UN climate warning is a gauntlet for green finance

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The Dixie Fire, now over 200,000 acres, burns at night in Taylorsville, California, U.S., July 27, 2021. REUTERS/David Swanson/File Photo

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MELBOURNE, Aug 9 (Reuters Breakingviews) - It’s tempting to read the United Nations’ latest scientific study on climate change and despair. Human activity is “unequivocally” to blame for global warming, according to the 234 scientists from 66 countries who compiled the report for the world’s governments. Moreover, people have pumped enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to ensure far more frequent disruption from rising sea levels, floods, water scarcity, and wildfires for decades if not centuries. But the U.N. report published on Monday throws down the gauntlet for finance to act.

Granted, companies’ willingness to tackle climate change has picked up momentum. Investors have a raft of lobby groups to choose from – Climate Action 100+, for example, has more than 615 investors with $55 trillion in assets pushing major carbon emitters to up their game. More banks are refusing to finance certain types of fossil-fuel extraction and power plants, and are under pressure to set broader net-zero targets from former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, among others.

Much of this work is, however, incremental or piecemeal. That’s starting to change. UK insurer Prudential (PRU.L) has devised a plan to buy and shut down relatively new coal-fired power stations in several Asian countries within 15 years – rather than letting them run for their 30 years or more of operational life. The idea, which the Asian Development Bank is now spearheading, is for private investors to provide most of the capital, with the public purse taking most of the risk. Another, smaller, example, is so-called transition investment funds like the ones that Brookfield Asset Management (BAMa.TO) – Carney’s new home – and private equity firm TPG announced last month.

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The goal now is not just to find ways to reduce emissions as quickly as possible. That’s crucial but so is the need to adapt to the changing climate. For example, replenishing forests and mangroves – so-called nature-based solutions – can sequester carbon and provide protection from heat, floods and drought. But it requires some $8 trillion in capital by 2050, four times what is currently being invested, according to a separate U.N. report released earlier this year. And governments currently finance 86% of it.

Devising how to channel the funds into such broad solutions is precisely the kind of creativity that financiers can bring to tackling the planet’s crisis.

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- The world’s average temperature is likely to surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrialisation level within the next 20 years, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a report published on Aug. 9.

- Compiled by 234 scientists from 66 countries, the report states that humans are “unequivocally” to blame that the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is already high enough to ensure climate disruption for decades if not centuries.

- Twice-in-a-century heat waves could in the future happen roughly every six years with 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, the report said. It found that once-in-a-decade heavy rain events are now 1.3 times more likely and 6.7% wetter, compared with the 50 years up to 1900 when major human-driven warming started to occur.

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Editing by Swaha Pattanaik, Oliver Taslic and Karen Kwok

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