Climate Week Roundtable (ILN and SMI): Five CEOs Discuss Opportunities and Challenges of Financing the Net Zero Transition

Oct 11, 2022

On September 22, during New York Climate Week, five leaders from across the financial sector joined a panel session at the Goals House to discuss how banks, insurers, asset owners and asset managers can work collaboratively to finance the global transition to net zero. Hosted by the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) and the Investor Leadership Network (ILN), the discussion examined how the strategic allocation of capital can drive global, real-economy decarbonization. 


Nazmeera Moola, Chief Sustainability Officer at Ninety One, moderated the session, and was joined by panelists:

  • Noel Quinn, CEO of HSBC
  • Paul Donofrio, Vice Chair of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch
  • John Neal, CEO of Lloyds
  • Amy Hepburn, CEO of the ILN


Moola opened the session by introducing the opportunity at hand. Ninety percent of the global economy is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, and all financial institutions represented on the panel are committed to financing a 1.5 degree celsius aligned world. Members of these organizations have a unique opportunity to enact real, measurable change by both financing the net zero solution providers, and strategically levering investment in high emitting sectors to reduce their emissions.


Moola shared a quote from a previous event, “It’s time for money to make a change,” before passing the microphone to Ron O’Hanley, CEO of State Street, for comment on how the financial sector should maintain focus on a just transition and on real-economy decarbonization as they operationalize their net zero goals. 


“We’ve all made commitments to net zero, but we shouldn’t confuse a net zero portfolio with a net zero climate…There is no shortage of money. But there is a real shortage in terms of thoughtful ways to actually structure these projects and deploy the money. And I think much of the work that needs to be done here is collaborating [on how we’re] going to get to where the real high emitters are… where are the places that we want to help economies leapfrog from old fossil fuels to those new technologies? And what can we do to help them?” O’Hanley continued, “…emerging markets not only need to be invested in, but they need to be invested in with a recognition of [and] an eye toward their aspirations to develop their economies.” 


John Neal, CEO of Lloyds, added that assessing transition plans and engaging with companies on an individual level is key to transitioning high emitters, “You’ve got to get down into the detail of what that organization’s transition plan is. And you’ve got to understand their commitment to transitioning their business over a period of time. And then facilitate through financing that transition plan, that investment program into new tech from old tech, into new business models from old business models, and formal assessment, that actually, they’re committed to it. It’s a good journey, and it’s one we should support.” 


Panelists were then asked to share examples of the most impactful, exciting, and inspiring transition initiatives they’ve come across in the past few years, as well as the opportunities they’ve found to drive revenue. 


Noel Quinn cited that he’s found inspiration in watching his employees at all levels ‘get down into the nitty gritty detail’ of how they could drive decarbonization across very different, very difficult sectors. 


Amy Hepburn highlighted a few ILN members’ commitments and creative approaches to engage with and guide portfolio companies through the transition. Nordea Asset Management has set targets to ensure 80% of its top 200 largest carbon footprint contributors are on a Paris-aligned trajectory by 2025, and 100% by 2030. OMERS and Ontario Teachers’ have committed to reach at least 20% reduction in portfolio level carbon emissions by 2025, and will engage with portfolio companies to get there. Natixis Investment Managers has created a bespoke tool to assess the various transition and physical climate risks within clients’ portfolios. 


She also noted that there cannot be a one-size fits all approach to the transition for asset managers and asset owners. “Together with the ILN and the SMI, we are looking to pull like-minded investors around the table to think differently, explore new solutions, and work together… and so we’re learning from each other, figuring out what works. That’s not to say we couldn’t benefit from some more convergence in this space, but it’s also important to recognize how our different approaches try to tackle the same issues. We’re pioneering this space together, this is new territory for all of us.” 


John Neal added that in addition to the collaboration and cooperation we’re seeing among investors, insurers are stepping up to provide ambition and will. “If there’s a solution [to the transition], we’ll do it,” he said. The insurance business is willing to provide risk-protection even in areas/markets that are not fully understood and to high-emitters as they transition. 


Paul Donofrio shared his pride in the fact that Bank of America has already reached carbon neutrality, then pivoted to speak about the challenges these leaders are facing in the transition, including upskilling their workforce to understand and act on decarbonization. “Our bankers have to learn a few things. We have to be able to communicate with our clients about the business imperative of developing a net zero plan, about transition pathways. Every company is different. Every industry is different. Bankers have to be able to talk to clients about the reporting and tracking they’re going to have to do. About the programs that are out there to help them transition, and certainly about how Bank of America can help finance their transition.” 


Continuing on the topic of challenges, panelists cited that the new cash flows and models emerging from decarbonisation and net zero technologies present new risk, with no risk history. They emphasized that high-emitters will need continued support from financiers in order to change their business models and adopt new, lower-emission technology. Panelists also reaffirmed that geopolitical and local political risks in the US remain significant challenges. John Neal offered that he’s ‘not really interested’ in dwelling on the challenges because it prevents us from making progress. The more persistent we are about doing something, even if these actions are small to start, the more we’ll move the dial. Noel Quinn shared this sentiment, urging all companies to begin publishing and learning how to tell the story of their transition plans, regardless of the evolving data, definitions and methodologies. As ILN CEO Amy Hepburn often says, we shouldn’t let perfect get in the way of progress.


To conclude, Nazmeera Moola asked panelists how financial institutions should be thinking about incentivizing more capital to fund the emerging market transition. 


Paul Donofrio began by outlining the barriers private financiers face when trying to invest in emerging markets. Many private institutional investors do not have prior experience in emerging markets; they do not understand the complex risks, they do not have access to the risk history, and they do not have the infrastructure to originate, deliver and monitor credit. Most of all, Ron O’Hanley later clarified, most private institutional investors do not have the legal option to lose their pensioners’ and beneficiaries’ money. 


“We need fundamentally two things,” Donofrio synthesized, “One is to partner with [ institutions] who operate in those markets and truly understand the risks in [those countries]. Two, we need to structure these transactions in a way that lowers the risk [for fiduciaries] so that we can deploy your deposits in an appropriate way in those markets and on those projects. And that’s where blended finance comes in…it’s blending our funding with a funding of some other entity that has a different risk return profile, has a different funding source, and has a different mandate…. If we can just industrialize the [blended finance] model, we can move a lot more money faster.”


Amy Hepburn reinforced the call for more partnership around blended finance vehicles, adding “Let me get specific about what we need here. We need a first loss guarantee facility. We need better partnerships with the [multilateral development banks]. We need access to the GEMS database so that we can price risk ourselves. And we need to develop projects that can be bundled and financed in a way that makes sense for us as fiduciaries… We need to seize this moment with great energy and great creativity because new actors are coming to the table and there is an appetite for new solutions.”


Noel Quinn emphasized that there are still many emerging market projects that are moving ahead without blended finance vehicles, “I saw clients in India just 10 days ago, and they’re not waiting for any government [or] anyone to help them. They’re just getting on to reinventing their business… I don’t think we should assume the world is all paused. The world is moving, but there are some initiatives that are going to need a bit of a helping hand, such as from the MDBs and more structured arrangements.”


The session closed by recapping a few key takeaways:

  1. Capital is still needed in emerging and high-emitting countries in order to enact change; global emissions mitigation does not need to hinder the critical development of these regions. 
  2. Financial leaders can encourage companies to make transition plans a core element of their operations, offer guidance and assistance along the transition, and then hold them to account. 
  3. The financial sector is constantly changing and companies are at vastly different levels of transition. Collaboration and cooperation between financial institutions and creativity in financing models and approaches will be key to reaching net zero emissions globally. 


To deliver on this goal of furthering collaboration and cooperation among investors, ILN launched a Net Zero Investor Playbook during Climate Week which offers practical assistance to investors and their stakeholders to operationalize their net zero commitments. For more information about the ILN and the Net Zero Investor Playbook, visit

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