Published on 21 July 2017


[Inside Story] Europe's sustainable finance wave

The European Commission's public hearing on the report prepared by the High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance was an appeal to the financial industry about the urgent need to shift toward models that limit environmental and social harm and finance the transition toward low-carbon and inclusive European economy.

Hans Bruyninckx, director of the European environmental agency, draws the picture of an unsustainable European model in the energy, food and agriculture sectors

On Tuesday, 18 July 2017 a wave hit Brussels, Belgium, making direct impact at the European Commission's Charlemagne Building: sustainable finance had arrived. Imagine Bianca Jagger, founder and chair of the Human Rights Foundation of the same name, explaine in a firm tone to an audience of finance professionals that market neutrality does not exist and that today’s short-term vision entails environmental and social devastation.

Imagine them being told by the eminent British economist John Kay, also in a firm tone, that the financial markets are much more a part of the problem than a part of the solution. All, to the applause of the over 400 attendees, who arrived at the height of summer to attend the public hearing connected to the report of the High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance. They also heard Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, describe Europe's unsustainable practices in the energy, food and agriculture sectors.

“We have no choice.”

The closing speeches by the representatives of the German and French finance ministries reiterated the political and legal realities of the day. They recounted that governments and the financial industry still had a long way to go to accelerate the transition and make Europe's financial system the catalyst for a new low-carbon, inclusive economy. Resistance to the wave remains very strong in a number of financial sectors, but the seeds of the transformation have already been sown. A reality acknowledged by William Nagel, Chief Risk Officer of Netherlands-based bank ING: "We’re not ecstatic about it, but we have no choice. Sustainable finance must become the dominant practice.”

Thus it can be said that the publication of the interim report of the European Commission's High-Level Expert Group, which was launched in late 2016, was generally well received. Sustainable finance has had an even greater impact than its proponents had initially anticipated. The expert group is set to publish more specific recommendations toward the end of the year. In the meantime, an online questionnaire will be used to collect feedback (submitted by 6 September) on the initial progress presented in the interim report. Analysing the responses to the questionnaire will help determine the scale of the sustainable finance wave that swept over Brussels on 18 July.

Anne-Catherine Husson-Traore, CEO of Novethic, @AC_HT_

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