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A decade on, Temasek's Ecosperity Week tackles nature, blended finance and carbon markets

Jovi Ho and Nicole Lim
Jovi Ho and Nicole Lim • 13 min read
A decade on, Temasek's Ecosperity Week tackles nature, blended finance and carbon markets
Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu kicked off the week by announcing the launch of an emissions registry to aid businesses in their sustainability reporting. Photo: Ecosperity
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The speakers at the 10th edition of Ecosperity Week, Temasek’s annual sustainability-focused conference, included some of the most controversial names in the industry. Over three days, April 15 to 17, a mining giant guilty of destroying sacred land and carbon market players who were accused of fraudulent projects spoke alongside some of the biggest names in finance.  

Last December’s COP28 called for countries to lay the groundwork for a swift, just and equitable transition through urgent emission cuts and scaled-up financing. Through panels, presentations and partner events, Ecosperity Week 2024 furthered the conversation on Southeast Asia’s renewable energy transition, blended finance and voluntary carbon markets.

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu kicked off the week by announcing the launch of an emissions registry to aid businesses in their sustainability reporting. This comes as listed companies and large non-listed companies will be required to issue climate-related disclosures in FY2025 and FY2027 respectively. 

Launched by the Singapore Business Federation in partnership with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, PwC and Singtel, the Singapore Emissions Factors Registry will have a database of “emissions factors” tailored to Singapore’s context. These will translate various business activities into corresponding greenhouse gas emissions. The registry is set to be launched by the end of 2024. 

“By requiring companies to disclose climate-related data, such as carbon emissions, we can increase market transparency and empower businesses to take greater ownership of their sustainability performances,” said Fu. “This data also allows consumers, investors and financiers to make more informed choices in their purchases and investments, directing finance to businesses with strong sustainability practices.”

On the sidelines, a framework to guide private equity climate investing in Asia was launched by Fullerton Fund Management and the United Nations Development Programme. Fullerton is part of Seviora, an asset management group owned by Temasek. 

See also: Qatar raises US$2.5 bil through first-ever green bond

Sustainable finance jobs 

Over the next decade, Asean’s sustainable finance market will amount to between $4 trillion and $5 trillion. More than 50,000 professionals in the financial services sector will face sustainable finance-related tasks. In particular, relationship managers and portfolio managers are among 20 job roles that will need urgent upskilling in sustainability.

That is according to the Sustainable Finance Jobs Transformation Map study conducted by KPMG Singapore. In the study released on April 17, KPMG projects that about 4,000 to 5,000 new sustainable finance-related jobs will be created in Singapore over the next decade. 

See also: MAS, People’s Bank of China further collaboration in green and transition finance

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced on April 17 that it will set aside $35 million to support upskilling, reskilling and the development of specialists in sustainable finance over the next three years. Announced in conjunction with the study’s findings, the amount will go towards the central bank’s Financial Sector Development Fund (FSDF).

Students can also opt for two undergraduate programmes focused on sustainable finance. Nanyang Technological University’s new Bachelor of Accounting in Sustainability Management programme will accept its first cohort in August. Meanwhile, the National University of Singapore will introduce a sustainable finance specialisation within its business school “in the near future”.

For working professionals, more than 65 new executive courses and a new executive masters in sustainable finance will be launched this year by various institutes. 

MAS committed $400 million in grants and funding towards the FSDF in September 2022, when it unveiled its updated Financial Services Industry Transformation Map. That sum will go towards increasing the number of locals taking on more senior jobs within the sector.

Then, MAS projected that the financial sector would grow between 4% and 5% per year from 2021 to 2025, creating between 3,000 and 4,000 jobs each year.

DBS CEO weighs in 

Getting the region to switch to green power is a costly and risky business, said DBS group CEO Piyush Gupta. These include high costs from upgrading grid infrastructure, integrating battery storage with the grid to tackle intermittency issues typical of renewable energy sources and the cost of land to build these renewable energy power plants. 

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Gupta: “It’s a choice between economic development for the people and sustainability. If anybody said that there is no compromise or trade-offs, they’re kidding." Photo: Ecosperity Week

Speaking on a panel on April 15, Gupta also highlighted risk premiums like currency volatility. As political regimes change, there is also uncertainty over the price off-takers would pay, he added. “It’s not easy for advanced countries to put these costs into their budgets.”

Instead, Gupta believes blended finance and the carbon markets offer solutions to enable the private sector to channel funds from the Global North to the Global South. “There are a whole bunch of different issues, which make financing not straightforward,” said Gupta. “Having said that, refinancing is available.”

As at Dec 31, 2023, DBS has committed $70 billion worth of sustainable financing commitments, net of repayments, up 37.3% y-o-y.

“For all countries, it’s sometimes a hard choice,” said Gupta. “It’s a choice between economic development for the people and sustainability. If anybody said that there is no compromise or trade-offs, they’re kidding. If you’re an elected government of a country with a democratic vote, you have to think: ‘What do my people vote for? And therefore, how do I make the trade-off work in a sensible way?’” 

Don’t forget about mining: Rio Tinto chairman 

Falling investments in the global mining sector are putting the global energy transition at risk, said Rio Tinto chairman Dominic Barton on a critical minerals panel. Minerals like copper have seen a widening supply gap, driving up prices amid geopolitical uncertainty. 

These minerals are at the cornerstone of the renewable energy transition, as they form key components in wind turbines, electrical grids and electric vehicles. But their supply hinges on the mining industry’s reckoning with their social and environmental practices. 

Barton: It was just terrible, it was deeply embarrassing and it had very significant consequences. Photo: Ecosperity Week

Some years ago, British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto was mired in a series of sexual harassment scandals. Its controversies also extended to environmental issues. Barton took over as chairman in 2022 after Rio Tinto was caught destroying 46,000-year-old rock shelters in Western Australia, which were considered sacred by Aboriginal communities. “It was just terrible; it was deeply embarrassing and it had very significant consequences,” said Barton.

Barton, who is also chairman of impact investor LeapFrog Investments, spoke about the company’s need for transparency in a bid to build trust and persuade the public of the role it plays in decarbonisation. “The challenge for the industry is to be seen as part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

Nature in focus 

Under the theme of “Renewing our vibrant spring”, nature featured prominently in this year’s main conference. Razan Al Mubarak, president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, urged delegates to boost investment in nature-based solutions and integrate nature into climate transition plans.

In her recorded opening address, the UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28 told attendees to adopt deforestation policies and science-based targets. “Assess and disclose your impacts and your dependencies on nature. The standards and frameworks now exist to enable action and incorporate these considerations in investment processes.”

Razan Al Mubarak, president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, urged delegates to boost investment in nature-based solutions and integrate nature into climate transition plans. Photo: Ecosperity Week

The most prominent standard comes from the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), which published in September 2023 its inaugural risk management and disclosure framework.

Emily McKenzie, technical director at the TNFD, said there is “increasing recognition” that nature risks are “no longer a corporate social responsibility issue”. “This is a central, core risk management issue, just like climate change, and it needs to come to the heart of strategy, of governance and risk and opportunity management.”

The TNFD framework’s 14 disclosure recommendations are divided across four pillars — governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets. They aim to inform better decision-making by companies and capital providers, and ultimately contribute to a shift in global financial flows towards “nature-positive outcomes”. 

By January in Davos, there were already 320 early adopters, said McKenzie. “I’m delighted by the uptake in this region — 42% of those early adopters are in Asia, with very strong uptake in Japan.”

Singapore-listed food and agri-business Olam Group was one of the first movers in Singapore. Olam Agri has committed to release TNFD-aligned disclosures by 2025. Sunny Verghese, CEO of Olam International VC2 -

, said: “Nature is not external to us, for businesses, for economies, for societies and communities [and] for the financial systems. Nature is embedded and intrinsic to this.”

Verghese’s comments reveal how quickly the conversation has progressed in a matter of years. A video aired on April 15 commemorating 10 years of Ecosperity Week conferences included his comments from 2021, where he said executives like him had committed to emissions reduction targets, but “not one of us has a clue of how we are going to get there”. Today, those targets have advanced from counting emissions to accounting for nature.

Carbon players bounce back 

That said, corporates may be more interested in nature-based solutions and the issuance of carbon credits. GenZero, Temasek’s decarbonisation-focused investment firm, held the second edition of the GenZero Climate Summit as a partner event to Ecosperity Week, featuring panels on the carbon markets, climate tech and legal developments within the sector. 

On April 17, Swiss carbon finance consultancy South Pole partnered its minority investor GenZero to launch the Asia Centre of Carbon Excellence (ACCE), with support from the Singapore Economic Development Board.

“We start with organic growth,” says Davis in response to queries from The Edge Singapore. “We are not going to, all of a sudden, have 50 people in it. It will be in line with where we see the markets going. We will also train people in Singapore.” Photo: GenZero

The ACCE will focus on thought leadership and policy advisory, collaborating with regional corporations and governments to explore carbon projects in Asia and globally.

South Pole did not participate in GenZero’s main conference on April 16, which saw an afternoon of panels featuring fellow carbon market players Verra and Gold Standard, as well as representatives from the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM) and the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI).

Last year, a slew of media exposés accused these carbon credit players of overstating the actual environmental impact of their products. Key players are now looking to rehabilitate their image after the CEOs of Verra and South Pole both resigned in 2023.

Margaret Kim, CEO of Gold Standard since 2019, veered on the defensive in her opening keynote, saying it is the “entire ecosystem that has to change, from supply to demand”. “We love debating over things. We love clickbait titles. But are we doing this to put positive pressure on actors to act with high integrity? Or are we doing it because it’s just human nature to debate?”

Kim: We love debating over things. We love clickbait titles. But are we doing this to put positive pressure on actors to act with high integrity? Or are we doing it because it’s just human nature to debate?” Photo: The Edge Singapore

In a subsequent panel, representatives from VCMI and ICVCM managed to evade a question about the Science Based Targets initiative’s (SBTi) controversial move earlier this month to approve carbon credits for Scope 3 emissions.

SBTi, formed after the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, is considered the most stringent criterion. Companies with SBTi-validated targets are said to be aligned with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Until April, the SBTi had not allowed companies to use carbon credits to offset their emissions.

The ICVCM focuses on the sellers in the voluntary carbon market, and — through a new benchmark launched in April — validates the integrity of carbon credit certifiers like Gold Standard and ACR, formerly the American Carbon Registry. 

Meanwhile, the VCMI focuses on the buyers, and is involved with the integrity of the claims made by individuals and businesses buying carbon credits.

Mark Kenber, executive director at VCMI, acknowledged that “there’s been a lot of turmoil in the carbon markets over the last year because of scrutiny of projects”. “We welcome that; we need that scrutiny, if that makes us all perform better. It enables people to see where things are failing, but also where things are succeeding.”

But he added: “The press, of course, don’t publish the stories about ‘This was a great project’ because it’s not as newsworthy.”

Philanthropy takes centrestage 

Temasek Trust’s Philanthropy Asia Alliance (PAA) moved its annual Philanthropy Asia Summit ahead to coincide with Ecosperity Week this year. The fourth edition was held just six months after the previous summit, during which PAA was formally launched, said CEO Lim Seok Hui in her welcome remarks.

On the opening day, the conference unveiled a new digital impact marketplace initiated by Temasek Trust. It showcases a pipeline of early-stage businesses, charitable organisations and blended finance projects with “strong impact potential”. 

Temasek Trust, DBS Foundation and UBS Optimus Foundation announced on April 15 their strategic partnership to build Co-Axis, a “digital catalytic capital marketplace” that currently features over 70 curated impact opportunities from more than 40 countries.

By connecting them to funders like family offices, corporate entities, philanthropists, high-net-worth individuals and private foundations, the platform aims to help scale impact innovations that are tackling global sustainability challenges.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair received top billing at the conference, where he spoke about his work at the non-profit Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. “Government, in the end, has so much more power than anyone else, if it uses that power constructively. What philanthropy can do is work alongside the government to show it what could work and then can partner with at the local level in order to introduce change.”

The best philanthropy, according to Blair, is the philanthropy that “in the end, is sustainable over time, even when the philanthropic dollars stop”. “In other words, it introduces systemic change.”

Blair — post-war UK’s second-longest-serving prime minister after Margaret Thatcher — also quipped about his decade at Downing Street, which ended in 2007. “Ten years is quite a long time to be in government. I always say to people that you start at your most popular and least capable, and then you end at your most capable and your least popular.”

Read our coverage of Ecosperity Week 2024 here:

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