Long reads

Why climate adaption must consider people, profit, and planet in financial services

Richard Peers

Richard Peers

Founder, ResponsibleRisk Ltd

The Right Honourable Lord Deben stepped up to the podium at City & Financial’s Financial Services Climate Adaptation Summit, in London during March, and was in no mood to deliver the normal platitudes often heard at a conference.

Prior to Deben taking the stage, we had been hearing about the practical implications for managing climate risk, operational resilience and business continuity issues associated with our nation’s critical infrastructure.

Early in his speech Deben commented: “We always have some reason for explaining why we don't have to do anything, it's the oldest trick in the book, and I am becoming less and less patient with this trick, as it invades the whole of our attitude.”

“One of the things we've got to learn is that this is a national crisis that we all have to be involved in and it no longer any good blaming the government. Our consensus on climate change is a consensus to believe in the targets we set but not a consensus to deliver the mechanisms actually to meet those targets,” Deben continued.

However, he continued that we do have the ability to act quickly as a Nation, as was provide by our response to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Covid demanded not targets but action, Covid demanded delivery it didn't demand saying we are going to save X numbers of lives by a certain date.”

Deben went on to explain that we need to talk in a language that people understand, and concluded that we need to take action at every level over which we have control, be that as an individual as a company as a community and society as a whole.

Up to this point, the conference’s panels had been filled by well-intentioned, influential speakers who represented key infrastructure sectors of the UK, including rail, road, water, and energy. 

The speakers had discussed the need to collaborate across disciplines, the need for finance and resource to assist their planning, and to extend planning from the typical three-to-five-year cycle to long-term strategy. Speaking during the session titled ’Using weather and climate science to address the challenges and opportunities of climate change.’ Simon Brown from the Met Office gave the audience statistics in terms of increased winter rainfall, increasing summer temperatures and what can happen if we do not keep to 1.5 degrees and the probable 1.8 degrees that we are tracking to.

Indeed, Brown questioned what might happen if the earth were to increase by two degrees or more. He spoke about the investment the Government has made in the new Met Office supercomputer, and how they can now provide detailed resolutions, postcode-level geospatial data that will be made available for free to many operating in this space. This data is critical to seeing the effect of climate change in time and space, for instance, knowing if a house will flood will affect house prices, insurance and lives.

The panel ‘Regulatory and policy: climate adaptation and financial institutions - what steps need to be taken now?’ heard speakers explore the transition to a decarbonised and resilient United Kingdom and the need to get the real economy onboard transition efforts.  

Speakers on the panel included: Lorraine Johnston, global finance regulatory partner at Ashurst, Sacha Sadan, director of ESG at the FCA, Chris Faint, head of the Climate Hub Division at the Bank of England, Carlos Santos, CEO, Ethos Asset Management, Dr Nicola Ranger, Programme Leader Resilience and International Developments Environment Change Institute, University of Oxford.

Much of the discussion emphasised trust, the impact of greenwashing, and that all players must  embrace standards set by the ISSB (for instance), as well as following financial labelling and consumer protection guidelines. Panellists also spoke about the need to move on from mitigation and really get serious about adaptation. Particularly as the impacts of climate change are inevitable and we need to adapt the infrastructure that enables our lives to withstand climate change challenges

The key concern held by this group was the risk that we would have a disorderly transition, and this would lead to financial instability, social inequity, and which presents a considerable risk to society.

Emma Howard Boyd CBE, chair of the green financial institute and Global Ambassador, Race to Resilience and Race to Zero, spoke about the need to shift from policy to delivery.  While many were calling for more policy, Boyd wanted to see climate at the centre of government financing. She spoke of the $14.9 billion in damages experienced by Pakistan due to the recent floods, the $15 billion impact to Pakistan’s economy due to the recent floods and the countless lives that were lost.

Boyd explained that the adaptation market is growing significantly. Climate change adaptation involves adjusting our behaviour and building improved infrastructure to better cope with changing weather patterns, and major investment is needed. However, the policies and priorities are not clear from the UK government, which means that some of the infrastructure being built today could be wasted.

The next panel ‘Critical Infrastructure I – The UK’s climate adaptation plans for road and rail’ was led by professor Anusha Shah, senior director resilient cities at Arcadis, and included speakers Colin Holme, senior technical advisor, sustainable development and climate change at National Highways, Lisa Constable, weather resilience and climate change adaptation strategy manager at Network Rail, and Dr Katherine Drayson, strategy and planning manager (environment) at Transport for London.

The panel started with a discussion about the short and long-term focus of the industry, that is, a focus on short-term cost-cutting rather than prioritising long-term savings. There were positive signs as we heard of collaboration between the ‘Holy Trinity,’ which consists of Network Rail, National Highways and TFL, as they continue to plan together and are increasingly breaking out of their silos.

The next panel, titled ’Critical Infrastructure II – The UK’s climate adaptation plans for power generation and distribution,’ included Lisa Salmore, director, net zero engineering at National Grid, Laura Sandys, CBE Chair, Government’s Energy Digitalisation Taskforce, NED SGN, Adam Berman, deputy policy director at Energy UK, and Dr Beate Degen, Chair at IRM Trading and Advisory. The panellists highlighted that while the energy industry is not at the forefront of digital transformation, energy does not stand alone. Indeed, “adaptation has been an afterthought” said one speaker of the energy sector, while another was passionate about long term long duration storage. 

Laura Sandys is also founder of the Food Foundation, and spoke of the need for “systems thinking,” using the analogy of the shelf life of food and the shelf life of energy. That is, more needs to be produced locally, preserved where the demand is to reduce wastage of too much central supply.   

During the final panel ’Critical Infrastructure III - The UK’s climate adaptation plans for water management and flood prevention,’ Jonathan Day, deputy director, FCRM Risk Assessment Environment Agency, spoke about the Environment Agency’s role in building a resilient nation.

Other panellists during the session included: Steven Lloyd, board director, Arup Corporate Finance,  Geoff Darch, head of supply demand strategy at Anglian Water Services, and Nick Reynard, head of hydro-climate risks at UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology UKCEH.

Darch spoke about currently living in a golden age of water, with two new water reservoirs being proposed by Anglian Water amidst 18 strategic water resources being developed across the UK.  He also spoke about the need to coordinate design, considering nature and carbon impacts. Related to the issue of water security is food security, as we must understand that there is no food security without water security.   

Going further afield, Lloyd explained that we need integrated thinking and new techniques to deliver large infrastructure projects. He gave the example of efforts to combat the issue of Shanghai sinking, as sea levels continue to rise which lead to a potential $40 billion project being proposed. Using satellites and AI, Arup  proposed a blue/green solution that cost just two thirds of the original scheme.

To conclude, the conference underscored the need for our key infrastructure organisations to collaborate even further than they are, in both coordinated short-term and long-term planning.  They must focus on mitigation and adaptation, and they are in dire need of new sources of funding which can be achieved by blending public and private finance. 

We must trust that these projects will be financed transparently so that we can all judge the impact of their success. These projects should be carried out through the use of plain language and data, while prioritising people, profit and planet.

At the next SF.Live conference in October we will tackle some of these topics

  • Use case large built environment such as Cities
  • Nexus of forces: Nature, Climate, Energy, Social
  • Themes: Data, AI, Risk, Financial Instruments
  • Outcomes: Enable meaning, succesful engagement based on behavioural science.

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