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Global investors must play full role in shifting world to clean energy, says UN chief

More than 500 global investors gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Wednesday to mobilise the trillions of dollars needed to move the world onto the path of clean energy, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon challenging them to, at a minimum, double clean energy investments to $660 billion by 2020.

“Markets now have the clear signal they need to unleash the full force of human ingenuity and scale up investments that can generate low-emissions resilient growth,” he said, speaking just days after scientists confirmed that 2015 was the hottest year on record.

“The world now counts on you to act at the speed and scale needed to transform the global economy. To keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees, and even 1.5 degrees, we must begin the shift away from fossil fuels immediately. We need a massive scaling up of investments in clean energy and energy efficiency,” he said.

Organised by the non-profit Ceres, the UN Foundation and the UN Office for Partnerships, the all-day meeting sought to catalyse a global shift toward exponentially cleaner energy fast enough to meet the long-term objective of December’s Paris climate accord to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero to avoid dangerous climate warming.

“In 2015, clean energy investments stood at around $330 billion dollars, more than six times higher than in 2004. This is a good down-payment, but far less than the “clean trillion” needed annually throughout the coming decades to keep temperature rise to acceptable levels and limit the risks from climate change,” Mr. Ban said, laying out five steps for the investor action.

Every decision on investment and resource allocation must be part of the solution. Every dollar must be invested in low-carbon goods and services.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

  • National climate plans of developing countries must be financed, with institutional investors particularly well placed to provide the significant amounts of capital needed.
  • Pension funds must use their influence as investors and shareholders to accelerate the rapid de-carbonization of the economy.
  • The banking sector must continue scaling up the green bond market while changing its lending practices to support green investments, reflecting the growing risk in the brown economy.
  • The insurance industry must strengthen climate resilience and disaster risk reduction efforts, especially in the most vulnerable countries.
  • Investors need to know how the impacts of climate change can affect specific companies, sectors and financial markets as a whole, with clearer disclosure.

“Investors and businesses that redirect resources to low-carbon, climate-resilient growth will be the economic powerhouses of the 21st century,” Mr. Ban concluded. “Those that fail to do so will be on the losing side of history. Every decision on investment and resource allocation must be part of the solution. Every dollar must be invested in low-carbon goods and services.

“The private sector is the engine that will drive the climate solutions we need to reduce climate risks, end energy poverty and create a safer, more prosperous future for this and future generations. Each of you has a major role to play,” said the UN chief.

For her part, Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres and director of its Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR)said investors are better positioned than ever before to address climate risks and seize the economic opportunities presented by clean energy.

“Ultimately, global investment portfolios need to shift far more capital to low-carbon business activity and away from risky high carbon sectors that may perform poorly in the years ahead,” she added.

Ms. Lubber called on all investors globally to set ambitious clean energy investment commitments; establish clear goals for reducing carbon risk exposure in their portfolios; encourage regulators worldwide to implement mandatory climate risk disclosure requirements; and to continue advocating for policies such as economically meaningful carbon pricing and ending fossil fuel subsidies.

”Cities and businesses recognise the economic benefits that come with fighting climate change, and they’re setting a great example by establishing clear goals and measuring the impact of their work,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP, three-term Mayor of New York City, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and chair of the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, who joined a discussion on climate risk disclosure.

”The more reliable information investors have about climate change, the easier it is for them to make informed decisions, and that will help drive more financing to projects that reduce carbon pollution and promote sustainable economic growth,” he said.

At a press conference later in the day, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said the solutions to climate change are at hand and much more cost competitive.

With the adoption of the Paris Agreement, two things had become clear: there are indeed huge risks to not tackling climate change in a timely fashion; and there are financial opportunities in transforming energy sectors, the automobile industry and oil and gas, among many other attendant sectors.

“There are more opportunities to do well, to do good, and to have a just transition that [ensures] the wellbeing of everyone,” she said, adding that she had also seen a remarkable shift in the financial community about fiduciary responsibility. “We have shifted to an understanding […] that it is not about quarterly results. It is about the long term stability of the economy and of industry as a whole,” she concluded.

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