This November, Glasgow plays host to what may prove a pivotal moment in the challenge to tackle climate change.

Policymakers from nearly 200 countries will be descending on the Scottish city known, perhaps auspiciously, as “The Dear Green Place”, for the next major United Nations climate change conference, referred to as COP26. They will discuss the actions needed to meet the climate goals negotiated in the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015.

The summit comes at a critical juncture. In the summer of 2021, the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their latest evaluation of our changing climate. It was, in effect, a clear warning that urgent action is needed to keep the Paris goals within reach.

After modelling possible trajectories for emissions, the IPCC concluded that “global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades”.

Impax believes that we must use COP26 to put the global economy on track to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 by taking action on three fronts:

1. Governments must develop frameworks for mobilising private finance

While most of the investment needed for the transition to net zero will come from the private sector, efforts to mobilise this finance have so far been a source of frustration – for investors concerned about the lack of project pipeline, for policymakers trying to attract capital at scale, and for public financial institutions such as multilateral and national development banks seeking to bridge the gap between these two groups.

Last year, we set out a blueprint for policymakers to address this challenge. Based on Impax’s experience from more than 20 years at the intersection of finance and the environment, our Clean Investment Roadmaps set out key steps they should take, starting with agreeing and publishing clear objectives at a sector level, and the investment required.

2. Financial institutions must integrate climate risks and opportunities into investment decisions

As investors dedicated to investing in the transition to a more sustainable economy, we believe there are significant long-term opportunities where companies can help address the climate challenge or mitigate the risks it poses.

From a fiduciary perspective, the potential consequences of climate change cannot be ignored by asset managers or asset owners. One area where we have focused much of our engagement activity in the last two years has been around physical climate risks. These include the consequences of rising sea levels and biodiversity loss, which carry enormous risks for investors. One study1 estimated that the value of worldwide assets at risk due to climate change could reach US$24.2 trillion by 2100.

To drive the integration of climate risks into investment processes, and so create a more resilient financial system, we encourage financial regulators to adopt the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). Ensuring that the TCFD framework is effectively implemented without imposing unnecessary burdens will be no easy task with many technical challenges to overcome, not least in relation to scenario analysis

Regulation of ‘sustainable finance’ should focus on ensuring that climate-related risks and opportunities are universally integrated. We have previously warned against the temptation of being distracted by well-intentioned initiatives with potential unintended consequences, such as the adoption of mandatory net zero targets for financial institutions. Similarly, efforts to address greenwashing risks through the adoption of green taxonomies should build on experience to maximise their effectiveness.    

3. Companies must become more climate resilient and drive innovation

The private sector holds the key to decarbonising the economy. As countries set “net zero” or equivalent targets, there’s a widespread assumption that “national net zero” should mean “net zero for all”, including “corporate net zero” (CNZ) for today’s businesses

There are drawbacks to unpacking national net-zero targets in this way. Some industries that are key to the transition to a sustainable economy will, by their nature, be unable to achieve net zero based on today’s technologies. Additionally, the merits of carbon offsetting – a practice used by companies across sectors to balance out polluting their activities, usually by planting trees or restoring natural habitats – are hotly debated.

We believe a more thoughtful approach is needed. Rather than effectively insisting all companies adopt net zero targets, we believe it is more useful for investors to consider companies’ resilience to climate change and their alignment with the sustainable transition.

Companies must also drive innovation in new technologies such as hydrogen, carbon capture and zero carbon fuels for shipping and aviation. It is crucial that they collaborate with science, policy and investment communities to drive down production costs, whilst also stimulating demand and building public consensus. 

To achieve real change, and start global emissions on a downward trajectory, we must instead all focus on pragmatic solutions that can address the greatest challenge facing global society. It is important that investors push for clear and ambitious real economy policies that, ultimately, should mobilise climate finance.

These reflections on steps that we have advocated, to help drive progress towards global net zero, are especially pertinent as we approach COP26.

We believe enhanced collaboration between the policy and investment communities is important. Drawing on our long-term expertise in investing in the transition to a lower-carbon economy, Impax will be participating in the summit to further our engagement with policymakers, asset owners and the corporate sector.

1 ‘Climate value at risk’ of global financial assets. Nature Climate Change, 2016

COP26: Mobilising finance for net zero

The UN climate change conference presents a pivotal opportunity for governments to lay the tracks for investment in the transition to a sustainable economy

Chris Dodwell

Global Head of Policy & Advocacy, Co-Head Sustainability Centre

Chris co-heads the Impax Sustainability Centre and is the Global Head of Policy & Advocacy at Impax Asset Management, a specialist investor focused on opportunities arising from the transition to a sustainable economy.

The Policy & Advocacy team is responsible for advising Impax’s investment teams on the impacts of public policy and leads the firm’s work to support the development of new policies to accelerate a net-zero, nature-positive transition.

Chris joined Impax in 2019.  Prior to joining Impax, Chris worked on climate policy for the UK Government for more than a decade, where he led the UK implementation of the European carbon trading system and the UK delegation to the international climate negotiations. Later, as Director of Climate Change at Ricardo Energy and Environment, Chris supported more than 15 countries in developing and implementing their national climate pledges under the Paris Agreement. 

Chris is an active member of the policy committees and advisory councils of industry associations including UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) and the Investment Association.  He is co-chair of the Transition Plan Taskforce’s asset manager working group and a Climate Change Commission for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Chris has a BA Hons in Classics from the University of Cambridge and an LLM in Environmental Law from University College London.

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