Mar 30, 2021 - Energy & Environment

BlackRock names ex-Obama climate aide Paul Bodnar as sustainable investing head


Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

BlackRock has named Paul Bodnar, a climate finance and diplomacy veteran who held senior roles in the Obama administration, as its global head of sustainable investing.

Why it matters: BlackRock is the world's largest asset manager. The hiring comes as BlackRock and other finance and banking giants are stepping up their sustainability efforts — and face pressure from climate activists to move faster.

Driving the news: Bodnar will lead "sustainable research, analytics, product development, and integration of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations into the investment process," and help clients achieve "net zero ambitions," BlackRock said.

  • "I’m thrilled to join BlackRock as it takes major steps in its journey to become the leading sustainable investment firm in the world," Bodnar said in a statement.

The intrigue: Bodnar's predecessor in the role at BlackRock, Brian Deese, is another Obama White House alum now in the Biden White House as director of the National Economic Council.

Catch up fast: Bodnar comes to BlackRock from his role as chief strategy officer at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy think tank where he founded their Center for Climate-Aligned Finance.

  • He held multiple climate roles at the State Department and later the White House during the Obama years.
  • They include director of climate finance and aide to top climate diplomat Todd Stern at State, and later the National Security Council's climate director.
  • His private sector work includes positions with the investment firm Climate Change Capital.

What we're watching: Bodnar arrives as BlackRock has been boosting its climate emphasis.

  • In early 2020, BlackRock said it was making climate a key pillar of its strategy via new steps to weave sustainability into their investment products and using its shareholder weight to pressure companies to do more.
  • This week, BlackRock joined the recently formed Net Zero Asset Managers  Initiative.

But, but, but: Climate activists say BlackRock could do much more to steer capital away from fossil fuels and into clean energy.

  • The umbrella group BlackRock's Big Problem, responding this week to BlackRock and Vanguard joining the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, said they need to "accelerate near-term action."
  • "Until there is a corresponding escalation of action and ambition, these pledges are more valuable as marketing materials for ESG funds than they are to people on the front lines of climate change," the group said.

The big picture: There's increasing attention to the finance industry's role in both fossil fuel and clean energy finance within the industry, from activists and policymakers.

John Kerry — Biden's top climate diplomat who was secretary of state during part of Bodnar's tenure at the agency — has been looking to work with the sector, while Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is focusing on her department's role.

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