Banking on a Future Fit for Life: Unpacking Climate Finance in the Gulf
The Significance of COP28
As the world grapples with the existential threat of climate change, all eyes are set on the United Nations’ 28th annual climate conference—COP28—scheduled to kick off on November 30th, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE, a global nexus for commerce, technology, and innovation, stands as an emblematic host, though not without its detractors.
With ongoing efforts to metamorphose into an economy driven by clean energy and technological ingenuity, the UAE aims to catalyse actionable dialogue and consensus at COP28. The climate finance agenda set at COP28 has broad implications, extending its relevance to Asia and beyond.
The COP28 Wake-up Call
The forthcoming COP28 isn’t just another diplomatic gathering; it’s a critical juncture in humanity’s fight against climate change.
Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the President-Designate of COP28 and the UAE’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, has laid the groundwork with a clarion call for “holistic action” to expedite climate finance. His message holds particular significance for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States, given their economic dynamics and the pivotal role they can play in global climate finance. But it also resonates globally, extending its relevance to Asian financial institutions.
The Gulf’s Dilemma: Progress and Paradox
The urgency of climate action is echoed in the global financial sector, with 133 of the world’s largest banks, representing 41% of global banking assets, already committed to setting net-zero targets via UNEP-FI’s Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA). This global initiative highlights finance’s transformative power in achieving a sustainable future while emphasising the need for continued progress.
While GCC banks have made strides in areas like governance and social responsibility, the region’s climate finance initiatives are still in their nascent stages. Surprisingly, First Abu Dhabi Bank stands as the lone GCC participant in the NZBA. This raises critical questions about the Gulf’s position in this sphere and offers a moment for introspection, especially when compared to their Asian counterparts – over 20 of whom have joined the NZBA.
Bringing Climate Finance to Life in Asia
Leading Asian banks provide a model for sustainable finance initiatives in the GCC. DBS, the first Singaporean bank to become a signatory to the NZBA, is a prime example of how technical credibility and tailored communications can come together to make climate finance an opportunity for both environmental impact and brand differentiation.
With transparency in mind, the bank has published a detailed net zero plan describing its specific decarbonisation targets, and the levers they’ll use to achieve them, across multiple carbon-intensive sectors. Transparent communications of this type help build credibility into the corporate brand, while also serving as a helpful reference point for other banks on their own decarbonisation journeys.
But while these technical targets largely apply to corporate banking at DBS, the firm has invested in communicating its plans in ways that resonate more broadly – helping the brand stand out among a diverse group of stakeholders. Video content describes the bank’s net zero strategies and even some of its detailed sectoral plans, in plain language. Reducing complexity in this way can help colleagues across the business, in particular, understand why and how DBS is prioritising decarbonisation.
Perhaps most impactful, “Portraits of Purpose” share stories of some of the bank’s partners on its net zero journey through engaging case studies and video content. From solar projects that DBS helped finance to the electrification of vehicles used to transport cash from its branch locations, the vignettes bring the bank’s commitment to life. By highlighting the human stories behind decarbonisation, the bank’s various stakeholders can more easily find the meaning behind its plans, spurring collective action to contribute.
A New Paradigm
As COP28 looms on the horizon, it amplifies an inconvenient truth: GCC banks are trailing in the global climate finance race.
In a sector where institutions like DBS and leading Asian banks are setting the pace, the relative inaction of GCC banks could easily invite criticism. They can either continue along the path of traditional finance, or they can pivot, seizing the unparalleled opportunity to lead in sustainable and climate finance. Through strategic initiatives ranging from renewable energy to net-zero building projects, GCC banks can set a global precedent should they choose to.
Yet, it’s not a moment for reprimand but for realisation. These banks are deeply embedded in economies that significantly fuel the climate crisis. While this presents a glaring issue, it also unveils an untapped wellspring of influence. GCC banks need not be just spectators in the arena of climate change; they can be pivotal players with the power to enact transformative shifts in sectors most resistant to change.
As we approach COP28, let’s reframe the narrative. The call to action isn’t an indictment but an opportunity —an opportunity to wield their considerable influence not as a sword of Damocles hanging over the planet but as a lever for unprecedented positive impact.
We’ve exhausted our time for finger-pointing. Now is the time to galvanise collective action. For GCC banks, the path ahead is clear: seize this moment to transition from climate finance bystanders to proactive change agents. The window of opportunity is narrow, but the potential for transformative impact is immense.