Sustainable Finance for Breakfast (17): A round-table discussion on developments in the ESG space.

Held on Wednesday, May 1, 2019


  • Ben Caldecott (University of Oxford)

  • Catherine Howarth (ShareAction)

  • Chris Huhne

  • Paul Sheridan (CMS)



As always, it’s hard to know where to start. But a quick trawl through recent news releases suggests good news and bad news in the sustainability/climate change space.

On the positive side, I note:

  • The IPCC Working Group III meeting in Edinburgh.

  • Preparations for the June 13-14 Pan-European ESG summit in Zurich

  • The finding by the Global Impact Investing Network that the impact market in new worth over US$500 billion – double previous estimates

  • News that greenhouse gas emissions fell 3% in the UK last year as more coal-fired power plants went offline

  • Reports that BNP Paribas is to shed €1 billion of stocks as it diverts from thermal coal

  • A new suite of products from BNY Mellon to track investment portfolios on ECR and UNGC criteria

  • Shell’s decision to pull out of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufactures Association because of the group’s opposition to a carbon tax or other prices on greenhouse gas emissions.

  • An estimate from the Calvert Funds that investors are now spending up to US$745 million a year on ESG related data…

And so on. Even a cursory glance finds a lot going on. However, on the other hand, I also note:

  • A hefty FT story on how BP has been lobbying Washington to weaken rules on methane emissions – in direct conflict with the firm’s stated climate aims.

  • The continuing backlash against the so-called Green New Deal in the US – particularly because of its wildly over-ambitious assumptions about how fast we can go to an all-electric future.

  • An attack on use of proxy voting by ESG supporters in the US, launched by the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Mike Crapo – who asked: “Are intermediaries using other people’s money unbeknownst to them, to advance environment, social and other political policies” at the expense of investor returns?

  • A warning by the IASB’s Hans Hoogervorst that “greenwashing is rampant” across manufacturing.

  • The decision of the SEC to throw out a petition filed by the NY State pension fund (and the CofE!) to force Exxon to set clear targets for reduction of greenhouse gases on the grounds that this would be “micromanaging” the company…

And so on. Oh, and then there’s Aramco’s just-released prospectus for its US$10 billion bond issue – which sees climate-related litigation as the biggest risk going forward. And the criticism that the IEA finds itself under for its outdated climate models, which understate the impact of fossil fuel use…

That’s half an hour’s Googling... Our usual guide, the Smith School’s Ben Caldecott, does this stuff morning, noon and night. He will undoubtedly have a great deal more to say – and he will (I am sure) say it with his usual authority. We are very grateful to him for giving up his time. We also grateful this month to three panellists who will fill in any holes that Ben leaves unfilled:

  • Catherine Howarth is the CEO of ShareAction, which she joined in 2008. She also serves on the Treasury’s Asset Management Taskforce. She is also a board member of the Scott Trust (which owns The Guardian) and serves on its investment committee.

  • Chris Huhne is a former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, a former journalist (two Wincott Awards),the founder of the sovereign ratings business at IBCA/Fitch, a former MEP, and currently a senior adviser at Engaged Tracking – which bills itself as Europe’s leading independent adviser on climate risk.

  • Paul Sheridan, partner and head of CMS’ environmental law practice. With almost 25 years’ experience, he advises clients on domestic, EU and international environment laws, specialising, inter alia, on clean energy, energy efficiency, cleantech, climate change and corporate reporting.

That’s a powerful panel. If you (or a colleague) would like to come and share your thoughts (even to disagree), please let us know by emailing or by calling the Centre on 0207 621 1056. As usual, thanks to the generosity of CMS, there will be tea, coffee and low carbon buns.

Many thanks,

Andrew Hilton