Decarbonizing Assets

take_climate_action_button-248x300Action This Day.  That’s what Winston Churchill wrote on many of his memos.  It has always worked for me as a call to arms.  Action was the persistent theme of the recent UN Climate Summit.  I had the good fortune to be there last week and I was, after a fair number of years of observing the environmental scene, somewhat in awe of the tone and timbre of the speeches in support of climate action.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been building support for nearly a year for a successful summit, with leaders of governments, business and civil society in abundance coming to speak and to make commitments.

President Obama, for one, was unequivocal:  “We have to answer the call. We know what we have to do to avoid irreparable harm. We have to cut carbon pollution in our own countries to prevent the worst effects of climate change. We have to adapt to the impacts that, unfortunately, we can no longer avoid. And we have to work together as a global community to tackle this global threat before it is too late.”  Good speech.  He backed up his speech with some further concrete steps from the Administration.

There was, of course, a mountain of coverage, globally, and that in itself is an excellent thing.  I like to point out in my classes that the salience of a big event like the Climate Summit is yet another way of raising consciousness, and thereby, we hope, stimulating enthusiasm and action.  The Guardian has a nice blow-by-blow account of the day’s main proceedings.  The UN too had a slew of announcements to highlight.

I came in the late afternoon and sat through the session on Finance.  An impressive array of speakers all delivered extremely useful remarks and commitments.  The SG himself called for nations to help make the Green Climate Fund immediately operational – and some, notably France and Germany, have stepped up to the plate with pledges.  He also called on the private sector to “redirect assets” as part of the Divest-Invest Global Movement.  This, of course, strongly echoes what some of the hundreds of thousands at the PCM have been calling for, not to mention President Obama in his landmark climate speech last year.

The World Bank President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, pointed out the role of public finance in helping to unblock private money.  He also called for a reduction in carbon investments to “fundamentally remake economies.”  He pointed out, as more and more economies and businesses are coming to understand, that climate risk endangers investment.  Dr. Kim further highlighted the critical role that “green bonds” are playing.  There were $11 billion in bonds issued last year and perhaps as much as $40 billion will be this year.  The World Bank has a deep, broad and critically important practice on climate, energy and development.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway had some hard-hitting things to say.  She referenced the work of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, and their flagship project on the New Climate Economy.  (I attended the launch of the project last year.)  She also said that “Carbon pricing will be central.”  One of the key developments of the recent past is the burgeoning movement for carbon pricing.  The Climate Summit further galvanized the movement.  73 countries, 22 states, provinces and cities, and over 1,000 businesses have gotten on board and more will follow.  Here’s an update from the World Bank and a video as well.

One form of carbon pricing is cap-and-trade which fosters carbon markets.  As they note in the video and, for that matter, at the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), these markets are coming into being and growing all over the world.

One of the world’s many multi-billion dollar pension funds, AP4 in Sweden, announced the launch of the Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition at the Summit with a goal of getting $100 billion out of what Al Gore once called “subprime carbon assets.”  Mats Andersson, CEO of AP4, said:  “… we hope that by reaching this target, investors can show that a different course of action is possible, where institutional investors’ goals are aligned with, and support the common good.”

The International Development Finance Club (IDFC), representing the development banks, is also highly engaged, with members committed to spending the lion’s share of their scores of billions of dollars on climate finance, renewable energy and sustainable development for the foreseeable future.

And, not to be outdone, the insurance industry is fully committed to “doubling the industry investment in climate-smart investments from the current $42 billion to $84 billion by end of 2015.”  Shaun Tarbuck, CEO of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF), spoke about this and other commitments.

These sorts of commitments went on and on, from bankers, government ministers, international governmental organization and trade association chiefs, and other worthies.  Finally, I turned to some graduates of the international affairs program where I teach and said:  “I never thought I’d live to see this day.”  It’s not easy to impress me, after decades of seeing varying levels of response to environmental concerns but, as a number of people have been noting over the past couple of weeks, maybe we really have turned the corner.

Ban Ki-moon really brought these past couple of weeks into full flower along, of course, with the activists who mobilized hundreds of thousands for the PCM and the events around it, and the Climate Week organizers.  The SG has this Chair’s Summary of the Summit.  Just awesome.

 


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