The Paris climate conference has been widely praised as a diplomatic victory. On Saturday, after nearly two weeks of negotiations, 196 countries signed a landmark deal to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions with ongoing public reviews to measure progress.
The legally binding text of the Paris agreement does not include any specific monetary commitments to combat climate change. However, the talks still served as a major economic catalyst, according to Nigel Topping, CEO of We Mean Business, a coalition working with thousands of the world’s leading companies and investors.
The summit saw an unprecedented level of engagement from the private sector, he said. By the end of the talks, a diverse group of businesses and financial institutions had committed to pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into low-carbon and climate-resilient investments.
“This is the first time the voice of business has really been welcomed into the process,” said Topping, on a press call yesterday.
Hundreds of businesses attended this year’s climate conference “to send the message that this is more than just a deal between nations and states. All of these non-state actors stand ready to do their part to accelerate this transition,” he said.
The private sector really started to act on climate after businesses were invited to the Climate Summit hosted by the U.N. Secretary-General in New York last November, said Topping. At that meeting, a group of prominent investors launched the Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition (PDC), with a target to decarbonize $100 billion worth of investments.
During the second week of the Paris conference, the PDC announced two of the world’s largest institutional investors, Allianz and ABP, had also joined the coalition. The PDC now convenes 25 investors overseeing the decarbonization of $600 billion in assets under management, far surpassing the group’s original goal.
The PDC recently launched its first annual report, which describes how its members are achieving decarbonization. Allianz, for instance, has stopped financing coal-based business models and plans to double its low-carbon investments.
New York state’s retirement fund, the third-largest public pension in the U.S., also made a move away from heavy polluters with the launch of a $2 billion low-emission index in partnership with Goldman Sachs. The pension fund also put an additional $1.5 billion into its clean energy program, bringing the pension plan’s total sustainability commitment to more than $5 billion.
“As a long-term investor, we are very interested in strategies that manage risk, and there is no question that climate change is one of the biggest risks facing global investors across multiple sectors,” said Vicki Fuller, the fund’s chief investment officer, in a statement.
Leading up to the talks, nearly 400 institutional investors representing $24 trillion in assets called for a clear, long-term climate deal that would give them a signal to deploy more capital. In addition, more than 80 companies signed on to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, and a consortium of long-term investors pledged to deploy at least $1.2 billion for "profitable solutions to climate change." Dozens of Fortune 500 companies pledged to source 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy.
On the first day of the conference, Bill Gates announced that he and a group of philanthropists plan to spend billions of dollars on early-stage clean energy companies. The commitment was coupled with a pledge from 19 countries to invest $20 billion in basic clean energy research and development over the next five years.
Some businesses committed to reducing emissions in their supply chain. For instance, Unilever and retail giant Marks & Spencer committed to ensuring their products do not cause deforestation. Many other companies are also working to eliminate deforestation through the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Other actions focused on oversight. During the climate talks, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and chair of the Financial Stability Board, announced that Michael Bloomberg would lead the new Climate Disclosure Task Force, an initiative that will help investors judge how well individual companies are managing the risks of climate change.
Meanwhile, five multinational banks have pledged more than $170 billion through 2020 to help the world’s poorest countries combat the effects of climate change.
The European Investment Bank, the world's largest international public lending institution, pledged to mobilize more than $100 billion for climate action over the next five years, upping its spending from 25 percent to 35 percent. Over the same period, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development plans to raise financing for green projects to 18 billion euros.
The World Bank recently announced the Africa Climate Business Plan, which calls for $16 billion in funding to help African communities adapt to climate change. The African Development Bank said it would triple climate financing to $5 billion per year by 2020, which represents 40 percent of the bank’s total new investments. And the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced that it would double its annual climate funding from $3 billion to $6 billion.
Last week, the ADB approved a $300 million loan for anti-smog work in the Chinese capital of Beijing. The announcement came on the third day of a citywide pollution emergency.
Overall, multinational development banks are on track to invest a cumulative $1 trillion in clean energy by 2020, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“On climate change, the development banks are shifting into high gear,” said Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, in a statement. “We have the resources, we have the collective will, and we have a clear roadmap in the national plans that our clients have submitted ahead of Paris.”
These commitments from outside of the formal climate negotiations play a critical role in supporting the emissions reduction plans submitted by more than 180 countries during the Paris talks. The challenge is to ensure that countries, companies and financial institutions follow through on their pledges.
So far, that’s been tough. The $100 billion Green Climate Fund designed to help the world’s poorest nations cope with climate change has received around $10 billion in pledges to date, but only has $1 billion in hand. The non-binding Paris agreement leaves uncertainty around where those dollars will come from.
Environmental groups are calling for the private sector to do more. The world’s largest banks have supported the coal industry with $257 billion since the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, according to a recent report by the Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, and Friends of the Earth-France. These banks invested only 40 percent as much into the entire renewable energy sector ($104.59 billion) over the same period.
“It’s a bit of a fragmented picture at the moment,” said Topping, referring to the wide array of public and private investment pledges made during the climate talks. “We’ve got a lot of work to do here in the new year, not only to get a sense of what’s already been committed, but how quickly we can ramp that up.”