Financial leaders must become wiser investors

Hong Kong is hosting this week a much-anticipated investment summit that brings together heads of the world’s top banks and other big names in finance. These “Wall Street titans” from more than 100 major global monetary institutions were called on to tackle three sets of challenges and opportunities in economy, technology and sustainability.

So many influential industry leaders – collectively able to mobilize trillions of dollars – gathered in one forum. So much potential for meaningful action. 

While it was encouraging to see the financial sector’s role in addressing the climate crisis acknowledged by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority as a key focus area, it is likely that the event itself has been limited to discussion and networking.

If so, such a “business-as-usual” approach represents a wasted opportunity. We need to look no further than recent headlines to see why: from floods in Pakistan a few months ago to Tropical Storm Nalgae raging toward Hong Kong itself this week, no corner of the world is immune to the growing intensity of the climate crisis and the mounting challenges posed by biodiversity loss.

With each disaster costing the world economy billions every year, the risks of inaction for all life on this living planet are greater than any challenge we’ve ever faced. It threatens to sink entire cities, displace and starve billions, fuel further geopolitical tensions, push millions into poverty, and multiply a whole host of other global challenges. 

The Asia-Pacific region is already 35 years behind the commitment to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, faces a minimum of US$60 billion in deficits in international finance for nature, and all the while, as much as 63% ($19 trillion) of the region’s global GDP is at risk – a much higher share than the global average – from nature-related losses in the region. 

None of this is good for business (or anyone).

As 2022 draws to a close, our only hope to avoid multiple tipping points is by preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. 

This is what needs to happen, and it doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel. We can navigate beyond “the uncertainties brought by rising interest rates and the risk of stagnation” and accelerate economic growth by channeling investments back to nature.

As several leaders in the financial sector have shown, investing in nature is not mutually exclusive to financial growth and development. According to some studies, nature-based opportunities could deliver $4.3 trillion of annual economic value and generate 232 million jobs in Asia and the Pacific by 2030. 

To take advantage of these opportunities, we need to include and invest in the livelihoods of our primary partners in any nature-based financial opportunity: indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), particularly women and youth, who have centuries of experience in understanding how to benefit sustainably from nature.

With 32% of global land and associated inland waters owned or governed by IPLCs, either through legal or customarily held means, these custodians of nature are the key allies that financial institutions should be networking with for sustainable growth and investment. 

We cannot go on having low-stakes discussions to “inspire change.” What we need now are concrete actions that channel resources back into ecosystem regeneration, nature-based solutions, sustainable development and alternative livelihoods.

We already know that money talks. Swiftly following this week’s financial summit in Hong Kong is the high-profile UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt, starting on Sunday, and then the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Canada in early December.

It is imperative that global leaders take advantage of these opportunities and step up, to transform economies and value natural resources.