On day two of the World Conference of Banking Institutes, executive director – business development of the Abu Dhabi Global Market Steve Barnett opened sessions with a focus on sustainability in emerging markets and explored how education is a core pillar when ensuring commitment to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives.
While the financial services industry is at the centre of gaining momentum and fostering innovation in this space, there is a significant amount that banks can enforce to sustain the planet for future generations. Barnett adds that fintech also plays a big part in the ESG agenda.
Using the MENA region as an example following recent drone attacks on the Saudi oil processing facility, Barnett explains that impact investing is in relatively early stages of development and accounted for 2% of global investment in 2018. “This 2% figure masks what we have seen as investments in projects have not been picked up but have been happening.”
He continues to say that public policy in this area has been instilled by the UAE Ministry of Climate and in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Regulatory frameworks have also been put in place which allow and encourage ESG initiatives. “The situation is improving with local investors making a huge impact in this space,” Barnett reiterating that some positive news is occasionally kept out of the limelight.
Next up on stage: Sir Roger Gifford, chairman of the Green Finance Institute, City of London Corporation who highlights the international imperative of green finance and clean growth. “Extreme weather events are having damaging effects on society. With two summers of ‘record breaking heat’, the climate crisis is building.
“After Brexit and the Conservative Party leadership contest, climate is at the top of the news agenda - the British do like talking about the weather after all.” Gifford goes on to refer to Greta Thunberg’s inspiring ventures and states that we cannot ignore the strives that have already been made.
For instance, the UK was the first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. The target will require the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, compared with the previous target of at least 80% reduction from 1990 levels in June 2019.
Gifford adds: “Green finance is ordinary lending by banks with specific audited processes to reduce the use of fossil fuels. This does not mean reduced yields. However, green finance is not a magic bullet, but does represent the reappraisal of finance embedded in science and social purposes. Combined with the political world, this can happen and sustainable finance can change markets, in addition to changing people’s behaviour.”
Taking a step back from the events of today, Gifford surmises that sustainable finance was about sacrificing returns before, but green bonds and green equities have always outperformed. Further to this, ensuring sustainability is about more than awareness - it is about mobilising capital to speed up the transition that society wants to see. “Sustainable finance is about risk, but even more about the capital that can be gained from the business models,” Gifford says.
He refers to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 risk report and reveals that climate change mitigation is the top concern and politicians are realising that something must be done. Gifford uses the impact of wildfires and floods on business as an example and says that “the concept of green can be fundamental in transforming finance and can make investment more attractive.”
Closing session ahead of lunch was star speaker François Villeroy de Galhau, governor of Banque de France who prompts the audience to consider a sustainable future. He describes that increased uncertainty is already weighing on global growth: two factors that threaten scalability are trade tensions from the US and of course, Brexit.
“Uncertainty is unsustainable, and it is the responsibility of politicians, more than central bankers to restore confidence. The attack on the oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia has also shown that we should not rush to hasty conclusions. The oil price has significantly increased since June by 20%, which means that this could cause inflation and hamper growth.”
Villeroy de Galhau continues: “Brexit is and remains bad news, and not just for the British economy, but also for Europe. We respect the British choice, whatever it turns out to be.” He says again that there is uncertainty surrounding the outcome and potential for a no deal and his one wish is for the UK to “renew multilateralism. The response to Brexit may be further integration of Europe, rather than a paralysis.”
All nations have shared common challenges and digitisation is already shaking up the way that we consume. New financial players are becoming increasingly important, but fintech firms do not have the capital to disrupt incumbents. Big tech giants do have the potential to redefine access to cutting edge technology and brand recognition, as Villeroy de Galhau explains.
“Financial regulation should remain technology neutral and have the same rules to protect a level playing field. Cybersecurity can provide a sustainable digital future, but financial supervisors must invent new ways of cooperation. Finance is a bit less about money, but more about data.”
Climate related risk management has moved from being a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’, from emotion to reason.