Many have proclaimed COP26 as a failure, with funding falling short, loose wording and non-binding commitments. However, despite the doom and gloom, there was a bright spot; the UK’s finance industry.
Trillions need to be invested to achieve the 1.5 degrees target, but governments alone do not have the funds to achieve this. Alternative sources of finance must be found, and private investment needs to be encouraged on all fronts to, ‘go green’. Looking at supply-side energy alone, the IPPC estimates that up to $3.8 trillion needs to be mobilised annually to achieve the transition to net-zero by 2050.
The UK led from the front in green finance, introducing plans to become the world’s first net-zero aligned financial centre. New Treasury rules for financial institutions, listed on the London Stock Exchange, mean that companies will have to create and publish net-zero transition plans by 2023, although the full details are yet to be announced. These plans will be evaluated by a new institution, but crucially, are not mandatory. The adjudicator of the investment plans will be investors. Although some argue the regulation could be stronger, just like national climate targets, once there are institutions publishing their alignment with net-zero, there is a level of accountability that can be scrutinised and a platform for comparison which encourages competition. Anything stronger could have pushed investment firms into less-regulated exchanges.
Encouragingly, the private sector showed strong engagement, with nearly 500 global financial services firms agreeing to align $130 trillion — around 40% of the world’s financial assets — with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
From large multinational companies, to small local businesses, the summit provided greater clarity on how climate policies and regulations will shape the future business environment. The progress made, on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and coal investments, was a clear signal to the global market about the future viability of fossil fuels. It will now be more difficult to gain funding to expand existing or build new coal mines. Over time, this adjustment will have wider impacts on the funding of other polluting industries.
This new framework will give the private sector the confidence and certainty it needs to invest in green technology and green energy. Renewable energy is already the cheapest form of energy in 2/3 of the world. This reassurance will be crucial in driving the economies of scale we need, within the renewable energy industry.
A truly sustainable future is still a long way off. The private sector will still invest in fossil fuels, new regulations will cause challenges, and ESG remains optional; but initial signals from COP26 show that the future of the world is looking green.
By Maria King — ESG Associate at Leading Point
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