Ladies and Gentlemen, it really is very encouraging that you have all been able to come to St James's Palace for this event and I am particularly grateful that you have taken the time out of your exhausting schedules to be here today. As I am sure some of you are well aware, I firmly believe that the finance community has a vital role to play in addressing many of the challenges facing humanity today.
Indeed, those challenges are rapidly increasing. Man-made climate change and global warming appear to be having a growing impact on extreme weather events, such as the recent devastating hurricanes, storms and floods in all corners of the world, which are causing appalling human suffering and significant economic damage, let alone the severe risk of increasing conflict and mass migration. Incidentally, I'm flying off tomorrow morning to the Caribbean to visit the hurricane devastated islands, and as you can imagine, there is a definite link with ocean warming and climate change and the increasing ferocity of storms of all kinds. So we have to be very careful, I think, not to imagine that we can just get away with building in resilience to this accelerating issue of the ferocity we're facing of the changing climate. In addition, I have just returned from New Delhi where heightened levels of air pollution have led to the worst quality of air since 1999, and a severe and ongoing smog crisis. This is having, as you can imagine, a terrible impact on New Delhi's inhabitants. I was going to visit a school in New Delhi, but it was shut for the day, as many of the schools were for several days during this period of pollution, and obviously it has a huge impact on people health – with the daily pollution levels said to be the equivalent of smoking 50 cigarettes a day.
The climate deal signed in Paris in 2015 is an agreement of nations – but it needs the urgent support of all sectors in society to minimize the risks and provide security and opportunity, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Attendees at COP 23, currently taking place in Bonn, are considering how to drive efforts to keep the increase in global average temperatures to well below – if they possibly can - two degrees in an effort to limit catastrophic climate change. And the F.S.B. Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, launched by Governor Mark Carney, recently released recommendations that companies and investors should publicly disclose climate-related financial risks and opportunities to the market. In a room full of the world's leaders from the finance and accounting community, you, Ladies and Gentlemen, will know far better than me that having the right information is absolutely vital in making good decisions. Without the relevant facts, how can pension funds possibly know whether their investments will be protected from the financial risks of the transition to a low carbon economy; or companies and cities evaluate the extent of their exposure to the physical risks of climate change, and put in place sensible measures to protect all of their stakeholders? It is the finance and accounting communities which are in the best position to address this, so I am much heartened to hear that Statements of Support for the T.C.F.D. recommendations have been developed by the C.F.O., accounting body and pension fund communities, demonstrating exactly the sort of leadership and action we so desperately need.
It is within this environment that my A4S Project, working with representatives from across the finance community, is driving practical steps to enable the corporate and investment worlds to change the way they do business and move towards a more sustainable economy. Not only will this strengthen their own financial accountability and sustainability, but it will also play a vital role in rebuilding trust, and, dare I say of even more importance, providing a habitable planet for us all to live on, at the end of the day.
Pension funds and other asset owners are, of course, key to directing capital towards genuinely sustainable outcomes. This is why my A4S Project has been working with pension fund chairmen to build a network which will look at addressing challenges to a sustainable approach to investment decision-making and sharing thoughts and insights on how best to overcome the barriers which are often in their way. Indeed, I was delighted to learn that the world's biggest pension fund, the Government Pension Investment Fund in Japan, is moving to allocate three trillion yen into shares with strong Environmental, Social and Governance – or E.S.G. – characteristics, on the understanding that this will reduce long term risk.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is absolutely crucial that we work together on a global scale, which is why I am so pleased that my A4S C.F.O. Leadership Network has recently launched a Chapter in Canada. And needless to say, I am very grateful to C.P.A. Canada for their support in this important step. Meanwhile, A4S continues to increase its global reach by engaging finance leaders worldwide. Examples include the Gulf Finance Leaders Circle of Practice, some of whose members I am pleased to see here today, and C.F.O. engagement events which have taken place in Brazil, kindly arranged by B.N.D.E.S., with further roundtables being arranged in Singapore supported by Olam.
Work is already underway to share the recommendations from the European Chapter of the Network all around the world, with the most recent guide focused on Social and Human Capital Accounting. These guides, developed 'by finance teams for finance teams', show just what can be accomplished through collaboration and peer engagement. Members of the C.F.O. Leadership Network continue to share examples of strategies they have implemented based on the A4S guides. Indeed, I have commented before, and some of you may remember, that I have found it is the stories of how organizations have begun to act in a more sustainable manner which really help to engage others. For example, in line with their vision to tackle sustainability issues through advanced technology and innovative materials, D.S.M. is providing one of the world’s strongest, highest-performing fibres to The Ocean Cleanup. This project aims to place barriers in the sea and use the oceans' own currents to collect plastic waste for removal. This fibre, when used in ropes on seismic survey vessels, has led to fifteen percent fuel savings while also reducing the amount of material used by half – a clear example of how making money and being sustainable can go hand in hand.
Real progress is being made, but it is only by incorporating the kinds of practical approaches developed by A4S into training and education that we can possibly achieve the speed and scale of action required. One of A4S's key aims is to work with accounting bodies, business schools and other relevant education-providers to embed the tools and techniques laid out in these guides into syllabi. The A4S Accounting Bodies Network, launched nearly ten years ago, committed to embedding accounting for sustainability into their training, and I hate to say, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I am looking forward to hearing more about real progress made as the anniversary approaches. So just be warned!
I must say, I was delighted to learn recently that A4S Essential Guides have been included on the reading list of several business schools, thereby proving their value as a learning tool. Rotman Business School in Canada is also encouraging further student engagement in sustainability with the launch of the A4S International Case Competition. Teams are asked to create new business and finance models, and the winning team will have their model tested in real time by a C.F.O. Leadership Network member company.
Not to be outdone, I hear that Andrew Karolyi, Executive Editor of the Review of Financial Studies, was determined to spark more research into the topic of climate finance after attending an A4S and C.I.S.L. event in 2015. He launched a request for proposals and I am delighted to discover there were over one hundred applications. I am sure this will encourage cutting edge research in a crucial area – and I suspect that the inclusion of three Nobel laureates in Economics on the scientific review committee may have also helped a bit!
These are all important steps and, after years of frustration at trying to get the message across, it is encouraging to see the momentum building. You will shortly hear from the panel exploring what further actions must be taken by A4S's key communities to continue this trend. I understand there are some here who made commitments at the last Summit and if I may say so, I am delighted to hear that many of these have been put into action. S.S.E. has launched a green bond – and, by the way, they are not the only ones. Anglian Water, Brookfield Asset Management, and hot off the press this week, Manulife Financial Corporation, have also launched similar bonds, showing a really encouraging shift towards more sustainable sources of financing. As you can imagine, I can only urge the rest of you here today to match their energy and commit, if you possibly can, to taking action within your own organizations – that really would make a huge difference…
Well having said all this and denied you some much-needed refreshment in due course, I can only restate my determination, for what that's worth, to join you in continuing to do whatever I can – providing I haven't lost my marbles altogether, which is possibly very likely - to help the move towards a much, much more sustainable economy before we end up testing our one and only planet to destruction, which is what we seem to be trying to do at the moment. So, we depend upon you, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you.