Sensing a tipping point — 250 meters above Manhattan

Idsert Boersma Director Partnerships for Impact at FMO

There are moments in life when you sense something is happening with deeper significance than the immediate event itself.

Back in September 2019, before the days of travel restrictions, I was in New York for the annual UN Climate Week. One afternoon, colleagues from the EDFI (Association of European Development Finance Institutions) and I had a meeting arranged with the newly-formed CFLI (Climate Finance Leadership Initiative).

Set up by Mr. Bloomberg, the CFLI brought together some of the world’s leading commercial banks and asset owners to mobilize and scale private capital for climate solutions. The meeting was to discuss a partnership being launched between EDFI and CFLI, exactly the sort of public-private collaboration vital to close the climate finance gap in emerging markets. So the event itself was, by any measure, significant enough.

The meeting was in Bloomberg Tower, a skyscraper that rises nearly 250 meters above midtown Manhattan. I took the elevator before being led into a room with spectacular views of the city. And looking out over New York, arguably the epicentre of global capitalism, I felt it in my bones, the world was changing!

We were meeting with some 20 people representing organisations with trillions to invest. A decade earlier these elegantly-dressed, sharp-minded financiers wouldn’t even have considered meeting with European development banks. But now we were guests of honour. They were eager to hear our ideas on financing innovative climate solutions. And open: one admitted that when a wealthy client had said he wanted to invest in SDG 13, he’d had to look up what exactly the SDGs were. Another described how he saw the SDGs as a collective vision for the world that gives basic rights to a decent life for everybody on our planet.

I was shocked, in a very positive sense. And excited. After all, it will take a year-on-year investment of over $2 trillion to meet the SDGs, and that can only happen if major investment players become genuinely interested in investing in emerging markets.

Two hours later, I took one of former Mayor Bloomberg’s initiated Citi bikes to a bar for snacks and drinks with the people from CFLI. On the way, I wondered about their motivation. Did they want to save the planet, safeguard a bright future for their children, or were some only interested because they saw such investments as financially smart? Dodging a pothole in the road, I thought ‘Who cares? It’s not my place to judge and anyway, it’s the outcome that counts!”

“A decade earlier these elegantly-dressed, sharp-minded financiers wouldn’t even have considered meeting with European development banks.”

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