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Finance should be used to set Europe's economy on the path to sustainability

Participants in a hearing on sustainable finance, organised by the EESC on 5 June 2018 in Brussels, explain how to move forward in order to redirect capital flows towards more sustainable investment projects

Representatives of civil society organisations, bank associations, academia and EU institutions gathered in Brussels to take part in a hearing on financing sustainable growth in Europe. Robin Edme, Senior Policy Officer for Green, Responsible and Sustainable Finance at the European Commission, set the stage for the debate with his presentation of the Action Plan on Sustainable Finance unveiled by the Commission in March 2018. The first concrete legislative proposals stemming from the Action Plan aim to: create a common understanding or taxonomy to define what sustainable assets are; establish EU labels for green financial products which would allow investors to easily identify low-carbon and green investment opportunities; clarify institutional investor duties to consider sustainability in the investment process; and encourage more transparent corporate reporting when it comes to sustainability-related activities. "It is essential that we hold consultations with a broad range of stakeholders, not only the financial actors but also savers and civil society," underlined Robin Edme, emphasising the need for broad ownership of the Sustainable Finance project.

"Clear standards and labelling are needed for financial products," said Flavia Micilotta, Executive Manager of the European Sustainable Investment Forum (Eurosif) when addressing the importance of the taxonomy which would serve as a EU classification system for sustainable activities. She also stressed the need to incorporate environmental, social and corporate governance factors into investors' duties.    

The EESC rapporteur on the topic, Carlos Trias Pintó, emphasised the important role of the European Supervisory Authorities in monitoring sustainability and ensuring that it was consistent. He also pointed out the need for a holistic approach towards sustainability.

"We can use the power of finance to create a sustainable future for us and for our children," said MEP Molly Scott Cato, who is the rapporteur for the European Parliament's own-initiative report on sustainable finance. She pointed out that defining what sustainable financial products are should go hand in hand with a "black list" of what should not be included in a sustainable financial product. In her view, this latter element was missing from the Commission's Action Plan. 

"We represent 4 000 banks from 33 countries," said Wim Mijs, CEO of the European Banking Federation (EBF), and pointed out that sustainable finance was one of the EBF´s four priorities. Mr Mijs added that "Sustainable finance is not a niche - it is the new mainstream". 

The EESC members participating in the hearing pointed out the need to promote financial literacy for all age groups in the EU in order to help them understand how finance works and to make more informed and sustainable investment choices. They also stressed the fact that the financial system should be more transparent and understandable for the EU's citizens. There was general agreement in the debate that public policies needed to be adapted and private actors to be encouraged in order to replace the current short-termism in the economy through sustainable growth and a long-term approach.

The outcomes of the hearing on sustainable finance will feed into the EESC's opinion on this topic, requested by the Commission and which is expected to be presented at the EESC's plenary session in September 2018.