July 22, 2015 - Integrating public finance, intelligent policies and enabling regulatory frameworks will spur on private sector 'green' investments, EU environment ministers have heard from UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner during their Informal Council meeting in Luxembourg.
A full version of Mr Steiner's speech can be read below.
Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel very honored by the invitation of the Luxembourg Presidency of the EU to address, just four months before the world will be looking to Paris for a new climate deal, the informal meeting of the European Union Environment Ministers, in which you will be shaping the European Union’s response to some outstanding questions to this defining issue of our time, as the UN Secretary General called the climate challenge. And while Luxembourg is rightly referred to as the “Green Heart of Europe”, we can already observe across Europe and in the world that no place has a guarantee to be spared from the effects of climate change.
The destructive floods we’ve seen across the continent over the last five years, from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK and Ireland - and the Balkans and Central Europe in between - have killed hundreds and cost billions in damage over the last five years. And at the other extreme, the pervasive heat waves that have come to dominate summers here with their attendant mortality rates.
Climate change is an unprecedented environmental change phenomenon with dramatic social consequences and far-reaching economic implications.
What is the solution? At its core, it’s about rising to the challenge of transformation of our economies green investment and financing.
The conventional, carbon-intensive economic pathways and markets for infrastructure and investment wreak havoc on the climate. Our challenge is to redirect investments from that traditional market toward green infrastructure, green technology and green finance. This economic transition towards climate compatibility requires a re-deployment of global investment the likes of which the world has never seen. Climate change is an investment and financing challenge of unprecedented scale.
To mitigate climate change, and to decarbonize the economies of the world - as the G7 have pledged to do to theirs - will require rechanneling financing of over 1 trillion USD per year until 2050 to green the two most GHG emitting sectors: energy and land-use.
Yet even if we are able to stabilize emissions at a level consistent with the goals of the UNFCCC, we will continue to feel the impacts of climate change for decades to come.
Countries must be able to adapt to be resilient against these effects. According to UNEP’s first Adaptation Report, the global investment required for adaptation to climate change will likely oscillate between 150 and 500 billion USD per year until 2050.
These numbers are, suffice it to say, daunting.
At COP 21 in Paris, countries will meet to finalize a new global agreement on climate change. These discussions will hinge on the key questions of finance for this global transformation.
What amount is required to deliver low-carbon energy systems and climate resilience? Who are the key actors? What is the role of public versus private investment?
On these important questions, UNEP - through the UNEP Inquiry and UNEP Finance Initiative - has begun to offer answers.
More on these initiatives and their roles in a moment.
But first, let’s speak to the question of public versus private investment.
The “versus” is deceiving. Public and private investment are not in opposition.
Indeed, a comprehensive approach to financing the transition to a low-carbon, resilient economy is required.
Public finance is crucial, but can only provide a portion of the capital required.
Nationally and internationally, the bulk of the financing required will have to be mobilized from private sector sources.
Mobilizing large amounts private finance requires bold public action. Often this means positive regulatory or legislative change. But public investment in the low-carbon economy is necessary, too.
Think of public finance as the auxiliary power unit that starts the jet engine of private finance. An APU can’t power a plane alone. But nor can a plane’s engines get going without the APU.
You’ll forgive the carbon-intensive analogy.
An APU will always have limited power. But a stronger APU will start an engine faster.
In the same way, limits on public finance will preclude boundless public investment. But the more the better all the same.
The numbers make clear the case to get the engines started as soon as possible.
According to the International Energy Agency, an additional 1.1 trillion USD in low-carbon investments every year is needed between 2011 and 2050. In 2013, the global amount of public climate finance (including development finance institutions) reached 137 billion USD. Private investment totaled 193 billion USD.
The deficit is compounded when we consider where the money is heading.
We like to say we live in a globalized marketplace. But 75% of climate finance flows were invested domestically. Private actors had an especially strong domestic focus. 90% of that 193 billion USD is being invested in the country of origin.
However, an important fraction of public and private financing is needed for climate-compatible investment in developing countries.
Despite Governments’ efforts to increase these financing volumes, the pace is slow and the gap remains large. Take as an example the pledges to the Green Climate Fund. Only 10 billion USD has been pledged to date.
Yet beyond filling the gap, there is a clear and simple rationale that underpins the importance of private climate finance.
Tackling climate change requires an economic transformation. Our financial engines are past due for an overhaul. They require a change in common business practices in the private sector. This overhaul will be by its nature privately financed.
When Governments consider financial strategies for sustainable, low-carbon and climate-resilient development, their regulators and policy-makers should emphasize the importance of mobilizing private finance to these ends.
Additionally, since many Governments are suffering budget constraints, if they only consider public allocations, the plane is never getting off the ground.
A good example of stimulus comes from China, where annual investment in green industry could reach US$320 billion in the next five years. Public finance, however, will likely provide no more than 10 to 15% of that total.
Forward-thinking governments anticipate future context and shape policy around long-term prosperity. And successful private businesses anticipate and adapt to changing markets. That’s why, in some instances, we have seen that the transition toward a low-carbon, resilient economy is already underway.
In recent years we have seen promising and increasing global momentum on the mobilization of both public and private climate finance.
While the recent trends are encouraging and reason for cautious optimism, we have seen that much more is needed.
Regrettably, the financial system is predicated on a system of rules and incentives that lead to short-termism and the misallocation of capital toward high-risk, unsustainable investments.
We don’t tend to look at the long view.
We fly straight into thunderstorms gambling there will be sunshine on the other side.
Efforts to get finance flowing by Governments will need to address the root-causes of the climate finance deficit in order to catalyze the private investment needed.
In Kenya, existing climate variability is already costing 2.4 per cent of GDP per year.
Natural resource and carbon-intensive investments continue to rise. This is in the face of warnings that the value of these investments will decline over time. Technology will change. Policy will change. Consumer choice will change. And those investments will be left behind.
Green investments can generate positive financial returns, and over the long term, too. But they’re at a disadvantage. The prevailing structure still incentivizes conventional short-term investments.
Leading financial institutions increasingly understand this. They are recognizing the importance of responding to climate change, resource stress and wider environmental degradation.
The likes of Citibank and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, have made noteworthy commitments to channel dozens of billions of USD into climate-related investments.
They are becoming aware that the current financial ‘rules of the game’ may not be best-suited for the transition ahead.
That’s why there is a need to design practical policy and regulatory frameworks to govern the allocation of capital to green investments.
And in order for a new climate deal to work in Paris, it is essential that we have the proper financial system in place to direct what would be a surge in green investment. That is, a system that can allocate capital efficiently to climate friendly investments and away from those that are polluting and inefficient.
Ladies and gentlemen, earlier I mentioned that the Paris climate deal also hinges on important questions to be discussed in December: What amount is required to deliver low-carbon energy systems and climate resilience? Who are the key actors? What is the role of public versus private investment?
I also mentioned that UNEP is generating answers to these questions.
More specifically, the UNEP Inquiry and the UNEP Financial Initiative.
What are these initiatives?
Few are aware that UNEP has one of the UN’s longest standing partnerships with the financial world.
In 1992, the UNEP Finance Initiative was founded as a global partnership between UNEP and the financial sector. Over 200 institutions, including banks, insurers and fund managers work with UNEP to understand the impacts of environmental and social considerations on financial performance.
And though younger, the UNEP Inquiry has been no less effective at merging the worlds of finance and environment.
The Inquiry was launched in early 2014 to explore policy options for better aligning the financial system with sustainable development.
At its core, the Inquiry identifies and recommends financial market reform that would improve effectiveness in channeling capital to green investment.
The Inquiry is there to help states set rules and norms that put sustainable development at the center of decision-making.
Now, I’ve discussed the question of public versus private finance. I’ve spoken about how governments and business are key actors in directing finance to clean, green investments. I’ve noted, and I hope you’ve taken note, of the enormous over-trillion-dollar gap we must fill with private investment.
Much of this knowledge has come from research by UNEP’s Inquiry and the UNEP Finance Initiative.
But we at UNEP have been looking at more than the “who” and the “what”. We’ve been looking at arguably the more important question: How?
Through UNEP’s work with the Inquiry and the Finance Initiative, we are helping to provide answers to two important questions:
What are, at the national level, the policy and regulatory approaches best suited to mobilize at-scale private financing for climate change mitigation and adaptation?
How can international public finance be best used to achieve the greatest possible mitigation and adaptation impact in developing countries?
In answer to the first question, the UNEP Inquiry calls for still stronger regulatory action.
Governments can drive demand for green finance with approaches like carbon pricing and incentives for clean energy.
A sustainable financial system must also integrate climate security as part of the performance framework.
A range of policy tools can help mobilize capital.
The Bank of England’s Prudential Regulatory Authority is conducting a review of climate implications for the insurance sector. This is an example of a policy to improve risk management and encourage prudent approaches by banks, insurance companies and institutional investors.
Market forces on their own have proved insufficient to deliver the necessary breadth, depth or consistency of corporate climate impact disclosure. Improved reporting frameworks of sustainability and climate factors can help ensure accountability.
But a call from the UN to improve the green investment climate might not ring loudly. We may want the plane in the sky as much as anyone, but we must wait for the investors.
Investors, though, want the engines started.
Investors like the 365 signatories to the Global Investor Statement on Climate Change.
Combined these investors manage 23 trillion USD of assets.
And they’re asking governments to incentivize climate-friendly, energy efficient investments.
Their statement also offers practical proposals on how green investment can be catalyzed: Stronger political leadership and more ambitious policies. Stable and economically meaningful carbon pricing. Plans to phase out fossil fuels. Just to name a few examples.
But in the spirit of my role, perhaps a united appeal is more convincing:
UNEP is backing Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition, which investors around the globe are using to crank the engine themselves, reducing the carbon intensity of their portfolios.
At the end of the day, policy can help power investment. But public finance is required, too.
So how can we extract the most mitigation and adaptation investment for each dollar or Euro of available public finance?
Because mitigation and adaptation must happen globally, the solution is inherently international.
Cooperation is key.
We have the formal negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
But discussions are now also underway on how to reflect climate factors in the global financial architecture, recognizing that many non-state actors such as cities and business also have access to alternative sources of financing that when harnessed can alter the actuarial calculation of risk.
Other opportunities include the potential for collaborative research among central banks. The Central Bank of Bangladesh, for example, is targeting its monetary operations at the green economy, and can offer lessons to those wishing to learn.
States can also look at coordination among securities’ regulators and accounting standards bodies to bring coherence to climate reporting.
Luxembourg might be the Green Heart of Europe. But outside, those painted landscapes surround the other vital organs of the country. It’s the finance industry that provides the lifeblood of the economy here. That makes all the more fitting a place to reflect on how to get finance flowing to green, sustainable, low-carbon investments. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.