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Climate change

For the Paris climate deal to succeed, the money must flow

Agustín Carstens and Patricia Espinosais say the agreement is a triumph for multilateralism but it needs to be backed by both financial systems and private capital

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 6:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 6:14am

At the recent UN General Assembly session in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon predicted that the Paris climate agreement would enter into force before 2017, announcing 60 countries had now ratified its terms. Next week, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank welcome an influx of finance ministers and central bankers to its annual meetings in Washington.

Historic Paris climate deal signed by 175 nations

At first glance, these two events might appear totally unrelated. The imminent ratification of the Paris Agreement – a deal to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius – is a huge achievement and a real triumph for multilateralism. It also focuses the mind on the next step: how will the agreement be implemented across the world?

The cost of making the transition to a low-carbon future is measured in trillions

Here, we get our first inkling as to why the finance ministers, central bankers and regulators – packing their suitcases for Washington – are so relevant to our story. Right now, progress is being made towards mobilising US$100 billion in annual financing flows from rich countries to developing economies by 2020. Practical implementation is also taking place on the ground. Funding from the Green Climate Fund is helping to build resilience into coastal and urban infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, while in Tanzania over 100,000 homes now have electricity through Off-Grid Electric, a clean energy company backed by debt financing from the Million Solar Homes Fund.

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Yet, overall, the cost of making the transition to a low-carbon future is measured in trillions. This quickly takes us far beyond the realm of public funds since no government – no matter how rich – can finance climate action through taxation and borrowing alone. One estimate suggests that around US$90 trillion will need to be invested by 2030 in infrastructure, agriculture and energy systems, to accomplish the Paris Agreement.

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This won’t happen without private capital and underlines why aligning the world’s financial system with the needs of climate action and sustainable development is every bit as important as emission reduction pathways and removing fossil fuel subsidies. Moreover, set against the US$300 trillion of assets – held by banks, the capital markets and institutional investors – we’re faced with a problem of allocation rather than outright scarcity.

In fact, finance ministers and central bank governors are already deeply engaged. Those from G20 nations recently agreed a set of options to improve the ability of the global financial system to deliver green investment. One promising area is the rise of the green bond market, where companies and municipalities can raise capital that is ring-fenced for priorities such as renewable energy, building efficiency and water management. So far this year, the combined value of green bonds has grown to more than US$45 billion, a fourfold increase from 2013. By way of example, Mexico’s development bank, Nacional Financiera S.N.C, issued its first US$500 million green bond last November to finance wind energy in the states of Oaxaca, Nuevo Leon and Baja California.

Others must now follow China-US climate action, or be left in the dust

However, the world’s capital markets still do not fully incorporate climate factors when pricing assets and evaluating risk. In response, the Financial Stability Board set up a task force on climate disclosure headed by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Only with better and consistent reporting will banks, pension funds – and individual investors – be able to understand how the transition to a low-carbon economy will affect investments.

In all, the total number of policy and regulatory measures to build a more sustainable financial system has more than doubled in the past five years. This is a key finding of a new report published by the UN Environment Programme. It cites that the number of measures taken by finance ministries, central banks and regulators to promote sustainable finance has risen to 217 and that they exist in nearly 60 countries. They range from actions to steer finance towards clean energy, through assessments of climate risk for insurance companies, to road maps that set out how to green an entire financial system, as China has just done.

The national climate plans ... do not yet provide the signals needed to steer capital towards global climate action

These are all promising signs of positive momentum but the world’s financial architecture is still ill-equipped to deliver the necessary transformation. The national climate plans submitted by governments represent a real improvement on business-as-usual but do not yet provide the signals needed to steer capital towards global climate action. So while it is true that investors are starting to measure the carbon footprint of portfolios and increase exposure to green assets, only a tiny minority has introduced comprehensive climate strategies.

The financial system clearly needs to evolve further to price environmental risks, overcome short-termism and deliver greater transparency on climate performance. Making this happen, and happen with a sense of urgency, will require different players to put in place mutually reinforcing financial policies and regulations that support the Paris Agreement. If we can get it right, private capital will respond and the trillions needed for transformation across countries will flow.

Agustín Carstens is governor of the Bank of Mexico. Patricia Espinosais is executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change