Task Force Represented at 21 March High-Level Conference on Sustainable Finance

Following the recent announcement from the European Union of its intent to establish an international platform to consolidate global work on sustainable finance, the European Commission on Thursday convened a global conference on the topic, inviting expert speakers from around the world. Simon Zadek, senior advisor to UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, appeared on Mr. Steiner’s behalf, speaking about fintech on a panel whose other members included the founder of M-Pesa, the deputy secretary general of OECD, a member of the executive board of the central bank of Germany, the CEO of Latvia’s SEB Bank, and an executive from Better Finance.

The European Union’s Fintech Action Plan , released last year, mentions sustainability in the introduction but has the opportunity to go farther: to connect the specific actions recommended in the plan to the goal of sustainability. The discussion during the fintech panel affirmed that fintech and sustainable finance are two major trends changing the face of financial systems, and that the two have to be considered in relation to each other. Although there was general agreement that such joint consideration is not yet happening routinely, panelists agreed that there are, in fact, many use cases at the intersection of fintech and sustainable finance, and that these need to be mapped more effectively.

 

Panelists held different perspectives on the fundamental relationship between fintech and sustainable finance. In one view, sustainable finance is the end and fintech is the means, essentially an enabler that removes a barrier or solves a problem faced by sustainable finance, whether by unlocking domestic savings, generating better and cheaper data, or some other tactic. The alternative perspective, more closely aligned to the Task Force discussions in Davos, is that fintech can possibly be used to drive sustainable finance and that they have a more complex and dynamic interplay: change one system and changes cascade through the other. Like the Task Force, the EC panelists focused on the downsides as well as the promise of fintech, with illicit financial flows and the energy costs of blockchain and cryptocurrencies among the top concerns. These new risks pose new challenges for lawmakers and regulators, and much of the discussion focused on the changing role of regulation: its traditional role as gatekeeper is made constantly more complicated as technology generates new risks to be mitigated and, at the same time, the role of the regulator is also increasingly to be an enabler of innovation. Although the conference attendees, including at the panel on which Mr. Zadek served, were focused on the Sustainable Development Goals, most of the discussion centered around SDGs related to climate and clean energy, and to a lesser extent, to biodiversity. The Task Force’s planned emphasis on social dimensions (e.g., migrants and refugees and gender equality) and our broader look at the rights of citizens will make an important contribution to this global conversation.