Abstract

Fresh from the COP21 talks, governments have committed to a series of initiatives to address climate change, and the consensus achieved in Paris is an important move forward in the international debate. While not in effect until ratified by the requisite number of nation states over the next 18 months, the agreement nonetheless has the potential to shift our current trajectory in respect of addressing climate change. However, there are powerful countervailing winds within financial markets, particularly structured financial products, and these tendencies, when supported by underlying theories of regulatory oversight, can divert the course of progress towards the COP21 goals. This paper discusses the relationship between financial markets and climate measures, making two principal observations. First, transparency in the form of disclosure is not a sufficient regulatory tool in financial markets to address the challenges that hedging finance may pose in preventing COP21-type measures from being implemented. There continue to be incentive effects that skew market behaviour away from effective climate adaption and mitigation.  Second, investors, particularly institutional investors, have an important role to play in facilitating the generation of a fair wind in corporate approaches to climate change, and in ensuring forceful stewardship aimed at maintaining a course towards long term sustainability. To date, discussions regarding who should bear the cost of climate finance woefully underestimate the role of enterprises in creating climate problems in the first place. Business enterprises have externalized the negative environmental effects of their economic activities for years, in part because of intense pressure to exhibit increased short-term returns to capital market funders. The paper offers some thoughts on immediate actions that could be undertaken to ensure that financial markets align more directly with the public policy goals of climate sustainability.