Eric Usher on 25 Years Catalysing Change

“UNEP FI was able to show that financial institutions welcomed, indeed demanded action.”

Head of
UNEP FI

Eric Usher

As we celebrate UNEP FI’s 25th Anniversary, it is a time to both look back at what we have done, and then look forward to the challenges that remain. As many will know, the first climate discussions began in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. At the time, it was felt it would be relatively straightforward to achieve an agreement. It took twenty-five years, but we finally got a deal; that was the significance of the Paris COP21. During that time, UNEP FI was busy at work. Our members, the institutions we have built, and the initiative we have sponsored were central to the Paris agreement. After twenty five years, and in a world where finance is often seen as the bogeyman of progress, UNEP FI was able to show that financial institutions welcomed, indeed demanded action. It is a testament to the many actions of the hundreds of people who have helped us over the years that this should be so. The finalization of the universal and integrated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – also in 2015 – has further strengthened UNEP FI’s mandate and framework for catalysing new thinking, and developing innovative concepts in sustainable finance. Together, these commitments demonstrated a new determination to shift markets and society onto a more sustainable footing.
Although the achievements of 2015 seemed to mark not the end of our work, but perhaps the end of the beginning, in 2017 we are reminded that progress can be fleeting. We are living through a period of far-reaching change in society and in the natural environment, as well as economic uncertainty and geopolitical upheaval. 2016 was the hottest year ever, extreme weather events are on the increase, natural capital is on the decline while a growing number of cities face air pollution crises. And yet economic trends such as market commoditisation and growing protectionism seem increasingly misaligned with sustainable growth. With so much uncertainty, sustainable finance is at a critical juncture. The sector’s ability to assess and manage environmental, social and governance risks needs to shift gears towards forward-looking scenario analysis and stress testing approaches. And we need to look beyond risks and also focus on growing the pool of finance available to deliver positive impacts. With the Sustainable Development Goals agreement, the frameworks to finance sustainable development solutions need to be established.  

“With so much uncertainty, sustainable finance is at
a critical juncture.”

As you consider the achievements of UNEP FI in its 25th year, I hope that you will be impressed by the joint successes our collaborative partnership was able to achieve, and that while we are shaped by the changes around us, we in the finance industry can also be a catalyst for change.