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Green finance: How do Government plans for ‘global’ hubs stack up?

Can ministers kick-start a green trading revolution and see Leeds and London become "world-class" global hubs of green finance? The experts weigh in
Green finance could be critical as the Government seeks to build back greener. Image credit: Pierre9x6 / Pixabay

In 2019, the UK financial services sector contributed a massive £132 billion to the economy, accounting for 6.9 per cent of total economic output.

The industry will be vital to our recovery post-pandemic, and as ministers attempt to build back greener, the Government is hoping the environment will be placed at the heart of financial decision making

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the minister for energy and clean growth, recently announced £10 million for two “world-class” research hubs in Leeds and London. From April 2021 they will assist banks, lenders and insurers to invest in green technologies, clean innovations and companies with smaller carbon footprints

“While the government has invested billions of pounds so we can end the UK’s contribution to climate change, we will not reach our net-zero target without mobilising private capital and unleashing the power of the free market,” Trevelyan said. 

But will the plans really kick-start a green trading revolution and see Leeds and London become “world-class” global hubs of green finance? The Big Issue asked green leaders. 

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Thora Frost, a senior manager of green finance at the Carbon Trust, which supports governments around the world move towards a “sustainable, low carbon” future, said the organisation welcomed the new plans. 

She explained some financial institutions faced difficulties when it came to having the right data on the impact of investments on climate change, something these new research centres could tackle. 

“Helping to solve climate-related data challenges for financial institutions should unlock investment in green solutions and create opportunities for green financial products and services,” Frost said. 

“We expect it to result in more informed investment and credit decisions ensuring that climate risk is properly understood and taken into account.” 

Others gave the plans a more cautious welcome. Polly Billington, director of UK100, which works with council leaders to combat climate change, agreed the centres were a “great start” but added they needed to be part of a larger package. 

“We know that over a million new jobs could be created across the UK if we focus on a green recovery,” she said. 

“[Our research] found that investing £5 billion in renewable energy projects and creating jobs in local communities could unlock a £100 billion boost to the economy. 

“Creating centres of green finance research in Leeds and London is a great start, but there needs to be a pipeline of green projects too. 

“That is why the Chancellor needs to work with ambitious local authorities to unlock green investment across the country in the upcoming budget.” 

But Green peer Natalie Bennett was more critical, saying while the “modest” £10 million was welcome, the Government was at risk of “greenwashing” when its recent actions were taken into account. 

“The modest £10 million in two green finance hubs is, of course, to be welcomed, and it is good to see that the money is not just going into the South East,” Bennett said. 

“But the funding has to be considered against the fact that the Financial Services Bill, about to start its progress through the House of Lords, lacks proper reference to the need to ‘green’ the whole sector, including taking account of environmental risks.” 

Bennett added the Government had to be more explicit about its terminology and what “green investment” meant. 

“If the government is to be taken seriously on this then it needs to set out clear definitions of what a green investment is to avoid the risk of greenwashing,” she explained.

“This means no fossil fuels, no new nuclear and high standards of workers’ rights and environmental protection, not just climate.

“However, we must also go further and send a strong signal to public and private investors that putting money into activities like burning coal or extracting gas is a thing of the past.” 

Bennett was also sceptical about a lack of data or research being the biggest barrier for those wanting to invest sustainably, saying ministers must provide “workable” plans as the UK chaired the COP26 environmental conference of world leaders this November.

She added: “Lack of research is not our biggest problem in green finance. Lack of action and lack of sensible, workable government policies and plans is something the rest of the world is surely going to notice from the chair of COP26.”