Financial industry seeks role in climate talks

Environmental momentum builds under UNEP financial services initiative

Banks and insurers from across the world are demanding a central role in designing any "flexible mechanisms" eventually used by industrialised countries to meet their commitments under the Kyoto protocol on climate change.

Meeting this week in Cambridge, the UK, the companies adopted a statement calling on governments to involve the financial services sector in planning and development of regimes for emissions trading, joint implementation of commitments and the so-called clean development mechanism through which governments gain credits for investments in developing countries.

The institutions claim a right to be consulted, pointing out the impacts of climate change are likely to affect every aspect of their activities. They claim practical experience with similar financial instruments and say that tapping into this expertise would "ensure that the resources of the public and private sector are used to maximum advantage." The statement will be presented at the November meeting of parties to the climate change convention in Buenos Aires by Klaus Töpfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

This week's meeting is the fourth international roundtable organised by UNEP to bring together policy-makers and financial firms to discuss the financial sector's role in environmental issues. Speaking at the event yesterday, UK environment minister Michael Meacher backed the sector's call for a role in climate change discussions. "Financial institutions will be crucial in helping firms and countries discover the opportunities for emissions reductions," he said.

Mr Meacher welcomed the efforts made by financial firms to report on their environmental impacts as part of their commitment to a "UNEP statement by financial institutions on environment and sustainable development". Just under half of the 114 companies that have signed the statement are now said to publish reports. A full independent survey of how far firms have come in implementing the statement was due to be published this week, but will now appear in October.

The initiative has gained considerable momentum, according to its chair Linda Descano, who is vice-president of US bank Salomon Smith Barney. From being dominated by European firms, it now has signatories from across the world and is especially attracting interesting in developing countries. In the early days, she told ENDS Daily, "credit risk and liability was all we talked about." Now, banks are beginning to understand that the public expects them to apply the tenets of sustainable development in all their activities including lending, asset management, insurance and underwriting. "We will be under the microscope [concerning] the environment and social aspects of our financial activities," she said.

Follow Up:
UNEP Financial Services Initiative, tel: +41 22 917 8288.

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