Financing a sustainable future - is the financial community listening

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The global financial system is still recovering from the near collapse of the international banking system and major economic upheavals that have brought several countries to the brink of insolvency.

Investor confidence in many sectors has been profoundly shaken, contributing to forced closures and takeovers of many industry giants in the automotive and manufacturing sectors.

The unprecedented occupation of Wall Street that began in September is becoming a nation-wide expression of frustration over perceived failings of established financial institutions.

Is the financial community listening?

'The financial services community has many serious lessons to learn and internalize in the wake of the shocking destruction of value  resulting from the recent financial market crisis', states Paul Clements-Hunt, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI).

Even though the aftershocks of that crisis are still being felt, he notes, there is another finance and capital market story to tell - essentially a  positive narrative that must be told collectively in the run up to, during, and following the UN's Rio+20 Conference.

That narrative is that the global banking, insurance, and investment communities are becoming more active in the fields of sustainable finance and responsible investment.

Indeed, at the upcoming UNEP FI Global Roundtable taking place in Washington D.C., October 19-20, 2011, the case can be made that
the decades-long discussion over sustainable finance is paying off, that sustainability is finally becoming part of mainstream business and policy-making. The tipping point, in other words, has been crossed, and there is no turning back. (See 'The Tipping Point: Sustained stability in the next economy')

Still, it is an unfolding story as the relationships between sustainable development, investment financing, capital markets, and the green economy are undergoing profound, and some would argue, irreversible changes.

For example, risk reduction has become a major preoccupation of the financial, banking, and insurance sectors, particularly in the wake of recent devastating climate and weather related disasters and overall uncertainty in capital markets.

Financial institutions, venture capital firms, and governments recognize the bottom line benefits of risk avoidance and responsible investment strategies are increasingly  focused on job-creating green projects and clean technology.

The insurance industry, in particular, in anticipation of corporate needs for access to capital and investment financing, is providing new products and services that help address risk reduction and emerging sustainability issues.

But these measures often come at a higher cost and this is affecting the pace of clean technology deployment.

Investments in renewable energy technologies have been the one bright light in an otherwise dark and financially troubled global marketplace over the past decade.

Bolstered in part by recovery spending programs of major  industrialized economies, there has been a marked increase in clean energy investments, with China the clear leader in terms of the scope of technology development and deployment. (See 'Global  Clean  Technology  Investment Continues to Rise')

However, the widespread global deployment of renewable energy will require the development of creative financing mechanisms to fund green projects and clean technology ventures and doing away with systemic impediments to technology innovation and commercialization.

Some leaders say new financing structures, such as public-private partnerships, are required to unlock clean energy investment and to stimulate economic growth.

Clean technologies are finding capital, but the pace of market forces that foster widespread adoption is producing change at a rate far below what is required for the material job growth and carbon remediation that industrial and developing nations are seeking.

Discussions now underway at the UN are looking at new measures to narrow the gap between the risks that the private sector can afford in deploying new technologies and the rates of deployment needed to meet the global growth targets.

These are among the many issues about financing a sustainable future that will be the subject of intense discussion at GLOBE 2012, taking place in Vancouver, Canada, March 14-16, 2012.

In partnership with UNEP FI, GLOBE 2012 will unite experts from global financial institutions, investment  firms, and governments  to explore the relationship between sustainable development and finance, with a focus on regulation and policy, capital markets, clean technology development and deployment, and responsible investment.

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