Our annual in-person summit Ethical Finance Global 2023 discussed ESG at a crossroads – its very existence as a new political battleground and how it has come to be viewed as a sticking plaster discouraging more comprehensive reforms of the financial system. See some of our best pictures from across the day.

Our managing director Omar Shaikh and Judith Cruickshank from our host NatWest Group welcome the delegates to Edinburgh!

Not every decision can be taken via a spreadsheet, says Prof Alex Edmans. Profit can be delivered through purpose – through finding solutions to social problems which can subsequently be marketised.

The important thing for us at NatWest Group is the word transition”, says Katie Murray. Simply exiting sectors such as O&G just move money from public to private balance sheets. So we asked sector to develop transition plans or we would not finance new activity.

A fascinating keynote from Prof Sir John Kay on how the pharmaceutical industry shifted from saving lives to peddling opiates. Pressure from investors changed focus to cut R&D, and increase marketing and prices. Business should focus on purpose, ethics and practice.

Carbon capture and storage is a false promise, says Satya Tripathi of the Global Alliance for a Sustainable Planet, storing carbon at $650/tn without changing the structure of the economy. If we gave $100/tn to poorer farmers (current EU ETS price) we could store CO2, increase yields, reduce poverty.

“We have noticed that investors are starting to really scrutinise the language they are using, and what they are putting into the public domain.”, says Yulia Bull of the PRI, echoing concerns over greenwashing at EF Global 2023.

We were delighted to have Maud Abdelli, WWF, present a brand new AI “red flag indicator” to assess corporate climate transition plans & tackles greenwashing, developed with Smith School Oxford, Oxford Sustainable Finance Group, University of Oxford and University of Zurich.

Regulators have a role to play on sustainability, says Ian Johnston DFSA/DIFC but they are not a silver bullet. Their core responsibility is stability & integrity of markets, preventing financial crises.

A birthday party at our summit for the Principles for Responsible Banking! Laura Lightbody of the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative recaps 4 years of PRB progress, and looks ahead to a 2030 agenda which includes climate, nature, economic inclusion and human rights.

Excellent presentation from Chartered Banker Young Banker of the Year Andrew Neilson from NatWest Group on how to prevent fraud through technology and a customer-centred approach.

In the drive to Net Zero, “Scotland can play a key role as a financial centre and as a location for investment”, says Neil Gray MSP of the Scottish Government highlighting the fact that “Scotland has the people and resources to adapt and thrive in the net zero age”.

“2 billion people in the world do not have access to a bank account.”, says financial inclusion advocate Modupe Ladipo, which harms both them and their wider economies. How do we solve this? Look at people’s needs and practices, and design products for them!

“We have two crises that exist in the world; a climate crisis and a gender crises.” says Rachel A Aron emphasising their interrelatedness. But data on this sparse, and financial institutions have a tendency to give up when they can’t find the right data.

Our panel on human rights and justice saw Dame Sara Thornton explain some of the links between modern slavery and finance, such as exploiters taking out loans in the names of victims and survivors.

Andreas Arvanitakis of Defra UK presents the UK Government approach to nature finance. Focus is on delivering over £1bn/yr vs. current £100mn/yr to protection and restoration of nature. Need to improve supply, and demand for nature-related finance.

“We have a long history of stewardship at Federated Hermes, and biodiversity is not new on the agenda. We have looked at issues including deforestation, plastics and more for a while; we are just starting to group them together” Sonya Likhtman tells Dr Sarah Ivory.

“How many of you used a spreadsheet to assess your love for your other half?”, Amy Clarke of Tribe Impact Capital asks the audience during the final summit session. Finance, she emphasised, needs to “be comfortable taking qualitative data and doing what we know is right”.

“We should be evangelising for sustainable business”, says Simon Thompson as he closes the summit, “we should be evangelising for the Paris Agreement.” “Let’s use the platforms and tools we have in business and finance to stress the positives, such as growth and energy security.”