Cop26 could be a game changer for greening the financial sector | Howard Davies

Cop26 could be a game changer for greening the financial sector |  Howard Davies

One obvious problem is that after years of effort by the IASB to reconcile its standards with those of the US standard-setters, the Americans have still not adopted them and seem unlikely to do so. Given opposition from most of the US accounting profession, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is reluctant to push the idea on to a suspicious Congress. There is no doubt that standardisation is needed, and the organisation that has produced a suite of international accounting standards looks like the obvious body to take on the job. But will the ISSB attract enough support to knock together the other acronyms and carry the day? There is also hesitancy on the other side of the Atlantic, where the European Commission has been working on its own taxonomy of green and brown assets. In an interview that the European Central Bank supervisors circulated to banks in the week after the ISSB announcement at Cop26, John Berrigan, the commission’s financial services director general, discussed the EU’s taxonomy and plans for a new sustainable finance disclosure regulation, without mentioning the ISSB.

The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) in the US, established by the Value Reporting Foundation (VRF) and supported by Bloomberg, has developed one model. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has worked on another. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), based in Amsterdam, has produced a wide range of sustainability standards. And the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), convened by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) in Basel, recommends a set of disclosures that many banks have adopted under pressure from their regulators – many of whom are members of the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS). Consider a big issue impeding progress toward greening the business sector: the absence of a clear, generally agreed framework for reporting the climate impact of corporate activity. The problem is not that there is no framework at all, but rather that several competing models present different pictures.

That, you may think, is quite enough acronyms for one paragraph. But another one entered the field of battle in Glasgow. The Chair of the Trustees of the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation, Erkki Liikanen, announced the creation of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) to sit alongside the foundation’s other offspring, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). The new board will be based in Frankfurt (no doubt the Germans will avoid another acronym by melding the four words into one). The ISSB will aim to produce standards that “will help investors understand how companies are responding to ESG [environmental, social, and governance] issues, like climate, to inform capital allocation decisions.” But for the private business sector, and especially for banks and other financial firms, the conference on the chilly banks of Glasgow’s River Clyde may well prove to have been a watershed moment. Although the cloud of coal dust obscured other issues, the gathering made some significant progress.

Nor did Berrigan mention the other big financial-sector initiative to emerge from Cop26: the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) assembled by Mark Carney, the former FSB chair who is now the UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance. Carney has corralled 450 banks and insurers to, among other goals, mobilise trillions of dollars of capital to finance decarbonisation in emerging and developing countries. The precise figure he quoted, $130trn (£98tn), has raised a few skeptical eyebrows, but the scale of the ambition is impressive, and most banks of any consequence have signed up to the scheme.

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