Changemakers for the future

Jeanne Martin, ShareAction

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combatting climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Jeanne Martin, Senior Campaign Manager at ShareAction.

‘Governments must incentivise the financial sector to act on climate now’

I can’t remember when I started knowing and caring about climate change as my parents have both been active in the field since I was a young kid. My dad is a physicist and my mum is a biologist. Together, they wrote an article back in the 1990s showing the impact climate change would have on the spread of malaria. That article was included in some of the initial IPCC publications.

Representing UK youth at COP22
I studied for a BSc in Environmental Policy and Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. We learned all about the UN climate talks. It felt a bit dry, and it was hard to imagine what it was like in real life. Then in 2016 an opportunity came up to attend the UN climate talks as a youth representative. I applied and got selected to attend the annual UN climate talks at the 2016 UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) in Marrakesh.

One of the key priorities of the UK youth delegates was to establish a relationship with the UK government delegation to influence them on important issues such as national climate education. Countries that have signed the Paris Agreement are asked to appoint a national Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) focal point, in charge of devising that country’s climate education programme. We noticed that the UK government didn’t have one.

As youth representatives, we understood how important it is to make people aware of the root causes of climate change and what can be done to address it early on in their lives. We had positive engagements with the UK government delegation and ran a public campaign to convince them to appoint a candidate of our choice to be the UK ACE focal point. Less than a year later, the UK appointed the person we’d recommended to the role. That was a moment I felt I was having an impact.

Agreement with a bank
A recent ShareAction success story is what we achieved at HSBC. We’d been engaging with HSBC since 2016 on its climate strategy. Our conversations covered a lot of elements, although a key focus of ours has always been the bank’s exposure to the coal sector and the fact that its coal policy was lagging behind that of its European peers.

Throughout the years, we started escalating our engagement with the bank. First, we attended its AGM. Then we coordinated an investor-backed letter in 2019, which asked the bank to phase out from coal and stop financing coal companies and projects across the world. Whilst the bank responded to our letter, it only implemented one of the asks. We felt this didn’t go nearly far enough, which is why we decided to file a shareholder resolution.

Despite being filed after the bank’s net-zero announcement, the ask made in the resolution clearly resonated with investors because we ended up filing it with a group of 15 institutional investors and 130+ retail investors. Together they represented US$2.4 trillion in assets, involving leading asset owners and managers from across Europe.

The resolution asked HSBC to reduce exposure to fossil fuel assets, starting with coal, and align with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Our conversation really accelerated after we filed, and we ended up in the position where we could find an agreement with the bank. We decided to withdraw our resolution in exchange for HSBC committing to phase out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and in the rest of the world by 2040, and to set emission reduction targets aligned with the 1.5⁰C goal. These commitments marked a really big milestone for the bank.

Our engagement is not over yet. The bank has until the end of the year to publish a new coal policy and targets for its power and oil and gas portfolios. ShareAction and the co-filers of the original resolution are engaging with them on the details of these commitments. We have made it clear that we would be back if we were unsatisfied with its progress.

Equity must underpin everything
Attending the UN climate talks in 2016 was an amazing experience, and I learned so much. But it was also very depressing. I thought there would be urgency in the discussions. In the first session I attended, parties spent an hour and a half debating whether a comma was needed in some bit of text.

If I had the chance to speak up again at COP26, my first message would be that equity has to underpin everything that is agreed on. Richer countries must take responsibility for their historical emissions and help more vulnerable countries build their resilience to climate-related risks. My second message would be to phase out fossil fuel subsidies because they distort the markets. Countries like to talk about market-based mechanisms and how the market will solve a lot of our ills. But they are always reluctant to fix one of the biggest market distortions—indirect and direct fossil fuel subsidies!

My third message is that we need a space free of any harmful lobbying on climate change. And last but not least: governments must incentivise the financial sector to act on climate now. What measures will ensure financial institutions act in line with science and take responsibility for the emissions embedded in their financing?

Hopes for the future
My biggest source of hope comes from the School Strikes for Climate. They haven’t died down because of COVID-19. The energy and the presence of Fridays for the Future really helps energise people to act and hold decision-makers and powerful actors to account.

Recently, they launched a campaign targeting Standard Chartered’s financing of the coal industry. Together they are helping bring to light an issue that is not talked about enough and not always accessible to people that don’t work in the climate space—the banks’ huge responsibility to help society achieve the 1.5⁰C goal.

Jeanne Martin is the Senior Campaign Manager at ShareAction. Jeanne joined ShareAction in 2017 as AGM coordinator.

ShareAction is a responsible investment charity with a mission to turn the investment system into a force for good. The IKEA Foundation is partnering with ShareAction because we believe that their independent and critical view strengthens both mandatory and voluntary action by the financial sector, which is crucial to protecting our planet and its people.

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