It is still possible to take action to avoid tipping points, but we need to develop solutions now, and we need wide-reaching collaboration to get there.

On March 7, UArctic brought a team of influential voices to a climate change-focused client event at Investec, a bank and wealth manager in London, with the aim to raise awareness around tipping points and explore new avenues for collaboration. The keynote speech was given by His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, a long-time advocate of sustainability and climate issues as well as a key supporter of UArctic. HSH also joined a panel discussion with UArctic President Lars Kullerud, UArctic Board Chair Frederik Paulsen, UArctic Board member and Greenlandic MP Aaja Chemnitz, and Investec Senior Director Max Richardson.

Investec strives towards increasingly sustainable business using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as the framework. In his work as Senior Director, Max Richardson focuses especially on issues related to climate change. He identifies two major roles for finance in this context: mitigation and adaptation.

“The energy transition and transformation we need to affect is enormous. We need to retire fossil fuels and create new capacity based on clean sources of energy. At the same time, we need to double electricity production and start to apply electricity to new things like transportation. Mitigation is a big part of this transition, and that requires us to align our portfolios with the Paris Agreement. But we've actually passed or are close to passing a number of tipping points, so we need adaptation finance as well. We need to finance a more resilient world - more resilient food systems, water systems, and infrastructure - to the effects of climate change, both those that are already here and those we are going to get no matter what.”

It does, however, take considerable effort to try and change the global economy, especially when faced with challenges we have not seen before. At Investec, Max tries to be an agent of change, bringing attention to the key issues and promoting action.

“There is this concept about four clocks. The first clock is the climate reality, and that keeps exact time. Then you have the clock of scientific understanding which has really caught up in the last couple of decades. It's always going to be slightly behind, but it's very, very close. Finally, you have the clock of public perception and the clock of the business community and their understanding and action. Those two have also caught up, but they're still quite a long way behind. My role is to help the last two clocks catch up in the business and finance arena; to inspire people to learn what is happening and to do something. We need to educate our clients, and we need to raise awareness. The event with UArctic was a great example of that - raising awareness of tipping points and climate instability, and the role that private individuals and their finance will play.”

“At many organizations, the cohort of people who are driving change is actually quite small, so a big part of my role is to raise awareness internally as well. I had colleagues coming up to me at the event saying it was really educational. I’ve been studying climate change-related topics for a few years, and even I learned things as I was preparing for the panel discussion that I hadn't come across before. I was particularly shocked about the cascading effect of the tipping points, and how a number of them are highly likely even within the range of the Paris Agreement temperatures - which we're probably going to exceed. So there's a huge amount of work to do; it's only just begun. The event with UArctic was a great call to action to the people there: to understand that they're not going to be experts overnight, but there's more to learn.”

In the panel discussion, Max made the point that finance and economics need to evolve towards a more regenerative systems thinking way of operating, towards understanding that climate, nature, society, and the economy are all embedded together in a complex system rather than separate from each other. This is also where the worlds of research and finance can work together to make a real difference.

“I’m trying to generate collaborative advantage. Climate change is a global challenge, and it needs a global response. To get there, we need to foster more collaboration between finance, industry, and academia. A multidisciplinary approach is really important to understand complex systems, and we do need to get better at understanding them, particularly nature and the environment. Academia should be coming up with the ideas to solve the problems we now face, but it needs support, momentum, and funding to actually execute it in the real world. That's where finance can come in; hopefully we can help with that.”

The Arctic has not featured very much in Investec’s climate and sustainability thinking so far, but Max is hoping to see a change in that. The original legacy business of Investec is South African, and it is natural that the focus has mainly been on issues that are immediately important within that sphere.

“But the Arctic is important to Africa, actually, and the whole world. This is what I also meant by systems thinking - everything being connected. I was quite aware of the dangers of what is going on in the Arctic, but I don't think that's necessarily a widely held understanding. It is changing though.”

“One of the really important things that I've learned in this work is about keeping positive and not starting to lose hope, even if that happens quite easily particularly when you're talking about tipping points. The macro collaboration between big institutions is important, but it is just as important to focus on the collaboration between people - keep everyone going, and not lose hope and despair. Talking in the event and seeing that people do engage with this topic are helping me remain hopeful.”

By Hannele Palviainen, Philanthropic Communications Coordinator, UArctic

[Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2023. Read all articles here]