The End, but Not Goodbye: UN Environment Inquiry Bids Adieu

So it is true, all good things must come to an end—but this does not mean farewell. The Paulson Institute congratulates the UN Environment Programme Inquiry: Design of a Sustainable Financial System and its dedicated team on completing its mission. We truly look forward to continuing to work with the team on advancing the green finance dialogue internationally—and especially in China.

Warmly known as the Inquiry, the initiative has been exceptionally impactful during its limited time in shaping the narrative of greening the international financial system and in sparking a collective effort to transform green finance from a niche topic to a global movement—a revolution of sorts. The Inquiry began in January 2014 as a part of the UN Environment Programme’s program of work to explore the opportunities and challenges in encouraging the international financial system in support of a green and inclusive economy. With this mandate, the Inquiry focused on rules, frameworks, policies, and tools of the international financial system in a great undertaking to provide innovative options for the design of a sustainable financial system.

In the four years of its existence, the Inquiry team has worked a painstaking number of hours and accumulated countless airline miles (probably enough to gain status for life) in pursuit of fulfilling its mission. Some of the Inquiry’s achievements include developing an extensive body of research and analysis that is represented in over 120 reports, which is about 30 reports a year since inception, and working substantively with about 20 countries around the world across the development spectrum to green their financial systems, such as China, Italy, and Kenya. It worked internationally and bilaterally to advance the dialogue around green finance, such as managing the secretariat of the G20 Sustainable Finance Study Group and cooperating with specific country-level partners like the People’s Bank of China.

What does this all mean? What did the reports do? The Inquiry was successful in building the global coalition around the need for systemic change in the financial system to incorporate green and sustainable development goals. A number of market innovations, national policies, and collective initiatives were identified for key stakeholders across the globe to provide the linkages and synergies to push forward the green finance agenda. Quite the achievement in four years—the same short time it takes one to finish high school, to wait for the next summer Olympic Games, and to go to the polls to vote for the President of the free world.

Despite its dissolution, the spirit and energies of the Inquiry live on. And it must, as there is still much work to be done to mainstream green finance. While the Inquiry was able to achieve much in its four-year tenure, some gaps were not tackled—consensus building, developing definitive recommendations, and developing a blueprint for a sustainable financial system to name a few. Arguably, these are more medium and long-term objectives, but the Inquiry has certainly laid the groundwork for future progress.

The Inquiry was a leader, convener, and partner for green finance. It will be the end of an era, in a sense, but no swansong needed here as the Inquiry has successfully convinced us that there is a need for green finance and the conversation must continue. Its work will be sustained in five work streams: digital finance, G20, financial centers, insurance supervision, and V20. The Paulson Institute is an advisory board member of the Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance that seeks to fulfill the Inquiry’s digital finance agenda and we look forward to furthering the Inquiry’s work in this area.

Let us all eagerly await how the green finance transformation incited by the Inquiry develops. We wish all the members of the Inquiry well in their next endeavors, and hope that we have a chance to continue to work with them in this important mission.

Explore the Inquiry’s publications here and read the latest sustainable finance insights in their final report. Get to know more about the Inquiry’s co-director in The Green Team Speaks to…SIMON ZADEK.