Every Degree Matters: Five Take-Aways from the Global Alliance on Banking Values Summit

On February 26, I had the privilege of representing Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB) at the Global Alliance on Banking Values Summit. Hosted in Bern, Switzerland, the gathering brought together the 65 members banks of the Global Alliance on Banking Values to grapple with the conference theme: how ‘every degree matters’ in the fight against climate change. Here are my top five take-aways.

1. Poverty and the climate are interwoven and the climate fight is global

In the global north, when we think about fighting climate change with finance, we often think about financing big solar or wind projects. We also tend to think about this work as separate from poverty alleviation efforts. In the global south, things are different.

The conference was attended by representatives from member banks in Bangladesh, India, and countries in South America, among others. These members spoke about the impact of climate change on their customers who live in flood plains; and the devastating impacts of droughts, fires, and the sea levels rising. In tandem, they spoke about poverty in their communities, and about their community member’s lack of access to banking services.

For me, this re-emphasized that the effects of climate change are having a disproportionate impact on people in the global south right now; and clarified that as a financial institution in the global north, we must continue to think about how our climate change investments are also helping to reduce global poverty.

2. We Must Protect Nature While Building the Next Economy

The summit featured a presentation by Margaret Kuhlow, Finance Practice Leader with World Wildlife Fund International. In her remarks, Margaret reminded us that we can’t address the climate without thinking about preserving our existing natural environment. Many new economy business models rely on assumptions about nature continuing to do what it’s always done — removing carbon dioxide from the air, pollinating flowers, and offering us air we can breathe. But without planning, these assumptions might not hold true.

As we work to finance the climate future, we need to put in as much energy and commitment into the protection of our natural environment, as we do into our development of climate change adaptation technologies and other novel solutions.

3. There are Opportunities to Invest in both Climate Leaders & Laggards

At VCIB, we’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to invest in climate leaders — social enterprises, nonprofits and businesses — who are pioneers in helping to create a low-carbon future. During the summit, we spoke about the importance of continuing to finance these companies. In tandem however, we also discussed the importance of financing existing businesses to transition their business models to something cleaner and greener.

There are companies across our economy — food service businesses, manufacturing companies, and energy providers, to name a few — who want to adapt their business models to meet present climate realities. They too need financing to support this transition.

4. Youth Should be at the Table As we Build a New Climate Future

The summit featured a public symposium that brought together young climate activists, bank representatives, government officials, and citizens to discuss the question: “what could a carbon neutral Switzerland look like in 2030?”.

I was at a table focused on what the banking sector can do to move toward a low-carbon future. Over the course of the discussion, many financial industry participants tried to diffuse the issue, pointing at the responsibility of other institutions to drive progress (“The government needs to do it!” or “How can banks move forward if we don’t yet have the proper regulation”?). Youth at the table persisted.

“The planet is dying,” they said, “Why can’t you act on this? Why can’t you do anything now?”. This perspective was valuable and very welcome in helping to ensure the urgency of the crisis was underscored during the discussion; and highlighted the importance of having youth at the table.

5. There are Opportunities to Drive Progress in Canada alongside the GABV

The Canadian banking sector is not nearly as far along as our European counterparts in leveraging finance to drive sustainable development. We’re making progress however, and conversations are beginning to take place.

Members of the Global Alliance on Banking Values, like Vancity Credit Union, are the pioneers worldwide in using finance to drive a low-carbon future. Acting independently, it can feel like we’re very tiny. But together, we can have a significant impact. As we move forward, there is opportunity to do so in alignment with the other members of the Global Alliance on Banking Values, driving progress together as we build the next economy.

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