Green Frontiers 2019: tackling climate change through finance

04 July 2019

Barclays colleagues and clients, innovators and entrepreneurs came together for the bank’s annual Green Frontiers conference, where Barclays Group CEO Jes Staley and Michael Bloomberg discussed sustainable finance, environmental social and corporate governance – and the products and innovations that can help fight climate change.

Over 300 delegates from business, government and finance gathered in central London to consider the role finance can play in tackling climate change. The conference ended with a wide-ranging conversation between Barclays Group CEO Jes Staley and Michael Bloomberg, entrepreneur, former Mayor of New York City, environmental author and investor.

Introducing the event, Ted Roosevelt IV, Managing Director with Barclays Investment Bank, said: “We’ve reached a crossroads with respect to climate change. The road we take will make all the difference. Risk management dictates that each of us must do everything possible to ensure climate policies are pursued to avoid catastrophe. It’s a moral responsibility that we must meet.”

Roosevelt, who has a long history of engagement in environmentalism, introduced the conference moderator, Elsa Palanza, who – as Barclays Global Head of Sustainability & Citizenship – is at the forefront of changing the way financial services think about how their products and practices relate to the future of the planet.

Elsa Palanza at Green Frontiers

Elsa Palanza

The business, as well as the moral, case for green finance was a theme of the day – both in terms of Roosevelt’s risk management and the observation that Barclays’ increasing activity in green products – including bonds, loans and mortgages – is reflective of the market already changing. “The train has left the station”, Palanza said. “We’re all part of this and we need to participate to make sure the market is moving forward in support of this larger effort.”

Part of the equation for businesses was framed as understanding climate risk, how that affects financial risk, and the commercial opportunities that may result. Potential investors witnessed some of those opportunities outside the conference hall, where eight companies involved with Barclays’ Rise and Unreasonable Impact programmes held stalls – made solidly from recyclable materials – showcasing innovations ranging from new power-light cooling technologies (Sure Chill) to solar-powered water purification (Desolenator).

Panels at the event included ‘Politics, regulation and discourse’, examining the mindset and agenda of regulators to help businesses prepare for imminent changes. At another panel, on scaling profit and impact in the green economy, Head of Barclays UK Investment Banking Alisdair Gayne was joined by entrepreneurs and investors. He explained: “We’re going through a real inflexion period at the moment. Mention ESG and the green economy to your average chief exec today and they talk about opportunity, value enhancement, and the pressure that they’re getting from their investor base and end customers to deliver.”

Green Frontiers

Barclays’ Green Frontiers conference

ESG (environmental, social and governance – the three main factors of measuring the sustainability of an investment) was one of the day’s most-used phrases. Michael Bloomberg said big investors – including those in banks like Barclays – ask about ESG even before they ask about earnings “because their customers want their money invested responsibly. There’s pressure on companies from the public through the big funds and endowments, and also employees want to work for a company where ESG is the buzz phrase.”

Bloomberg, whose multi-billion pound company was founded on the power of data and who is one of the high-profile investors in the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, also saw the challenge of a data disconnect, with investors needing more reliable data on how climate change will impact companies in order to allocate resources and reward good sustainability practice. Elsa Palanza added: “Efforts to seek out better ESG data will help not only assess that risk but also capitalise on the trillions of dollars of investment needed – and there’s a room full of people here looking to seize that opportunity.”