Rachel Pine looks forward to our ground-breaking new conference.
The PLSA’s first ESG Conference was prompted by our fund members – corporate DB and DC pensions, master trusts and public sector schemes including the LGPS - telling us that ESG was at the very top of their priority lists, pushed there by new, tougher regulations, stakeholder pressure and a growing sense of unease about the world’s ills. The concerns go beyond climate change, encompassing social inequality, threats to biodiversity and natural capital, the inclusion of diverse groups of people in decision-making, and a need to build back not just better, but fairer, after the Covid pandemic. At the same time our business members – asset managers, consultancies, law firms and others – adjusted their business models when governments around the world took up the sustainability mantle, understanding that cooperation and leadership were critical ingredients for a peaceful and prosperous existence.
Regulation has put paid to the idea that pensions investment and climate change mitigation are divergent activities, and that boards risk betraying their fiduciary duty to scheme members if they invest in a climate-positive way.
In the wake of all this change, which came rapidly and continues to evolve, is a growing need for clear, unbiased, practical information. The ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘why’ are decided, the ‘how’ looms large, and the ‘who’ is all of us.
The conference programme swelled from two to three days, as fund and business members alike told us about the areas they wanted to learn and teach about, and attendee registration goals were set and reset, as audience numbers continued to climb. We have 645 attendees and 175 schemes registered as we go to press. We received word that HRH the Prince of Wales – an early, passionate voice for sustainability – would provide our attendees with a message on the opening day. As the conference takes place during London Climate Action Week 2021, it coincides with the publication of the government’s framework for its green gilt issuance – the UK’s first green sovereign bond, planned as the first of many. John Glen MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury and the Minister responsible for green finance, is a speaker.
Our programme is varied and covers many topics of interest to all of our members, including transitioning investments out of fossil fuels and into renewables, impact investment, the burgeoning market in carbon credits, asset stewardship and responsible ownership, to name just a few. We’ll look carefully at the TCFD for pensions regulation that comes into effect for larger schemes in just a few months’ time, and at the definitions, terminology and nomenclature that seek to enlighten – but often succeed only in confounding so many of us.
We’re very excited about the ‘stardust’ speakers that are joining us this year. For the foodies among us, chef and food activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall explores the relationship between what we eat and its impact on the climate; noted disruptor Leo Johnson, co-host of the BBC’s ‘Future Proofing’ radio series (and youngest sibling of those Johnsons) leads us on a tour of the society-shaping ideas we’re sure to hear more about in the future; and space scientist and broadcaster Maggie Aderin-Pocock turns her lens to the science behind diversity, widening the focus for us all.
We’re looking forward not just to ESG21, but to hearing your impressions of it, the topics you’d like us to explore more deeply, and the speakers from whom you’d like to hear in future.
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