2023 provided more evidence of the devastating impacts of climate change, conflict and inequality on communities and economies around the world, while pressure increased on the finance industry to accelerate the transition to low-carbon, resilient, and inclusive economies. At the same time, political division added an extra challenge to many banks, insurers and investors trying to put sustainability at the core of their business practice. Despite these multiple challenges, UNEP FI’s members continued to respond ambitiously by contributing, as the UN’s largest network of financial institutions, to advancing sustainable finance. Working groups of members issued research and guidance in many areas such as just transition, adaptation, nature and a new sub-sector for UNEP FI, investment banking, while we saw advances by signatories to the Principles for Responsible Banking and Principles for Sustainable Insurance frameworks, as well as in net-zero finance. A growing focus on sustainable finance worldwide translated into membership growth in many of our initiatives and frameworks: UNEP FI reached the significant milestone of 500 banks and insurers during 2023!

Celebrating its fourth anniversary in September, the Principles for Responsible Banking framework (PRB) now has over 325 banks worldwide committed to implementing the six principles, encompassing more than half of the global banking industry by assets. The latest biennial progress report highlights the strides made by those signatory banks: for example, 98% have integrated sustainability oversight into their governance structure, with 91% at board and CEO level. Since its establishment in 2019, the PRB membership has seen significant growth from 130 founding member banks to 325 in 80 countries, representing almost USD 90 trillion in assets – more than 50% of banking assets worldwide. On the insurance front, the Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI) Initiative grew to 153 signatories representing about one-third of world premiums and USD 15 trillion in assets under management, as well as 103 supporting institutions addressing the most pressing environmental, social, and governance risks and opportunities. 2023 saw the launch of the first life and health guidance for insurers and work continued on nature positive insurance.

UNEP FI’s Leadership Council, its senior governing body, held its third meeting in December, rallying 12 CEOs and global finance leaders around the table to elevate the agenda and boost action on sustainable finance. This year’s agenda included international financial architecture reforms to mobilise finance for sustainability impact in emerging and developing economies, and private sector policy and regulation for sustainable economies. Key takeaways from the discussion will be publicly available in the new year.

Momentum increasing to reach nature goals

UNEP FI has been helping to translate the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) adopted in December 2022, and the final recommendations from the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework in September 2023, into implications for financial institutions, helping the industry to prepare for growing momentum for nature on the international stage. With more than half the world’s GDP – or USD 58 trillion – being moderately or highly dependent on nature (WEF, 2020), and an estimated annual biodiversity finance gap of $700 billion, private finance has an essential role in halting and reversing biodiversity loss. Simultaneously, the financial sector’s interest in nature has grown significantly over the past year: 50 financial institutions from 25 countries piloted the TNFD’s draft framework as part of a UNEP FI-led programme; over 130 banks are now part of the Principles for Responsible Banking Biodiversity community, and more than 3,000 professionals attended the Investing with Nature webinar series. UNEP FI has supported that growth by acting as a gateway for financial institutions, bridging nature and finance, and driving science-based action on global environmental frameworks. Following the adoption of the GBF, a high-level roadmap and sector-specific briefings were released to help banks, insurers, and investors understand the relevance of the framework to the financial sector.

As a founding partner of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), UNEP FI provided technical support to enable financial institutions to play a key role in the development of the final TNFD recommendations released in September, further supporting risk management and disclosure on nature.

Finally, UNEP FI introduced industry-first Principles for Responsible Banking guidance on nature target-setting, helping the banking industry align with the GBF and address nature and biodiversity loss. 

Finance for climate mitigation and adaptation

At another lively Conference of the Parties, this year’s COP28 in Dubai reached a milestone deal on loss and damage funding on the first day to assist developing nations in addressing climate change impacts. With finance as a cross-cutting theme, there was a focus on the the critical role of finance in reaching climate goals on mitigation and adaptation. Read more about the outcome of the negotiations here. Another highlight saw the launch of the Net-Zero Export Credit Agencies Alliance with eight founding members from leading export credit agencies, unified in the goal to support the decarbonization of international trade by 2050 or sooner.

As the year draws to a close, the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance proudly unveiled its third annual progress report. With an impressive leap in membership, welcoming five new members in the past year, the Alliance now boasts a staggering $US9.5 trillion in assets under management (AuM), a resounding affirmation of the financial sector’s commitment to the net-zero transition. Members have heightened their aspirations across various hard-to-abate sectors, broadening the coverage of AuM under target and achieving a commendable 3.5% reduction in total absolute financed greenhouse gas emissions.

In January, at the 53rd World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance delivered an important tool for insurers striving to decarbonise their underwriting business with the issuance of the first target-setting protocol for the insurance industry. This document guides insurers and reinsurers as they set their individual, science-based, intermediate targets for their portfolios, aiming for a net-zero transition aligned with a 1.5°C temperature rise by 2050.

The Net-Zero Banking Alliance has seen a threefold rise in membership since its launch, now including a significant representation from emerging market banks. This year’s progress update found that over two-thirds of member banks have aligned their targets with 1.5°C scenarios, a substantial leap from the Alliance’s inception in April 2021. This year’s focus was on high-emission sectors like power generation, with notable growth in individual targets for oil and gas, iron and steel, cement, and real estate. Nearly nine in ten member banks have met their commitment to select initial targets within 18 months, showcasing substantial progress and dedication within the membership. This rapid momentum reflects the banking industry’s strong commitment to driving impactful climate action in a relatively short time frame.

Turning to climate adaptation, UNEP FI launched the first progress report of the Adaptation and Resilience Investors Collaborative (ARIC) in May, a global collaboration of development finance institutions dedicated to boosting private investment in climate adaptation and resilience in developing nations. To unlock private sector finance for climate adaptation and bridge the adaptation finance gap, in November, UNEP FI published new guidance to help banks accelerate management of climate-related impacts, the Principles for Responsible Banking Climate Adaptation Target Setting Guide.

Finally, UNEP FI’s TCFD and Climate Risk Programme continued its support to finance professionals in addressing climate risks in their organisations through numerous working groups, information sessions, tools, and guidance. Amongst resources were a new iteration of the climate risk landscape report and four sectoral risks briefings covering agriculture, real estate, oil and gas, and industrials. 

A circular economy to deliver on multilateral agreements and beat pollution

To help address pollution, the UNEP FI-convened Finance Leadership Group on Plastics contributed to UN members states’ negotiations to develop an internationally legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution to be finalized in 2024. The group, formed in January at the World Economic Forum, unites banks and insurers with total assets of USD 9.8 trillion to support the development of the future treaty and build readiness across the global finance sector to act on plastic pollution.

The transition from a linear to a circular economy that follows sustainable production and consumption patterns in all regions is essential to deliver every multilateral agreement. In March, UNEP FI published a report presenting the potential to unlock circular economy finance in Latin America and the Caribbean. Another resource focusing on the potential of the circular economy in Africa will be released in 2024. UNEP FI updated the PRB Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy guidance in April, taking into account feedback from UNEP FI member banks, circular economy experts, and civil society organisations on the first edition. The guidance now includes a common pathway to impact and core indicators to guide good practices in the banking sector to accelerate the shift to circular business models.

Practical tools for facilitated SDG impact management

Following new rules and standards on social and environmental reporting across the world, companies subject to the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive in Europe now have to report according to the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS). To support banks with the implementation of these new impact materiality assessment requirements, UNEP FI launched the ESRS Topics Mapping. The partners of the Impact Management Platform co-chaired by UNEP FI also released a set of actions and fundamental characteristics of impact management to help private sector actors assess and manage their impact on people and the planet.

Finance to uphold human rights and equality

It is imperative that the shift to low-carbon, resource-efficient, and resilient economies ensure just economic and social benefits and protect the most vulnerable populations. To support financial institutions on an equitable economic shift, UNEP FI and the International Labor Organization released the first just transition roadmap for banks and insurers at COP28.

For banks, the Principles for Responsible Banking advanced work this year on two critical issues in addressing social considerations: gender equality and financial health & inclusion. With women and girls worldwide disproportionately living in poverty and lacking access to education, employment, opportunities, and finance, UNEP FI partnered with UN Women to leverage banks’ influence over the gender-power dynamics within the economic system and in June released a three-pillar approach supporting banks working towards achieving gender equality. Following the 2021 Commitment to Financial Health and Inclusion signed by 28 PRB members, in July this year, the group released a summary report featuring the range of targets signatories have now set to support the financial well-being of their customers.

Harnessing the power of sustainable insurance to support people, the Principles for Sustainable Insurance and ten leading (re)insurers released a paper in June providing strategies for life and health insurers to contribute to closing the health insurance protection gap and facilitating a preventative healthcare model globally.

Highlighting policy action from around the globe

This year, UNEP FI saw an increase in policy and regulatory reforms from around the world with countries setting out net-zero finance frameworks, culminating with the launch of the UN Task Force on Net Zero Policy at COP28. The policy and regulatory outlook for 2024 is expected to include further implementation of real economy and sector-focused policies and regulations; roll out of further taxonomies in emerging economies; a growing focus on harmonization and interoperability across reporting and sustainable finance policy tools; strengthened prudential regulation for climate alignment in developed markets; and the integration of nature and biodiversity risks into prudential and corporate disclosure frameworks. Supporting this global effort, UNEP FI co-released in July a common framework for sustainable finance taxonomies in Latin America and the Caribbean, and is contributing to the technical development of Brazil, Panama, and Costa Rica’s sustainable taxonomies. Recognising that failure to adapt our economies to global climate challenges will push the earth over its tipping point, UNEP FI published a series of articles based on the UNEP FI input paper to the G20 on credible net-zero commitments published back in 2021 to support policymakers in scaling up the transition to a global net-zero economy.

Members also received support on policy through a series of members-only and public webinars on transition plans, EU regulations, and human rights and environmental due diligence regulations. UNEP FI will also support members on policy engagement through a new PRB engagement track in 2024.

Engaging members at every level of organisations, around the globe

Across the globe, the year’s regional roundtable discussions convened with robust participation, showcasing the global engagement in critical dialogues shaping the banking and insurance sectors towards sustainability. In North America, over 200 attendees and 28 speakers participated, highlighting key topics during a day focused on advances in responsible banking and insurance. The Asia Pacific region’s roundtable boasted over 400 attendees and 75 speakers, emphasizing engagement in banking workshops. Similarly, the event for members in Africa and the Middle East attracted 200+ attendees, featured 51 speakers, and included dedicated banking workshops. In Europe, over 400 attendees engaged with 72 speakers, including a day dedicated to meetings with governance bodies. In January 2024, the regional roundtable for Latin America and the Caribbean will take place in Colombia with a stellar speaker line-up and around 400 attendees expected. These regional roundtables underscore a global commitment to building momentum across jurisdictions, fostering insights and strategies crucial for advancing sustainability in the banking and insurance sectors.

Celebrating its first anniversary, the Principles for Responsible Banking Academy (PRB Academy) emerged as an online learning platform with the potential to empower members and banking professionals worldwide. In the past year, nearly 1,000 participants took part in one of the four courses on offer, aiming at better integrating sustainability across banking operations, strategy, and client engagements. To stay at the forefront of responsible banking practices and broaden the offering, a new module on nature and modules in Spanish are planned for 2024. UNEP FI also continued to deliver tutor-led online and in-person courses on environmental risk analysis, climate change risks and opportunities, and corporate eco-efficiency for organisations at the start of their sustainability journey and certified 378 professionals through this programme this year.

Renewed ambition for a groundbreaking 2024

In 2023, a growing number of financial institutions from across the world embraced sustainability efforts, with UNEP FI witnessing a surge in members and engagement across all initiatives. As the year ended, milestones were celebrated, but the challenges ahead, including action to solve the triple planetary crisis of climate, nature, and pollution demand intensified efforts. This journey, more than ever, requires cooperation and concrete action on sustainability from the private sector and policymakers. As UNFCCC Head, Simon Stiell reminded us recently at COP28, “finance must be the bedrock to scale-up climate action on all fronts.”

Looking ahead, UNEP FI remains committed to supporting signatories and collaborating with policymakers toward industry-wide sustainable finance practices for lasting positive real-world impacts. In 2024, stay tuned for a new risk management offering for members, a revamped human rights tool for financial actors, input from the finance sector for the last round of negotiations toward an international plastics treaty, and much, much more.


“UNEP FI and its members took remarkable strides this year—from the progress of Principles for Responsible Banking signatories, continued expansion of the community working on implementing the Principles for Sustainable Insurance, to the ambitious achievements of the UN-convened net-zero alliances, we continue to see tangible action on financing to achieve sustainable development and net-zero goals. This momentum translated into membership growth across all our initiatives and frameworks, culminating in a significant milestone of 500 members. It’s a testament to our shared commitment and the growing recognition of the transformative power of sustainable finance.” Eric Usher, Head of UNEP FI


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