The UNEP FI Regional Roundtable for Europe was held virtually on 10 and 11 November 2021 alongside COP26, and welcomed 600+ attendees and 30+ speakers to help define the role of banking, insurance and investment in shaping ambitious responsible and sustainable strategies to proactively address the challenges and opportunities of a green recovery whilst transitioning to a low-carbon, inclusive and sustainable future

Throughout the event, speakers stressed multi-stakeholder collaboration and dialogue, the sharing and convergence of best practices and resources in the industry, the importance of quality data, as well as standard and process harmonisation, among other pertinent topics. The Roundtable started with messages from the Head of UNEP FI and the President of the European Investment Bank, commending the net-zero commitments and actions of the three UN-convened Net-Zero Alliances and highlighting the leadership and responsibility of European financial institutions in leading regional and global action for sustainable finance.                                           

On Day 1 of the Roundtable, speakers discussed the engagement with clients to achieve net-zero goals, the need for European financial institutions to support the development of sustainable finance frameworks at the global level, the usefulness of the Principles of Responsible Banking in giving banks a common language to work together, as well as the importance of the EU Taxonomy for the sustainable finance space in Europe and beyond.  On Day 2, the Roundtable began with an update on COP26 and the financial sector’s commitments, followed by discussions on the role of the insurance sector in supporting SDGs, the importance of financial institutions to be aware of their impacts and dependencies on nature, the imperative to address data needs and challenges using regulation and existing frameworks to leverage appropriate information gathering, and concluding with a discussion on managing sustainability impacts notably with solutions like the Impact Management Platform.

UNEP FI Head, Eric Usher opened the Regional Roundtable for Europe whilst important discussions were taking place simultaneously at COP26. He mentioned that the ambition and commitments of the financial sector are increasingly aligning with the Paris Agreement and the Race to Zero and highlighted the sustainability and net-zero commitments, progress and actions made by the three GFANZ UN-convened Net-Zero Alliances, managed by UNEP FI. To scale up sustainable finance globally, Eric Usher stressed the need for market guidance, clear definitions of sustainability across jurisdictions as well as data standardisation and transparency. He highlighted Europe’s exemplary leadership in sustainable finance as demonstrated by the EU Sustainable Finance Action Plan and its EU Taxonomy, and encouraged European financial institutions to lead global action on sustainable finance for a greener, fairer and more resilient planet.

Eric Usher, Head, UNEP FI 

In his keynote address, Dr Werner Hoyer spoke about the importance of collaboration between public and private sectors for achieving impact, the need for a global common language for sustainable investments and the urgency in tackling issues like social inequalities. He highlighted the European Investment Bank’s commitment to dedicate at least half of its financing to climate action and environmental sustainability by 2025 through the Climate Bank Roadmap; the EIB group will support 1 trillion euros of investment in climate action and environmental sustainability by 2030. He commended the EU’s leadership through its sustainable finance frameworks like the Taxonomy, and highlighted EIB’s engagement in the European Platform on Sustainable Finance, the IPSF and MDB initiatives for climate finance. He applauded net-zero commitments made by the GFANZ initiatives including the ones led by UNEP FI; the EIB will strengthen its collaboration with UNEP FI on technical matters, Dr Hoyer said.  

Werner Hoyer, President, European Investment Bank

In the first panel of the Regional Roundtable, the Chairs of the three GFANZ UN-convened net-zero alliances shared their insights on engagement, asset reallocation, and the importance of standardised reporting. On discussing divestment, speakers mentioned the preferable pathway of developing transition plans with clients. Panelists emphasised the importance of ensuring quality reporting in order to speed up engagement which is currently somewhat inefficient. Panelists also recommended a client-focused approach in standardised reporting and ensuring that the financial sector as a whole is aligned on what is asked from clients.

Clockwise from the top right: Tracey McDermott, Group Head, Conduct, Financial Crime and Compliance, Standard Chartered; Renaud Guidée, Group Chief Risk Officer, AXA; Remco Fischer, Climate Lead, UNEP FI; Guenther Thallinger, SE Board Member, Allianz & Chair, UN-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance

In the next panel, speakers discussed European ambitions for sustainable finance as formulated in the EU’s strategy for financing the transition to a sustainable economy, and its complementarity with the ongoing and planned sustainable finance regulatory actions. Speakers explored how the tools included in these documents  can help scaling up global finance sustainability goals like introducing mechanisms that allow for improved risk management for banks and for regulators to provide better guidance on the issue, and allow to maintain European leadership in achieving the global goals. Speakers discussed the possibility and importance of disclosure regulations becoming the standard for both EU and international banks. Panelists stressed the need for European financial institutions to go global, share best practices and support the development of sustainable finance frameworks, like taxonomies, in emerging countries following their own specificities. Panelists talked about how UNEP FI can help amplify their objectives, including the integration of EU tools and methodologies in the net-zero alliances, and advising on biodiversity risks and impacts for the development of the Taxonomy. Global collaboration for systemic impact was emphasised throughout the discussion.

Clockwise from the top left: Antoni Ballabriga, Global Head of Responsible Business, BBVA; Daniel Bouzas, Europe Regional Coordinator, UNEP FI; Elodie Feller, Policy Officer Sustainable Finance, DG FISMA, European Commission; Pilar Gutierrez, Acting Head of the Reporting and Transparency Unit, European Banking Authority

In this panel, three banks discussed their experiences with implementing the Principles for Responsible Banking. Panelists agreed that the Principles have given banks a common language to work together, helped them articulate their sustainability vision, raise targets and inspire national subsidiaries to action. Speakers presented their approach in addressing their respective impact areas including climate change, financial inclusion, biodiversity conservation, and circular economy. In doing so, engaging in industry-led movements like the GFANZ Alliances, setting ambitious targets, using the TNFD framework, and collaborating with civil society to better direct funding will help achieve goals. They also discussed challenges related to data availability, and difficulty in measuring impacts. Speakers also stressed the importance of collaboration for systemic impact.

Clockwise from the top left: Johanna Dichtl, Sustainability Expert & PRB Implementation Support Manager, UNEP FI; Jennifer Coleman, Social Policy and Emerging Issues Lead, Sustainable Banking, NatWest Group; Nathalie Jaubert, Group Corporate Social Responsibility, Deputy Head, BNP Paribas; Anna Monticelli, Head, Circular Economy Desk, Intesa Sanpaolo; Ambika Jindal, Global Lead, Climate & Wholesale Banking Group Sustainability, ING Bank NV

In this panel speakers discussed the application of the EU Taxonomy and its potential global influence, as well as steps to implementation, and the challenges that banks face in doing so. Speakers agreed that the EBF-UNEP FI taskforce to pilot the taxonomy has been helpful in preparing and guiding banks towards implementation and raising awareness on operational challenges to policymakers. Presently, banks are migrating their existing tools and processes for specialised lending environmental and social tools, towards the taxonomy’s. Panelists discussed the challenges, including data availability and quality from project owners on which banks are reliant. Speakers discussed the idea of developing a process to collect data from project owners, especially on alignment with do no significant harm principles, and engaging with clients on the EU Taxonomy. Panelists talked about the need for European financial institutions to export their expertise and leadership on the taxonomy, for international standard harmonisation, and to facilitate the capital flow where it’s most needed and produce systemic impact.

Clockwise from the top left: Lucile de la Jonquière, Director, Public Affairs, Société Générale Group; Denisa Avermaete, Senior Policy Adviser, European Banking Federation; Manuel Perez de Castro, Group Risk VP, Enterprise Wide Risk Management, Banco Santander; Robert Bopp, Associate Partner, CBS Director, Co-Lead Sustainable Finance, Financial Services, Ernst & Young; Corinne Raux, Senior Advisor on Taxonomy, UNEP FI

In this session, UNEP FI Climate Lead, Remco Fischer, provided an update on COP26, the context in which it is happening, the issues and the silver linings. He mentioned that 120 countries have communicated net-zero emission targets by 2050, with emerging countries like China and India setting targets by 2060 and 2070 respectively; however, these long-term commitments are inconsistent with countries’ short-term and medium-term plans as described in their nationally determined contributions (NDC). Fischer highlighted the finance sector net-zero commitments, specifically the 400 global financial institutions across the world in GFANZ alliances including the three UN-convened alliances. 30 financial institutions have also committed to addressing agriculture-driven deforestation. He noted that financial institutions are committing to short term and intermediary targets which they must make sure align with long-term commitments. He also spoke about other positive news including the US-China collaboration to reduce emissions, the commitment made by over 100 countries to stop deforestation by 2030, the announcement by 40 major coal user countries to shift away from coal and 24 countries to end the era of fossil fuel power vehicles.

Remco Fischer, Climate Lead, UNEP FI

During the first panel of day 2 of the Regional Roundtable, speakers discussed the role of the insurance industry in supporting SDGs and integrating them in their businesses and discussed using the SDGs as part of underwriting portfolio steering. Speakers mentioned the role of the insurance industry as a potential enabler of change in other industries, encouraged the insurance industry to use its sphere of influence, and highlighted the leadership of European insurers. They presented concrete steps for insurers, including mitigating their own emissions, becoming part of the transition with customers and incentivising climate mitigation and adaptation. Panelists discussed challenges including large systemic barriers and challenged companies to help them influence regulators and other decision-makers. Even though measuring impact is challenging, speakers stressed the importance of doing so and going beyond making commitments. Stepping up global partnerships and collaboration was raised as a key next step.

Clockwise from the top right: Gillian Rutherford-Liske, Head Reinsurance Sustainability, Swiss Re; Karin Greve-Isdahl, Executive Vice President, Sustainability, Communications and Industry Policy, Storebrand; Linda Freiner, Group Head of Sustainability, Zurich Insurance Group; Butch Bacani, Programme Leader, UN Environment Programme’s Principles for Sustainable Insurance Initiative

In the next session, panellists discussed concrete actions that financial institutions can take to build nature-positive portfolios, the benefits that they can reap from doing so, as well as challenges to tackle. Speakers highlighted the growing recognition of the role of biodiversity in the real economy, and the risks and opportunities that it presents for investor portfolios. They stressed the importance of financial institutions to identify their impacts and dependencies on nature as a first step but recognised the need to continue raising awareness within the financial sector to create an enabling environment. Panellists discussed benefits of being proactive on nature issues, including being able to better address transition risks considering an increase in nature-related policies, as well as challenges such as the lack of data accessibility, consistency and harmonisation. Speakers emphasised the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration and dialogue, as well as creativity and boldness in creating nature-investing mechanisms.

Clockwise from the top left: Jessica Smith, Nature Lead, UNEP FI; Charlotte Kaiser, Managing Director, NatureVest, The Nature Conservancy; Gemma James, Senior Lead, Environmental Issues, Principles for Responsible Investment; Oliver Withers, Biodiversity Lead, Credit Suisse

The following panel of the Roundtable explored the different perspectives in addressing present data needs and challenges as well as future steps to increased access and availability. The speakers began the discussion emphasising the importance of data vendors in providing quality, accurate data and how creating regulation for these data providers with their input could ensure more access to the data financial institutions require for their sustainability reporting. The panel spoke about the way data can be used to engage with clients on their sustainability targets as well as challenges that remain, including the availability of data particularly at the sub-activity level, harmonising standards and metrics along with adapting sustainability reporting frameworks to different types of companies. The panellists discussed both, present frameworks for sustainability reporting in Europe including the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and the EU Taxonomy, while highlighting developments to keep track of for the future including the European Single Access Point (ESAP) and the work being done by the IFRS to develop an international sustainability reporting framework.

Clockwise from the top left: Helena Viñes Fiestas, Commissioner, Spanish Financial Markets Authority, Comisión Nacional del Mercado de Valores; Hans Biemans, Head of Sustainable Markets, ING; Andreas Hoepner, Professor Operational Risk, Banking & Finance, University College Dublin; Luc Hendrickx, Director, Competitiveness of Enterprises, External Relations, Legal Affairs, SMEunited; Michal Piechocki, CEO, Business Reporting – Advisory Group

The final panel of the Roundtable explored the possibility of a system of norms for sustainability impacts management and its potential benefits. Financial institutions face challenges in this space such as the difference across jurisdictions regarding reporting, which necessitates the improvement of consistency, comparability and data quality, while investors require more tailored support and in-depth tools to address specific impact areas, for which alignment on terminology could be useful. Speakers noted the necessity for a consolidated and comprehensive impact-management system for financial institutions to follow, which is already beginning as demonstrated by the International Sustainability Standards Board and International Financial Reporting Standards. The Impact Management Platform, co-chaired by UNEP FI, comes as an answer to these challenges, in convening standard and norm setters initiatives for a convergence of best practices and multi-stakeholder expertise, which will be useful for the private sector and regulators. Speakers concluded with remarks on next steps, which will require leadership and collaboration.

Clockwise from the top center: Clara Barby, CEO, Impact Management Project; Eric Usher, Head, UNEP FI; Antoni Ballabriga, Global Head of Responsible Business, BBVA; Careen Abb, SDGs and Impact Lead, UNEP FI; Shelagh Whitley, Chief Sustainability Officer, Principles for Responsible Investment