How the Pandemic May Serve as a Climate Crisis ‘Disruptor’
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Resilience is emerging as the top financial theme of the new decade. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, environmentally-focused investors are discovering that planning for widespread disease or climate shock requires putting money into adaptation.
Insurers like Travelers Co. are already disclosing losses from the double-whammy catastrophes of climate-change fueled natural disasters and the coronavirus. I asked Heather Grady, vice president at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and a former adviser to the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, what businesses and communities should be thinking about when it comes to dealing with two global crises at once. Our exchange was edited for clarity and length.
EC: How are you thinking about climate justice in the context of social inequalities that have been brought to the fore by the pandemic?
HG: As we talk about responses to Covid-19, there’s an interesting opportunity for environmentalists and people working on social problems in global supply chains to come together more. A just and resilient economy is what we have to create.
The worst thing would be the status quo before this. Now we can see what happens when we’re flying less—we can see blue skies in New Delhi and Beijing—this should tell us all what we need to reset to.
EC: How are you seeing all of these issues play out at the intersection of business and climate?
HG: There’s a convergence of global social inequalities, the climate crisis and vast biodiversity loss. A question for us when Covid-19 hit was whether companies would be more or less interested in addressing loss of biodiversity when this is all over. What’s interesting is many business leaders are still saying we have to pay attention to this, rather than run away from it.
Companies and governments can reset to something combining the social and environmental. Businesses before this were moving more toward natural capital accounting, albeit too slowly. Now they may see it’s more important than ever to think about our supply chains.
EC: Couldn’t this go either way? On one hand, green strings attached to bailouts could boost some of these plans, but could there also be momentum lost as energy is redirected to the pandemic and its fallout?
HG: I’m still optimistic. People who work on transformative change often say that you have to reach a tipping point and sometimes that only becomes possible when there’s a huge disruptor to the system. This isn’t easy in any sense: This is an incredible financial and economic shock and workforces are under so much strain. But it is a moment with a potential for enormous change that wouldn’t be created under normal circumstances.
EC: What do you think the result will be of the world having to deal with the pandemic and climate crisis at the same time?
HG: We’ve just barely started to think through the right kind of responses to extreme weather events, and we’re expecting a bad wildfire and hurricane season again. If you were already poor or without access to resources, then this will make you even more at risk.
Sustainable Finance In Brief
- The social and sustainability debt supply jumped 69% in the first quarter as issuers selling Covid-19 bonds flooded the market. Issuance of the bonds, which have lagged green bonds, could double to $100 billion by year-end, HSBC said.
- Quant investors are rushing into ESG. No one knows if the strategy will really work.
- Deutsche Bank has set up a dedicated sustainable finance team within its capital markets division.
- Annual meeting season is gearing up, albeit virtually. Citigroup said it will stop financing Arctic oil and gas exploration ahead of expected investor pushback. Boeing will face a backlash over its safety oversight at its meeting as proxy advisers ISS and Glass Lewis urged shareholders to withhold votes from directors.
- Investors will judge companies on their coronavirus response.
Emily Chasan writes the Good Business newsletter about climate-conscious investors and the frontiers of sustainability.
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