The Path from COP26: Implementing the Glasgow Climate Pact | Ethical Finance Round Table

We heard from a varied panel during this Ethical Finance Round Table who delivered their thoughts on COP26, COP27, finance for nature and more, with a series of interesting presentations followed by a lively panel discussion. Click here to watch a recording of the full session now, or click on the names of each of the presenters - Hakima El-Haité, Ashley Hamilton Claxton, Sefton Laing & Jamie Ervin - to see their opening remarks.

Hakima El-Haité, President of Liberal International kicked off by asking how COP26 has succeeded in meeting the hopes of the global south. She emphasised the need to ask ourselves what we achieved and what is next. This COP26 was meant to show progress in CO2 emissions reductions and ambitions for next 5 years and show trust. The developed world was expected to fulfil its promises, and we missed an opportunity to be on the correct side of history, said Hakima.

Ashley Hamilton Claxton, Head of Responsible Investment at Royal London Asset Management followed, and explained that getting commitments from financial sector is easy; action is the hard part. COP26 has inspired more conversations with clients about climate in the past 3 months than RLAM have had in the prior 8 years. Ashley suggested that we need a bottom-up approach (carbon metrics, bonds etc.) but need to develop a high level plan as to how we are going to achieve NZ and the terms of the Glasgow Climate Pact. She cautioned that there is a risk that finance can become a distraction for policy makers - a panacaea for all of our problems around the environment. Finally, she explained that perfect data is a distraction; data will never going to paint a full picture or be complete and can tell a skewed side of a story but is vital for building tools and systems needed post COP and beyond.

Sefton Laing, Senior Climate and Environment Specialist at Baillie Gifford pointed out that COP26 was the first COP at which Big Finance truly arrived. The commitment to trillion dollar funds is a massive step forward, however there is a gap between allocated finance and practical action on the ground - money is not always regulated or properly allocated if you listen to NGOs. He echoed Ashley’s point about the need for strong governance and shifts towards policy to support the individual commitments we have seen particularly from financial services.

Finally, Jamison Ervin of UNDP highlighted 7 trends from the past year on financing nature and 7 predictions for the coming year, looking at how nature has contuined to shoot up the agenda on both climate and finance, and predicting that it will continue to do so.


GEFI spoke at the Edinburgh Futures Conversations to discuss the future economy

GEFI spoke at the Edinburgh Futures Conversations to discuss the future economy. GEFI founder & managing director Omar Shaikh appared alongside former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Chinelo Anohu, Head of the AfDB’s Africa Investment Forum.

Omar emphasised that the SDGs must be at the heart of the future economy. They go beyond technological advances (no doubt important) to fundamentally reshape the way we conduct ourselves, placing purpose at the centre of the economy. Profit and purpose, the triple bottom line, conscious consumerism are all terms increasingly prevalent in financial markets. Paul Polman’s work at Unilever was a great ambassador for such.

Purpose, he argued, gets us to the ontological question – the question of being, of what the economy is and what it is for. If it is to provide the essentials and comforts of life, then that immediately leads to the question of what is the good life, and how much is enough? This chimes with Adam Smith’s challenge of reconciling between his two great mentors Hutchison and Hume – balancing innate goodness with self interest.

At GEFI’s flagship annual Ethical Finance Summit, Prof John Kay illustrated in his presentation how social purpose had been slowly stripped out of the narrative within annual reports of multinational Plcs since the 1960s towards a nearly exclusive focus on return on equity and financial performance – in effect shareholder primacy.

We now stand at a point in time where the pendulum appears to be swinging the other way: financial markets and the economy are placing purpose alongside profit. This incorporation of ethical values was historically a maligned practice, seen as the domain of ‘tree-huggers’, but that has changed via the demands of staff, shareholders, regulators and customers.

For example, we now see a total of:

  • $35.3 trillion USD in sustainable investment
  • Over $100 trillion USD managed by members of the Principles for Responsible Investment
  • $1trn+ USD in impact investing

Omar concluded by reflecting on the many more areas where the future economy can improve upon the past, especially with fintech readdressing the fundamental intermediation role of traditional financial institutions. Challenges remain, be that around nature and biodiversity or around social issues, from poverty, to inclusive growth, to addictive products such as tobacco and gambling.

Gordon Brown followed, highlighting the importance of recognising global interdependence, suggesting that “global problems require global solutions”, from the financial crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has completely exposed the limits of individualism. There must be a break from the 40-year-old Washington consensus, building a new relationship between state, market and society. In particular, there needs to be a reevaluation of the need for fiscal policy.

He focused on the global failure to distribute vaccines equitably around the world, emphasising that this is not simply an unjust policy, but a self-defeating one, asking what this means for the fight against climate change. We can clearly identify both the problem and the solution, but the ‘us versus them’ ideology of political nationalism prevents us from reaching a mutually beneficial solution. Brown suggested that, in the words of Adam Smith who had been mentioned earlier by Omar Shaikh, there needs to be a “circle of sympathy”.