Justin Zen ’24

United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), Switzerland

This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to intern with the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) as a research assistant for the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). My responsibilities included providing general editorial support and guidance, creating reports on climate-related regulatory updates, and evaluating recent output from institutions doing similar work in climate risk assessment.

One of my favorite projects that I worked on was a series of briefings for financial institutions outlining climate-related transition and physical risks for various sectors of the global economy. As the world reckons with the growing consequences of climate change, the financial sector has an important role to play in improving global sustainability and environmental consciousness. The briefings are meant to encourage financial institutions to align their investment portfolios with these priorities, which are typically referred to as environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. I was immediately challenged by the task for two reasons: 1) I am by no means an expert on climate or environmental science, and 2) it was essential to frame the messaging in a way that pushes financial institutions to realize that greener portfolios are not just in the best interest of the planet, but for their businesses as well. Nevertheless, I was eager to overcome these obstacles—and with invaluable advice and guidance from my team and my supervisor, I did. In fact, I learned that even most of the senior members of the team felt unqualified to call themselves authorities on climate risk, which is why good research skills are an essential requirement for the task. As I started to compose the briefings, I developed strategies to strengthen my own comprehension of climate science and data and quickly grew more confident in my ability to simply convey the information to other non-expert readers, like financial institutions. Moreover, through this project and others, I discovered just how flexible and expansive the space of finance really is.

When I was first looking for internships, my main goal was to gain professional exposure to the financial sector, in which I hope to pursue a career after college. This summer has been an incredible experience that taught me that finance extends far beyond markets and securities—there is also the side of finance that has the potential to enact positive social impact on a large scale. Furthermore, my internship at UNEP FI also showed me that there are countless opportunities within finance where I can integrate my passion for writing with my interest in economics. As I start to think about my journey after Williams, I hope to follow similar opportunities that allow me to create widespread impact through a financial career. I am also encouraged by this experience to consider the possibility of going to graduate school for economics, since academia is an excellent place to further develop my research and writing.

Lastly, I want to express my gratitude to the Class of 1966 for their generosity and to thank the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for its role in coordinating the internship process. Without the support from these parties, my internship this summer would not have been possible.