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Climate changes agenda for the economic recovery

Monday insight


Protest: Members of Extinction Rebellion held a ‘heads in the sand’ event in Nairn, Scotland, in an attempt to make G20 countries do more to tackle climate change. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Protest: Members of Extinction Rebellion held a ‘heads in the sand’ event in Nairn, Scotland, in an attempt to make G20 countries do more to tackle climate change. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Getty Images

Protest: Members of Extinction Rebellion held a ‘heads in the sand’ event in Nairn, Scotland, in an attempt to make G20 countries do more to tackle climate change. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

We've seen economic destruction caused by the sudden arrival of Covid-19, yet climate change has the potential to bring about a financial meltdown on a scale which could dwarf anything that has come before.

Some estimates put the value of assets which could be left stranded at $40tn (€35tn).

To put this in context, the impact on global property values during the Great Recession has been estimated at between $1tn and $2tn. However, unlike the global pandemic, it is not too late to avert this climate change calamity but action must be taken now.

We have seen the climate change agenda climb to the top of corporate agendas, moving from the sustainability manager's desk and into the CEO's office.

This shift, being led by Fortune 500 companies, is being driven primarily by three very potent forces - investor sentiment, supply chain pressures and employee power.

Investors are beating the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) drum more loudly than ever. If investee companies are not taking climate change and broader sustainability issues seriously, investors may walk away with their capital.

Corporates are also putting new pressures on their own supply chains to achieve overall carbon and climate targets. Suppliers must meet increasingly stringent decarbonisation targets if they are to continue doing business with top companies.

Most fascinating of all is the way employees are forcing change for their employers.

New generations of workers are saying they want to work for employers with a purpose and salary is no longer the only key consideration.

Oil companies are already reporting difficulties in hiring top talent and employers will increasingly be scored on their sustainability performance by prospective employees.

Climate risk is a combination of both the physical risks of climate and also relates to changing business models and consumer behaviours to deal with the climate emergency.

The key point is the capital markets now understand climate risk equals financial risk, which is why investors have become energised and concerned. Companies need to understand they don't have to be in the oil or other extractive industries to be exposed to this risk.

Businesses in areas such as airline catering, fashion, building materials and just about every sector will be affected.

Products and services taken for granted today will not be acceptable tomorrow; business models will have to respond. Climate has become a fundamental business risk.

Investment managers and corporates are beginning to understand the scale of the coming climate crunch.

The transport sector is just one example. Before Covid-19, we had seen a growing decline in business travel and flight shaming was establishing itself as a corporate trend.

At a political level, the European Union is going out of its way to re-engineer itself as a green economy.

The EU sustainable action plan on green finance is attempting to look at every single industrial and commercial activity and define what is sustainable and what is not. This is having a powerful influence in persuading the capital markets to put money into sustainable activities through increased transparency and reporting.

Here in Ireland, Covid-19 is providing us with the chance of a lifetime to address climate change through economic stimulus packages.

The Programme for Government and soon to be announced July Stimulus package has the green agenda at their core. As a country, we need to ensure our economic recovery is in line with what's happening more widely in Europe and indeed around the globe.

The world has very definitely shifted on its axis and Covid-19 has provided some of the impetus for that change.

In many ways, Covid-19 has acted as an incredible catalyst for change for the ESG agendas.

At the early stages of the pandemic the belief was that it would shift the focus away from climate change.

But it has actually awakened people to the realities of climate change and there is now an understanding of what can happen when the world is unprepared for a major event.

Covid-19 has not just been a health crisis, it's a financial and economic crisis as well. But its impact will be minor in comparison to climate change.

One consequence of climate change is the permafrost melting in certain regions.

This will result in the release of multiple pathogens that have been locked in the Earth for millennia. We haven't seen anything yet when it comes to pandemics if this is allowed to go unchecked.

While climate and decarbonisation have dominated the agenda up until now, the "s-word", ie social, in ESG is becoming more important.

Movements like MeToo and Black Lives Matter have exposed and highlighted unacceptable social practices in various realms, and they have energised many people to say the old ways won't work.

Future progress on all fronts will be critically dependent on innovation. Innovators around the world are doing some incredible things but what's missing is the capital.

The technological changes we are seeing will be trifling in comparison to what will happen over the next 10 years. We are about to enter a period of unprecedented disruption driven by the global transition to a zero-carbon future.

Mike Hayes is Global Head of Renewables, KPMG, and a Partner for KPMG Ireland

Irish Independent