3 years of the Principles for Responsible Banking: our vision for change – United Nations Environment – Finance Initiative – UNEP Finance Initiative

Our vision for the future

System change for the entire economy, ensuring we have an economic system that benefits people and planet.

Over the past decade, major crises including climate change, nature loss, pollution and social issues have climbed the international policy and business agenda. From the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to the gathering speed of the net zero financial alliances, and global movements to further gender and racial equality, we have seen the world come together to tackle these crises.

Banks across the world have the collective power to drive impactful change. Through their lending and investment activities, and their relationships with clients across the global economy, the banking community can accelerate the transition to a system that benefits people and planet, while maintaining a high level of profitability.

Delivering the vision the Principles for Responsible Banking

The Principles for Responsible Banking

The Principles is a mechanism that enables banks to align their core strategy, governance, lending and investment with what the world needs as identified by international agreements and norms such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. By signing up, banks are committing to align their strategy and business practice with global and local climate and sustainability goals. They set and deliver on SMART and ambitious targets to align their lending portfolio, products and services with the vision society has set out for its future. By sharing learnings, resources and guidance, members are accelerating action on important issues that benefit communities and the environment.

Advancing actions — achievements to date

Since its inception in 2019, membership of the Principles has doubled to 300 signatory banks, collectively representing nearly half of global banking assets. This makes it the world’s foremost sustainable banking framework.

Delivering actions on material issues

Through collaboration, knowledge sharing and innovation across multiple geographies and economic contexts, banks are making meaningful progress that is already delivering real change in our economy and society.

Signatories of the Principles have begun to analyse their impact in key topic areas and are starting to address these impacts by setting targets aligned to global norms and expectations. Action is most advanced in climate mitigation and financial inclusion. Signatories are analysing the carbon intensity of their activities and portfolios and setting science-based targets that align their operations and assets to a 1.5ºC warming scenario. The Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), established last year, now has 43 member banks and is already leading work on climate mitigation. The first annual report on the Alliance’s progress and its target setting protocol will be published at COP27. Examples of action already taken by member banks is listed in the guidance document.

Pioneering action on other, unexplored topics

Signatories of the Principles are also collaborating to take action in other areas, exploring and defining the role of banks in addressing complex topics that were not previously considered material to the financial sector. Together, they are exploring how banks can meaningfully address biodiversity loss, improve resource efficiency and promote social impact, developing guidance and new frameworks that inform action on these topics across the sector.

Strong accountability embedded within the framework

What makes the Principles particularly unique is the robust framework that continuously reviews both its members’ achievements and its working process. This ensures the Principles are constantly evolving and are fulfilling the needs of people and planet. On an annual basis, signatories receive individual feedback from UNEP FI on their strategy and compliance with the Principles’ aims, with areas for improvement identified for each member. Alongside this, the framework itself is also reviewed, with the first review process having been undertaken this year. Led by UNEP FI, review processes also incorporate the views and expertise of a Civil Society Advisory Board and banking board to ensure subsequent actions are appropriate for banking and societal needs.

Looking to the future

The Principles and its signatories will be accelerating the pace and scale of action to deliver real change within our economic system. The launch of the Principles for Responsible Banking Academy by UNEP FI in October will be a unique training academy to enable signatories and banks from around the world to stay at the cutting edge of sustainable finance as well as upskilling their employees and stakeholders.

This will be complemented by the release of a discussion paper addressing adaptation to a changing climate, aiming to accelerate action by banks in this area. The paper will provide guidance to member banks to operationalise adaptation measures, aligning to best practice. It will also include an anonymised, aggregate view of the state of play, having surveyed and interviewed signatories.

With the Framework review incorporating human rights as a social issue, measurement and action to address these issues will be an increasing focus for signatories. The Framework review has also resulted in common indicators for measuring signatories’ progress addressing financial health and inclusion.

Nature is an increasingly important topic for the financial sector, and the launch of the Principles’ Biodiversity Community will enable signatories to learn more about the intersection between biodiversity and their core business. This community will share insight and best practice to enable banks to be at the cutting edge of action in this area.

The Principles will continue to support signatories as they take action, and work at the forefront of change to ensure our vision for the future isrealised – system change for the entire economy, ensuring we have an economic system that benefits people and planet.

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