COP26 – Role of Finance in Tackling the Climate Crisis

This year’s UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid has wrapped up, and all eyes will now focus on Scotland as next year’s host of what is arguably the world’s most important international conference. Also known (somewhat confusingly) as COP 26, Glasgow will be centre stage between 9 and 20 November 2020 as it welcomes an estimated 30,000 delegates from around the world.

Next year’s climate change conference will be particularly important since it will mark five years since the historic Paris Climate Agreement, which committed countries to strengthening actions to combat climate change and limit the global temperature rise this century to below 2 degrees Celsius. We know however that the world is not on-track to cut carbon emissions which must be halved on today’s levels to restrain temperature increases to just 1.5 degrees Celsius, the upper limit advised by climate scientists. Progress will need to be ratcheted up by next year.

Over 500,000 people marched through the centre of Madrid this month, joined by young climate activist Greta Thunberg, to demand quicker action to tackle climate change, yet many have been left frustrated by the lack of urgency that has characterised this year’s climate conference. Madrid has been dominated by disagreements over carbon emissions trading (where more polluting countries can purchase the right to pollute from countries that have not yet reached their emission limits – seen by many as deeply unfair and a false solution to the climate crisis) and an international push to have rich countries pay poorer countries for “loss and damage” associated with irreversible climate change impacts.

Next year, the spotlight is expected to shine on the thorny issue of how to pay for climate damage, and how to mobilise the trillions needed for international climate financing programmes.

Financing needs to tackle the climate crisis are estimated in the trillions worldwide, and are especially high in the poorest countries and those particularly vulnerable to climate change, such as small island states. The UN estimates a US$ 3 trillion annual shortfall in investments needed to meet internationally-agreed climate and sustainable development goals.

A decade ago, industrialised countries pledged to jointly mobilise US$ 100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020 to address their needs. Yet only US$ 71 billion was raised in 2017, mostly from public sector aid budgets (and with most provided as loans). There is a consensus that more resources need to be mobilised from private markets for climate-friendly investments and to support a “just transition” to net-zero.

This is where our work to promote Scotland as a leading international centre for ethical and responsible finance comes in. The climate emergency has underscored the importance – indeed urgency – of building a financial system that has better outcomes for people and planet at its heart. Our work at the Global Ethical Finance Initiative (GEFI) headquartered in Edinburgh, builds on Scotland’s proud heritage in ethical finance and financial services, to convene the world’s foremost political, business and civic leaders to define and shape the transition to a sustainable financial system.

Within the financial services sector, interest has increased significantly over recent years in the ways it can – and should – look beyond short-term profit and shareholder value towards how it can drive positive social, economic and environmental impact. Increasingly, investors and consumers want to be more thoughtful about the impact their money can make on the world. This has led to a plethora of new initiatives and financial products, such as ethical investment funds, sustainability bonds (where the proceeds are exclusively applied to finance green or social projects), and the development of UN-led Principles for Responsible Investment. Globally, the impact investment  market is increasingly popular and is now estimated at over US$502 billion (impact investments are those that seek a positive social and environmental impact in addition to a financial return).

At this year’s climate conference, the European Union unveiled its “Green New Deal” intended to transform Europe’s economy and eliminate its contributions to climate change by 2050. Scotland is even more ambitious: this year it adopted landmark legislation to become a net zero society by 2045, and to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030. Delivering a green transformation that will support employment creation, build skills, boost wages and trigger technological advances will require building a new generation of infrastructure and industries. In addition to well-planned public expenditure that can crowd-in private investment, banks will need to ensure they are able to provide the kinds of financing needed to support this transformation. Aligning their business strategies with society’s goals will in turn will help them leverage new business opportunities and remain competitive with the emergence of the sustainable development economy.

Our view is that finance can be a positive force for change. As we enter a “decade of action” on climate and sustainable development, COP26 in Glasgow in 2020 provides an opportunity for Scotland to showcase the important work it is doing to accelerate the transformation towards a more socially responsible and inclusive financial system – one that serves both people and planet.

 

By Gail Hurley: Senior Consultant, Global Ethical Finance Initiative (GEFI)

Gail was formerly a Senior Advisor to the UN

Follow on Twitter: @gailmlhurley

Follow GEFI on Twitter: @Finance4Change