Meet Jonelle Maltay From the Climate and Society Class of 2024
The Columbia Climate School is excited to welcome 100 new students to the MA in Climate and Society program this fall. The STEM-Designated program trains students to understand and address the impacts of climate change and climate variability on society and the environment. The new cohort brings a diverse group of students from various professional and academic backgrounds representing 24 countries of citizenship.
State of the Planet is featuring interviews with some of these new students. Below, we speak with Jonelle Maltay, a professional working in the field of environmental and social risk management with a deep passion for sustainable development and human rights.
Tell us about your background and how you found your way into the climate space.
I started my journey into the world of sustainable development around 10 years ago. I had my first class on finance and sustainability at the University of Amsterdam and I was immediately hooked on the concept of using finance for good. I always knew I wanted to work in the financial field, but my true passion had been for the environment and human rights. I had my first internship on responsible supply chain management focused on EU multinational companies, which opened my eyes to how our individual carbon footprints are really just small pieces of the puzzle that corporations actually control. From there I was able to zoom out and see the bigger global picture when my first post-grad job opportunity to research climate finance presented itself.
I co-authored a report for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on how public-private partnerships could be used in the private sector to fund climate adaptation initiatives in developing countries. I would consider that to be a pivotal moment in my understanding of climate mitigation vs. adaptation, as well as the real risks that countries and their citizens face due to societal impacts on the environment. I enjoyed that project and the research around it so much that I thought about pursuing a career in climate, but I ended up working in impact investing instead.
What drew you to the Climate and Society program, and what do you hope to gain from the program?
After working in impact investing for several years, I came across the Climate and Society program and felt like it was a second chance to continue the work I started in the climate space, but now with the academic foundation of a STEM program that would use science to uphold the business case for investing in climate. At the time I applied, I was going through a career transition, after just leaving my long-term role in impact investing and venturing into the start-up world with a focus on private equity in frontier markets of Africa. One of the sustainable development goals that was prioritized in that new role was SDG 13, on climate change, which is inextricably linked to SDG 7, on access to clean and affordable energy. In some markets access to energy, let alone clean and renewable energy, is not the reality. Even worse, developing countries are often left out of the conversations around climate change despite being so directly impacted by it. I also felt a strong sense of curiosity around the new buzz for all things carbon whether it be offsets, capture and storage, or credits. Carbon management, coupled with solar, electric, and biofuels is the way of the future. So, I see the core courses of the program and the expansive list of electives as a door to a new dimension of thought.
Which classes are you most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to the core classes on “Dynamics of Climate Variability and Climate Change,” and “Climate Adaptation.” Also electives like “Financing the Clean Energy Economy,” because these areas are most closely related to my professional background, and I really want to develop academic expertise on them as well. Additionally, as I previously mentioned, my passion is for the environment and human rights, so I very much look forward to other electives like “Climate Justice” and “Reversing the Biodiversity Crisis.”
What do you envision as your future role in solving the climate crisis?
It will be very similar to my past and present roles, which is understanding the financing mechanisms for environmental, social, and climate initiatives. I look forward to becoming well versed in the science of climate to make a stronger business case for investing in climate as a way to hedge climate risks of the future.
What are you working on this summer?
Alongside my full-time role in Environmental and Social Risk Management at JPMorgan Chase & Co, I’ve also joined the Emerging Leaders Advisory Board at Human Rights First. My goal for this summer is to support fundraising initiatives and expand the reach of Humans Rights First to younger demographics who also want to do more for human rights campaigns.
Anything you’d like to add?
I wish I knew this program existed earlier, because it’s more than just a climate study program; it’s also a study of environmental, social, legal, financial, and economic aspects, which you can’t find anywhere else. I already feel like part of the Columbia family because the admissions team in the Climate School goes above and beyond to recruit, onboard, and welcome prospective candidates. I’m really looking forward to starting in the fall.