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16 October 2019

Is sustainable finance gender neutral? by Eleni Kanelli & Susanna Di Feliciantonio

In his last address to the UN General Assembly, European Council President Donald Tusk, stressed his hope that Europe will win the race to become the world’s first carbon-neutral continent.  All signs suggest that the EU will be seeking to accelerate the continent’s green transition. And it is a woman – Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen – who will be in the driving seat.  

So, it felt opportune for Accountancy Europe and ICAEW’s Women in EU Finance network to come together as the – markedly green – portfolios of the first gender-balanced college of Commissioners were announcedto question whether a key plank of the Commission’s agenda in this area – sustainable finance action plan – is gender neutral.  

Beyond green

As participants at our event noted, while sustainable finance often gets put in the green box, it is critical not to lose sight of the other elements of sustainability. Attempts to enhance corporate disclosures have often seemed to focus on the “E” rather than the “S” and the “G”, when it comes to  transparency on environmental, social and governance (ESG) indicatorsIs it time to rebalance?. 

Is it justified to prioritise the environment?

With time running out to address with the climate and biodiversity crises before change is irreversible, is now the right time to rebalance? Are social and governance considerations, including as they impact women, ‘second-place’ to the need to tackle the environmental dimension? Actually no, according to our panellists. A more holistic approach to change is needed – and this must be based on better mainstreaming of gender considerations in policymaking. 

Focusing on climate change, there is compelling evidence that people may be impacted differently, according to their socioeconomic circumstances as well as their age and gender. As noted by the UN, climate change is likely to impact most vulnerable sections of society and exacerbate existing inequalities, both in developed and developing countries. This means women. But while it is important that policymakers take account of the different vulnerabilities that women face from climate change, it is equally critical that they are aware of the role women can play in mitigating risks and building resilience.   

Diversity for sustainability

From a business perspective, this calls for greater diversity across organisations – top to bottom. More diverse boards and senior management teams benefit from a broader spectrum of skills, knowledge and creativity to find better solutions: all necessary to speed up the adoption of pro-sustainable business behaviour. In the financial services world, this also means helping re-orient investments towards more sustainable economic activities 

Accountants have a key role to play in helping companies understand and reduce their environmental footprint while also enhancing gender equality, from improving how companies report non-financial information to providing independent assurance that such information is trustworthy.   

Involving everyone

The EU’s sustainable finance action plan will play a key part in helping the continent achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the commitments made under the Paris Climate Agreement. These global goals have an explicit gender dimension – gender equality is the 5th SDG and gender responsive action is embedded in the Paris Agreement. Ultimately, however, it appears self-evident that for humanity to meet the challenges ahead, both halves of the population – male and female – need to be empowered to act.   

Want to learn more?

Sign up for Accountancy Europe’s Sustainability Update and for ICAEW’s other Women in EU Finance Network events and their LinkedIn group. 

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