Climate change action makes “cold hard economic sense”

Photo: Bridget H

Last week, ClientEarth joined members of the financial, media and NGO worlds at an event hosted by Aviva, the UK’s largest insurer and leading pension provider.  We were gathered for the launch of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) latest report, “The cost of inaction: recognising the value at risk from climate change“.

Monica Woodley from the EIU introduced the report, which builds on earlier research by ClientEarth’s trustee, Howard Covington, and his colleague Raj Thamotheram.

She emphasised that the key sectors at risk from the physical impacts of climate change are agriculture, energy, forestry and water. However, she added, they are all linked to other, less obvious sectors which will suffer from lower asset returns and weaker growth. This will, in turn, affect household incomes and spending power.

In essence, climate risk represents a systemic risk to the whole economy, as the report states:

Warming of 5°C could result in US$7trn in losses – more than the total market capitalisation
of the London Stock Exchange – while 6°C of warming could lead to a present value loss of
US$13.8trn of manageable financial assets, roughly 10% of the global total.”

The research was commissioned by Aviva. The company’s CEO, Mark Wilson, and Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Steve Waygood, set out their response to climate change. Aviva’s approach focuses on sustainable investment, engagement with both fossil fuel companies and policy-makers and proactive consideration of carbon risk in its investment decisions.

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From ClientEarth’s perspective, it was encouraging to hear high-profile individuals in the financial world advocating proactive engagement, and agreeing with us that asset managers’ duty to act in the best interests of their beneficiaries includes consideration of climate change risks.

This involves active stewardship (using their position as stakeholders to push for sustainable planning and management of resources). But it is also about taking full account of all potential risks for current and, crucially, future beneficiaries. Both the EIU and Aviva agreed that threats of litigation to enforce these obligations should be taken seriously and could be a powerful tool for change.

Finally, Amber Rudd MP said securing an effective deal on climate change at the COP 21 in Paris in December is one of her top priorities this year. She stressed the leading role that business must take, maintaining that action must be “pro-growth and pro-business“, and of a manner that supports consumers.

Her closing words left a strong impression that summed up the morning’s discussions: “Action to tackle climate change isn’t an indulgence. It makes cold hard economic sense”.

You can follow the discussion of these reports and the event on Twitter at #ClimateRisk2015

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