Finance CEOs to Stay Home During U.N. Climate Summit

Top-level finance executives are skipping this year’s COP 27 climate summit, but their absence may mean absolutely nothing, some say.

BlackRock Inc. and Citigroup Inc., for instance, are not sending their Chief Executive Officers to the U.N. conference in Egypt, according to Bloomberg. Instead, senior delegations will attend.

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“One thing is whether you come to a conference, the other is whether you’re delivering on the commitments that you made,” said Alok Sharma, a former British official who headed last year’s climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland.

Every five years, countries introduce climate targets, so these meetings are consequential. The Glasgow conference garnered commitments to curb emissions, many of them grouped under the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, or GFANZ, an umbrella coalition of financial firms with roughly $130 trillion in assets.

Investors and other members of the private sector do not participate in the formal negotiating process that occurs at the conferences. And, this year, the agenda is technical, focusing on issues that affect developing economies, including climate justice and resilience.

“Last year was the commitment COP, and this year is the implementation COP,” said Kirsten Snow Spalding, Senior Program Director of Ceres Investor Network, which works with asset managers such as BlackRock. “Top CEOs make commitments and their staff implement. And so, for me, that’s reason enough why we’re seeing a different group of people coming.”

The summit will begin a day after the U.S. midterm elections. Republican officials and attorneys general have targeted BlackRock for incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks into its investment decisions, saying the policies are hostile to oil and gas companies, whom they support. BlackRock has defended its approach to sustainable investing and said it doesn’t tell companies what or how to meet net-zero targets.

“There’s a number of dynamics that I think it’s important to understand,” said Alden Meyer, Senior Associate at the climate think tank E3G. “I think all the indications are they see this as critical to their future not only in terms of complying with what governments are demanding, but what their shareholders, their financial partners, their suppliers and customers and, probably most importantly, their employees, are demanding.”