Celeste Connors

Hawaiʻi Green Growth

Growing up on the island of O‘ahu in Hawai‘i—a place rich in culture, diversity and unique biodiversity—helped shape my worldview. After university, I joined the US Foreign Service and served as a diplomat in Germany, Greece, the United States Mission, Saudi Arabia, and United Nations, working on climate change, energy, development and environment policy. Later as the Director for Climate Change and Environment at the White House, I helped shape US climate policy that culminated in the Paris Agreement and the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in 2015 at the United Nations.

Through my service abroad and at the White House, I realized my deep interest in shaping policy. It became clear to me that global issues like climate change are multidimensional challenges that require interdisciplinary solutions. It also was apparent that there are not enough public resources to address the scale of threat and that we need new and innovative public-private partnerships to drive action and create shared value. After stepping down from the White House, I launched a company to catalyze investments in sustainable development at the water, energy and food nexus.

I joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where I teach courses in the Energy, Resources, and Environment program and work with students on year-long “Practicum” with private sector partners to problem solve around global threats. My students recently published a paper with the global reinsurer Swiss Re on the intersection between climate and pandemic threat, proposing a new financial response mechanism in partnership with the World Bank that would facilitate the quick dispersal of funds in the event of a large-scale disease outbreak in developing countries.

Having helped shape energy and climate policy at the national and international level, I returned home to Hawai‘i to serve at the local level as the first Executive Director of Hawai‘i Green Growth. Each day, I have the opportunity to work with committed partners across government, private sector, and civil society to help achieve Hawai‘i’s six statewide sustainability goals in energy, water, food, education, waste, and smart cities.

The rubber hits the road at the local level; we need to think and act locally to solve global sustainability challenges. Every small change in behavior and consumption at the local level matters and provides the cumulative momentum needed to ultimately deliver against the global goals set by the politicians in Paris.

Hawai‘i’s model shows promise. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but one grounded in local needs, values, traditions, and culture. It is respectful of all views and works to transcend differences by finding common ground for progress. At the upcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress this September, we will launch new partnerships to scale Hawai‘i’s model to other island economies in a local and cultural context. Please email me to learn more and to connect with us.