How the Global Banking Industry Plans to Save the World

The Principles for Responsible Banking are Impacting an Industry and the Planet

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Image Credit: Sergio Souza

On September 22, 2019, the eve of the United Nations Climate Action Summit, the heads of 130 signatory banks, small and large, from 49 nations signed the United Nations Principles for Responsible Banking agreement. The organizations represented one-third of the world’s signatory banks holding a collective $47 trillion (U.S.) in assets. The initiative drafted by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, a UN private sector collaboration of more than 240 financial institutions, insurers, and investors from around the world, began in April of 2018. The international organization consulted with a core group of 30 bank stakeholders, regulators, banking associations, and technological experts, each lending best practices and serving as thought leaders on the formation of the document. Convening in May of 2019, the initiative serves as a global framework of guidelines for financial institutions to align their strategic goals with the sustainable development agenda to create climate resilience bringing climate risk management to the heart of the financial industry.

Some of the most iconic financial institutions that pledged commitment to the initiative were Barclays, Citi, Desjardins, Deutsche Bank, Eurobank, Golomt Bank, ING, Julius Bär Group, Lloyd’s Banking Group, Piraeus Bank, National Bank of Canada, RBS, and UBS.

His Excellency António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, provided brief remarks on how the response of business leaders “can be a defining moment for global goals.” He added that he is “counting on the private sector to support ambitious action.” Mr. Guterres further called on leaders to align business to sustainable development goals, to support gender equality by ensuring that women are equally represented, and to invest in climate action.

Ralph Hamers, CEO of ING, and Sola David-Borha, CEO of Standard Bank Group Ltd., presented on Principles for Responsible Banking and were followed by Simone Dettling, Banking Team Lead for the UNEP FI, who led a panel consisting of CEOs from banks representing the five world regions. Guy Cormier, CEO of Desjardins spoke on behalf of North America, Carlos Hank González, Chairman of the Board of Banorte represented Latin America, Christos Megalou of Piraeus Bank represented Europe, Norihiko Kato, CEO of Golomt Bank represented the Asia Pacific, and Konehale Gugushe, acting CEO of Land Bank represented the African continent. Each discussed the Principles and answered questions surrounding their plans on sustainable development while sharing their organization’s commitment to the initiative.

The event culminated on 23 September 2019 with the Driving Change, Realizing Impact: Launching the Principles For Responsible Banking event in New York City hosted by Jean-Laurent Bonnafé- CEO of BNP Paribas- and the Paribas organization. Bank CEOs, global thought leaders, and environmental and sustainable development experts gathered along with 350 attendees including investors, stakeholders, policymakers, regulators, academia, civil society organizations, and international media gathered for the public launch.

The event included two separate International CEO Panels discussing the future of the banking industry, and implementing the Principles for Responsible Banking, respectively. Several technical round tables were held to expound upon concepts such as helping banks to identify their area of most significant impact, setting targets to contribute to sustainable development and climate goals, and innovation to meet client needs in the transition to a sustainable economy. The event closed with a keynote speech from a UN Youth Leader.

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