After a first successful edition last year, Societe Generale, who is pioneering Sustainable & Positive Impact Finance, brought together international ESG finance leaders in Paris on November 9 to discuss what is at stake and what still needs to be done to tackle climate change, finance being at the heart of this essential shift.
Notable guests included Careen Abb, program leader of Positive Impact Finance at the United Nations Environment Program; and Philippe Le Houérou, chief executive officer at the International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group).
The guest keynote was delivered by polymath, philanthropist, and cultural sage Jacques Attali. His biography is hard to summarize: author of more than 50 books, he's the man who shaped the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, and founded Positive Planet, the micro-finance lender which has helped more than 10 million entrepreneurs in 40 countries.
Attali spoke movingly of the ability of ESG initiatives to help people in many ways, including micro finance: "The way for vulnerable people to progress is not to depend on charity," he said, "But to start your own business."
He had tough demands for the sector, particularly around carbon dioxide pricing. Carbon credits are traded through the EU's Emissions Trading System. Industrial companies must hand in a certificate for every ton of CO2 they emit. The ETS price is low, and Attali believes a hike is overdue: "There is another negotiation in Brussels around the price" he said. "It is around 7 euros per ton. It should be 100 euros. The minimum to be efficient would be 40 euros. The UN should focus on that."
Careen Abb of the United Nations focussed on the need to bring many parties together. "It might sound trite," she said, "But the difficulty of sustainability is that you need to consider so many issues – financial, social, and developmental. The lesson is that to solve one you need to look at them all."
She called for governments to engage financial actors earlier, in the design stages of solution-building, to ensure public money is spent only when it really needs to be. Innovative thinking can solve a number of problems: "When we look at the financing gap, we may need to rely less on counterparty guarantees and more on their flows."
This call was endorsed by Didier Valet, the deputy chief executive of Societe Generale. He stressed that, "We need to pull together banks, private investors, governments, and supra-national organizations to accelerate the sustainable sector's transition through this stage."