ESG and Sustainability Insights

Climate and sustainable
finance news: March 2021

8 minute read time

Developments in the green energy sector and beyond

British PM: “Climate change threat to security”

Prime minister Boris Johnson has joined Sir David Attenborough, United Nations secretary general António Guterres and climate activists in addressing world leaders at the UN Security Council.

Johnson chaired the session, with the UK holding the presidency of the council for the month of February.

In his speech, he told delegates: “It is absolutely clear that climate change is a threat to our collective security and the security of our nations.”

Addressing climate change sceptics, he added: “And I know there are people around the world who will say this is all kind of ‘green stuff’ from a bunch of tree-hugging tofu munchers and not suited to international diplomacy and international politics… I couldn’t disagree more profoundly.”

In a call for action, he declared: “Climate change is a geopolitical issue every bit as much as it is an environmental one. And if this council is going to succeed in maintaining peace and security worldwide then it’s got to galvanise the whole range of UN agencies and organisations into a swift and effective response.”

US re-affirms commitment to climate crisis

As US president Joe Biden enters his second month in the White House, he continues to put climate change front and centre of his domestic and global agendas.

After issuing an executive order to take the US back into the Paris Agreement on climate change, President Biden signed numerous others focusing on conservation and fossil fuels, as well as establishing a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and re-establishing the dismantled President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

In a White House announcement, it was declared that the Biden-Harris administration is “empowering American workers and businesses to lead a clean energy revolution that achieves a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and puts the United States on an irreversible path to a net-zero economy by 2050”.

BlackRock CEO says pandemic “presented existential crisis”

Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, has published his annual letter to his peers.

After a tumultuous 12 months, his 2021 missive spoke of the “existential crisis” the coronavirus pandemic has created, emphasising human vulnerability and stating “that it has driven us to confront the global threat of climate change more forcefully and to consider how, like the pandemic, it will alter our lives”.

Focusing on the move to net zero, Fink differentiated between the organisations that were embracing the challenge, and those that were not. He stressed that “companies with a well-articulated long-term strategy”, and a “clear plan” will succeed by distinguishing themselves with their stakeholders and “inspiring confidence that they can navigate this global transformation”. In contrast, those lagging behind will “lose the confidence of stakeholders and will see their businesses and valuations suffer”.

Fink went on to stress the importance of environmental, social and governance, particularly post-pandemic, and said commitment to all stakeholders remains paramount. He wrote: “Companies ignore stakeholders at their peril – companies that do not earn this trust will find it harder and harder to attract customers and talent, especially as young people increasingly expect companies to reflect their values.”

NatWest joins Prince of Wales’s Financial Services Task Force

Weeks after the Prince of Wales announced his ‘earth charter’ Terra Carta, his Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) continues to garner support from the business and financial sectors.

The Financial Services Task Force, chaired by HSBC chief executive Noel Quinn, is an industry sub-group of the SMI that is focusing on accelerating the flow of private investment into sustainable climate solutions.

So far 11 global banks, including NatWest, Coutts, Bank of America and Lloyds, have joined the initiative.

Small proportion of heavy industry aligned with Paris Agreement

New research by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) suggests only 16 out of 111 major publicly-listed industrial companies are aligned with an emissions reduction pathway aimed at keeping global warming at 2°C or below.

The TPI research analysed the seven “hard to decarbonise” industrial sectors of mining, steel, cement, paper, aluminium and chemicals, and found 86% of the major industrials included are failing to follow the pathway to the 2°C target.

Only six firms – Air Liquide, BHP, Vale, Anglo American, Klabin and Koninklijke Philips – achieved TPI’s highest rating for climate governance.

COP26 president: net zero tipping points “in all sectors”

Alok Sharma, president of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), has called for a net zero “tipping point” across all sectors, building on the Race to Zero campaign launched in June 2020.

Alongside the UN high-level climate champions, ex-We Mean Business CEO Nigel Topping and entrepreneur Gonzalo Muñoz, Sharma unveiled a new roadmap aimed at driving the global economy to net-zero emissions.

The Race to Zero Breakthroughs paper sets out the specific “tipping points” for more than 20 sectors within the global economy, and forms a basis for which business, governments and the public can work from. It outlines what key stakeholders must do, and in what time frame, to ensure their sector can be net zero by 2050.

New report suggests just 12% of spending earmarked for low-carbon projects

Qualifying hopes that climate change and green energy will be at the heart of post-pandemic stimulus packages, a new report states only 12% of spending is set for low-carbon initiatives.

According to Vivid Economics, this is 4% lower than the stimulus spending funnelled into climate change responses after the 2008 financial crisis.

Its Greenness of Stimulus Index notes that with a total stimulus to date of $14.9trn, there had been “an opportunity to support these sectors through the Covid-19 crisis, while also boosting global resilience to mounting climate and biodiversity risks”.

EU

European Parliament passes RRF in “historic step”

After months of debate, the European parliament has passed a bill set to inject billions into the the bloc’s coronavirus recovery.

The €672.5bn pot, the Recover and Resilience Facility (RRF), will ensure 37% of the fund is spent on green initiatives. This means €265bn in either grants or loans will be available to EU countries in order to build back better – and build back green.

The European Commission welcomed parliament’s vote, calling it “an important step”, with the RRF playing “a crucial role in helping Europe recover from the economic and social impact of the pandemic and will help to make the EU’s economies and societies more resilient and secure the green and digital transitions”.

UK

Half of UK electricity from renewables by 2022

By the end of 2022, more than 50% of electricity generation should be provided by renewables. This is a target outlined in a new strategy from the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which has revealed its vision for how the UK can work towards achieving net zero emissions.

The report states the country needs to meet targets such as 100% renewable energy generation by 2032, with the majority of the heat and transport sectors’ energy demands met by renewables and clean tech by 2035.

It does caution, however, that for targets to be met, the government needs to have the correct policies in place, stating: “For the green industry to thrive, it needs a clear route to market, a fit-for-purpose grid network and a wide mix of technologies.”

NatWest goes on the road with Octopus for EV deal

NatWest has teamed up with energy company Octopus to launch an electric vehicle (EV) bundle. The offer will be made available to retail, business and wealth customers, giving them discounted EV charging point installations and access to Octopus Energy’s EV roaming network and tariffs.

James Close, head of climate change at NatWest Group, said about the partnership: “By working with Octopus Energy, we are offering a bundled solution to help people and businesses go green.

“We are determined to play an active role in the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy and this access to EV charging technology will make it easier and more affordable for our customers to make a positive difference to our environment.”

Leeds and London set to become green finance centres 

Leeds and London will host new UK Centres for Greening Finance and Investment, courtesy of £10m in government investment. Set to open in the summer of 2021, the centres will partner with organisations including the University of Oxford, the University of Leeds and Imperial College London to provide data and analytics to financial institutions and services such as banks, lenders, investors and insurers from around the world. The aim is to provide information about the environmental and climate change impacts of various investment decisions.

Energy and clean growth minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “The UK Centre for Greening Finance and Investment in London and Leeds will encourage financial services to turn the tide of their investments and focus on sectors and companies that have a smaller environmental footprint. Doing so will support industries and businesses to develop clean green innovations, creating thousands of jobs across the country – ensuring we build back greener.”

By Louise Hulland