Financing the transition to a carbon-free economy is one of the most pressing issues at this year’s United Nations climate conference in Glasgow — and it has been a busy first few days. On Wednesday, finance ministers met with international banking institutions and asset managers to discuss how private and public funds could be used to spur climate action. The multi-donor trust Climate Investment Funds, or CIF, launched a new financing mechanism to boost investment in wind and solar energy in the Global South. The United Kingdom promised to mobilize $788 million for developing economies’ energy transition. And the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank announced they would help developing countries raise $8.5 billion for renewable energy. 

One of the most significant commitments came from the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, or GFANZ, made up of more than 450 financial institutions across 45 countries. The group, which represents $130 trillion in assets, pledged to put climate change at the center of its decision-making, with a focus on funding the transition to a net-zero economy. Twenty-nine of its members have committed to reducing their portfolio emissions by up to 30 percent in the next three years. Another 43 have published carbon reduction targets for 2030.

“The architecture of the global financial system has been transformed to deliver net-zero,” Mark Carney, the U.N. special envoy for climate action and finance and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s COP26 finance advisor, said in a statement. “We now have the essential plumbing in place to move climate change from the fringes to the forefront of finance so that every financial decision takes climate change into account.”

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Activists and nonprofits, however, are curbing their enthusiasm, wary of greenwashing by the financial sector. 

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Several recent reports have found that financial institutions are still profiting from fossil fuels and other industries driving climate change, despite publicly saying they are committed to reducing the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Only 10 percent of the $1.1 trillion that equity firms have dumped into energy financing went to climate-related projects, including wind parks and solar ventures. One investigation by the nonprofit Global Witness found that after the Paris Agreement was signed, banks and asset managers like HSBC, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan, and Bank of China, among others, signed deals worth $157 billion with firms accused of destroying tropical forests in the Global South.

“Global leaders can no longer trust financial institutions to regulate themselves,” Veronica Oakeshott, head of forests policy and advocacy at Global Witness, said in a press release. “Banks will not stop funding deforestation unless there is strong and binding legislation that makes it illegal for them to do so.”

Hundreds of activists, many of them with the group Extinction Rebellion, have been marching the streets of Glasgow since Tuesday, asking governments to enforce policies that make sure promises made at COP26 are actually implemented. They are also demanding a halt on financing for the fossil fuel industry. 
“The promises coming out are quite good, but they are still just promises,” Marilyn Spurr, a 74-year-old retired high school teacher and climate activist from England, told the New York Times. “If they step up to the mark, good for them, but so far, we haven’t seen a lot of it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of money being pledged to climate action by the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero.

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