The UNEP FI Regional Roundtable for Asia Pacific was held virtually from 1-3 June 2021, and welcomed 400+ participants and 30+ speakers to help define the role of banking, insurance and investment in shaping ambitious responsible strategies to proactively address the challenges and opportunities of a green recovery, whilst transitioning to a low-carbon, inclusive and sustainable future. All sessions were held in English and Korean, with some sessions also in Chinese and Japanese.
The Roundtable started with a discussion on the next steps in advancing sustainable finance within the region. The panellists touched upon topics including how positive impact is being created by the finance industry, addressed challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and discussed the ways in which social and environmental responsibilities are being integrated into strategy at a corporate level. The speakers highlighted that societal awareness of sustainability has never been higher, and finance institutions have a leading role to play to encourage industry cooperation to bring different stakeholders together around shared agendas to create positive impacts socially and environmentally.
The next session focused on financing the net zero transition in Korea with panellists discussing the actions taken by local finance institutions to reach the goal of fully transitioning to net-zero by 2050. The panel discussed hopes to achieve this goal by developing sector specific implementation strategies with guidance from the Korean government, and touched upon the difficulties finance institutions face in implementing their net zero strategy, whilst offering solutions to challenges. The speakers acknowledged that the goal of reaching net-zero can be achieved through collaboration between actors including finance institutions, society as well as government and regulators.
The second day of the Roundtable started with a session on addressing the physical risks of climate change for real assets. The panellists discussed how climate risks can be binary for some whilst others think of them as continuous or discreet scenarios; what is common is how these risks and other sustainability issues will require both local and global governance. In addition, institutional boards will require adequate expertise to address all the complexities climate risk present. All the panellists agreed on the fact that the governance component is going to be important to solve key obstacles such as time restrictions and other economic issues.
The next session provided a preview of the UNEP FI’s two new impact analysis tools, one for real estate and another for investment portfolios. Rooted in the context of impact analysis as a cross-cutting holistic management approach across industries and different themes, the release of these tools means that this approach can now be applied across several asset classes and different portfolios. The Real Estate Impact Analysis Tool was developed to enable financial institutions to identify and assess the positive and negative impacts associated with their real estate investments and portfolios. The Investment Portfolio Impact Analysis Tool will assist signatories to the Principles for Responsible Banking to meet their requirements.
The second day of the Roundtable culminated in a discussion on financing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Japan. Panellist discussed the role of finance institutions, particularly in relation to impact and transition finance, in Japan seeking to be realise its goal of fully decarbonising by 2050. The Government’s Green Growth Strategy provides key guidance to addressing environmental issues whilst also progressing towards accomplishing the SDGs by decreasing societal inequalities, such as achieving gender equality. The panel emphasised the role of financial institutions in assisting businesses develop strategy and provide funding to achieve sustainability targets through disclosure frameworks and guidelines, and the monitoring of the positive and negative impacts of business portfolios.
The final day of the event began with a panel focused on the blue economy and progressing ocean finance to protect vital ocean goods and services that provide financial institutions and society social, environmental, and economic benefits. Panellists discussed the value of UNEP FI’s Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles as a toolkit in assisting financial institutions’ transition to sustainable blue economy practices. These include understanding sectors that have a heavy impact on the ocean, whilst also providing practical and specific guidance for financial institutions to designate capital to recognise market opportunities and protect ocean health. Panellists highlighted the work their financial institutions are undertaking to screen investments for their impact and risks while seeking those that contribute to ocean health and restoration.
The next panel focused on environmental liability insurance, exploring the challenges and opportunities available within this market. The preliminary findings of the work of Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI) on environmental liability insurance were shared and the Korean model, where there is a mandatory environmental liability insurance requirement to better protect the environment through risk management and risk reduction, was discussed; this model can potentially be used as a framework for other countries. Panellists further highlighted the market opportunities available for insurers and other stakeholders by introducing environmental consequences into financing and discussed barriers such as gaps in data and knowledge that still need addressing to strengthen the environmental liability insurance market.
The final session of the Asia Pacific Regional Roundtable looked forward to the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP 15) that will take place in China later this year, and highlighted what financial institutions need to know about their role in protecting and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity. With the conference expected to provide goals that help align the finance industry to restore ecosystems and prevent nature loss, the panel emphasised the new market opportunities for financial institutions by aligning their financial flows with nature positive objectives. They highlighted that biodiversity issues will increasingly become part of risk management systems and financial institutions should be the market leaders in pivoting the economic sector to have a positive role on nature, both for long-term economic stability and benefits – particularly as new data and metrics on natural capital become available.
UNEP FI would like to thank all attendees, speakers and sponsors, DB Insurance and RepRisk, for making this event a great success. You can watch all event recordings including translations here.