There are many ways in which Jews are on the front lines to help reduce the threat of climate catastrophes. One star is Stephanie Kodish who draws on two decades of experience as an environmental and social justice leader spearheading collaboratives and campaigns resulting in the strengthening and implementation of clean air and climate laws and policies to support healthier communities, restoration of public lands and a transition towards a clean, just energy economy.
Kodish is the Global Senior Director for clean transportation accelerator at CALSTART, a nonprofit organization. There she leads Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero program and campaign. Drive to Zero is working to accelerate adoption of zero-emission trucks and buses worldwide as part of the needed global transition to a decarbonized economy for the benefit of the climate and clean air as well as the operational, economic, and job creation benefits. I am delighted to bring you an interview with Stephanie Kodish that will help you get an inside look at vital challenges and progress.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: As an expert of the transition to clean transportation, you are involved in a big upcoming breakthrough that involves Israel. What can you tell me about that?
Stephanie Kodish: We just had an exciting development with the government of Israel that is a strong example of the country’s global clean transportation leadership. In December at COP28 — the largest climate gathering in the world — Israel and five other countries (Cape Verde, Colombia, Ghana, Iceland, and Papua New Guinea) signed the world’s most ambitious multi-national agreement to decarbonize the transport sector, the Global Memorandum of Understanding on Zero-Emission Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles (Global MOU). Noting the urgent need to lower global transport emissions in order to meet our collective Paris Agreement goals, Minister Miri Regev and Minister Idit Silman from Israel’s Ministries of Transport and Environmental Protection noted Israel’s successful deployment of zero-emission buses for public transportation. The ministers proclaimed that zero-emission trucks are next in line for Israel.
The Global MOU, which my program Drive to Zero co-leads with the government of the Netherlands, is now 33 countries strong. These countries have all agreed to reach 100% new zero-emission medium and heavy-duty truck and bus sales by the year 2040 at the latest, with an interim goal of at least 30% new zero-emission sales by 2030. Why are these ambitious targets so important? Zero-emission commercial vehicles reduce climate pollution while also improving public health and supporting economic and operational benefits for public and private fleets.
But what’s more is that this effort is a model of international and cross-sector collaboration both between nations and dynamically across the energy and transportation fields. It showcases how a global network can be successful to not only share knowledge and experiences but also work together towards a shared, concrete climate goal.
Global MOU countries all agree we need strong and ambitious policy levers at all levels of government that grow the zero-emission truck and bus sector and the clean infrastructure needed to support it. These vehicles and our approach towards decarbonizing the sector will help solve our dependency on fossil fuels. Global MOU countries have reached a tipping point—they now represent over 20 percent of all buses and trucks on the planet, a substantial share of the market that significantly influences the sector and our global transport future.
What are some ways that this could work? What do you hope it will achieve?
We can achieve 100% new zero-emission truck and bus sales by 2040 if we implement strong policies, grow incentive programs, and embrace the ambition needed to overcome the most daunting challenge of our time — climate change.
To support these leading edge countries Drive to Zero and our Dutch colleagues are creating spaces for collaboration between countries and between public/private sector innovators. We are supporting knowledge sharing and access to networks and resources. Additionally, our team has created a suite of tools and publications to help countries learn about the zero-emission commercial vehicle sector, understand the challenges and opportunities, and to support their efforts to ramp this sector up quickly.
What we hope to achieve by reaching these ambitious targets is a stabilized climate, healthy air and communities, sustainable economic growth, and we hope to address the adverse climate and dangerous air quality impacts that have and are causing so much harm to disadvantaged communities.
As you have worked in other countries, what have been some of your biggest successes?
We had a big win when the United States became a Global MOU signatory at COP27 in 2022. That sent a strong global market and policy signal that zero-emission trucks are the future of transport in an influential truck market. Historically, as many know, the United States has been the largest creator of climate emissions. To have this global economic leader now at the table working to solve the growing transport emissions challenge with 32 other countries is a huge win.
Although they are a relatively small portion of vehicles, diesel trucks and buses pack a big and devastating punch when it comes to pollution— including climate pollution. Countries that prioritize zero-emission trucks and buses are showing that they prioritize addressing the climate crisis.
With any political or policy effort, there are times when you hit a brick wall. Can you give us an example of that and how you pivoted to do something that worked better?
When you are trying to transform the global transport sector, you are going to face incredible challenges. Two big hurdles we have identified for getting zero-emission trucks on the road are – how do we finance them? And, how do we power them? In response, we have pulled together some of the best minds in the world to look at these two challenges via our ZEVWISE coalition that we just launched in 2023. Through this coalition we are already making moves to accelerate finance for zero-emission trucks and buses, while addressing the question of infrastructure. The ZEVWISE coalition includes the Netherlands, CALSTART’s Drive to Zero program, The International Council on Clean Transportation, Smart Freight Centre, United States Department of Energy, the United Kingdom, The Electric Vehicles Initiative, The World Bank, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, International Transport Forum, and the United Nations Environment Programme.
You have already made major changes for good. Is that linked to your Jewish identity? If so, how?
Tikkun olam has always been my North Star. We have this incredibly beautiful and magical world and while we’ve done countless amounts of harm to it, and to each other, I am full of hope. Hope that we can repair the harm we’ve caused, and hope that we will. And hope that as we do, we will pursue and find justice and equity across communities worldwide. It may sound naive or unrealistic, and while I have moments of disappointment or pain from regressive actions, I couldn’t believe this more strongly. My orientation towards optimism and conviction that I have a role to play in helping to heal the world are entirely rooted in my Jewish identity.
What are the big challenges ahead?
Pace, scale and the grip of a dying industry. There is relatively unified acceptance across stakeholders that the future of transport is zero emitting. However, the fossil fuel industry and adjacent interests continue to maintain a grip, striving to be relevant in a landscape where science, technology and public interest does not weigh in their favor. Zero emitting vehicle technologies are here and on the roads. The global timeline to achieve 100% zero emitting new buses and trucks is set in place through the Global MOU. The nations that have made this commitment represent 1 in every 5 trucks on the road. An increasing number of nations are putting strong requirements in place obligating manufactures to ditch diesel, fleets to be zero emitting and build needed infrastructure to support pollution free movement of people and goods. And yet, we need to do more and move faster, the whole world, together and we must do so wisely.
What is your advice for other people who are just getting their start on climate policy issues?
Before advice, gratitude. A decision to work on climate issues is not so much a professional decision as a life choice of personal devotion. I am deeply grateful for my colleagues, present and past and those that chose to go into this field.
There are four things I would offer to someone just getting started: (1) Embrace your big ideas. Some might advise constraint in your goals or ambition. Hear those perspectives and if they offend your soul, don’t listen. Your big ideas might be risky or nonstarters but you are the only one that thinks like you do, so share your ideas. Explore making them come alive- your idea may be the one that’s missing and vital. (2) It’s okay to be angry. We have arrived to the climate crisis not because we didn’t know better or because something occurred beyond our control, quite the opposite. Daily, people are making small and large decisions that stand in the way of accelerating climate solutions. Turn that anger into inspired action. (3) Look for connections between people, across issues and within moments to find opportunity. Engage people and interests with different motivations and search for connections to bring others in by shining a light on what binds. (4) Take care of yourself and nurture your relationships. You will do more and do it more effectively if you take care of your health—doing all the things—sleeping and eating well, getting fresh air, exercise and tending to your relationships. This body of work is both immanent and has a long time horizon. Stay in it for the long haul by nourishing yourself and staying connected regularly with those you care about.
How can people help you in your breakthroughs?
The work we do comes down to building strong communities with healthy air where you can enjoy your home, your parks, where you can walk without having to breathe in dangerous air. Do you see zero-emission trucks and buses in your community? If you don’t, I’d encourage you to ask your town’s mayor, or community counsel about getting zero-emission buses in your community. That is an important first step. If you do see zero-emission trucks and buses, tell your community leaders you want to see more. Let them know about Drive to Zero and encourage them to become a part of our community.
How can people learn more about your work and reach you?
Please take a look at the work CALSTART’s Drive to Zero is doing by visiting our website www.globaldrivetozero.org. If you work in the transport community or want to support our efforts to transform transportation for good, apply to join us as an endorser of the Global MOU. We have some of the top fleets, manufacturers, and sub-national governments supporting our efforts including the governments of California, Québec, and Goa, India—as well as private sector innovators like Scania, DHL, Lion, Rivian, Heineken, Ballard, Eaton, and many others. You apply to become an official endorser online.
If you are unable to join us as an endorser, please let your local government leaders know that you want zero-emission trucks and buses in your community (and benefits they deliver!). Encourage your local representative leader to check out our Global MOU community and join us so that we can connect them with the tools and innovators who are putting these clean trucks and buses on the road today.