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Across the world, a quiet revolution is underway in public policy and private institutional innovations for a more sustainable global financial system. A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), The Financial System We Need, captures this momentum to harness the world’s financial system for the transition to a low-carbon, green economy.

Following the launch in 2015 of the Sustainable Development Goals, along with the successful Paris climate agreement, 2016 looks set to be the ‘year of green finance,’ focusing on the operational measures needed to mobilize the trillions of dollars required for the transition. Spearheading this movement, China intends to place a special focus on green finance in 2016 under its G20 presidency. The United States now has an historic opportunity to advance leadership on green finance internationally, as well as to scale-up domestic innovations already in place. Carnegie convened leading experts from the UNEP Inquiry as well as from the U.S. government to discuss the future of green finance.

Discussion Highlights

  • Financial vs Real Economy: In a broad presentation of the main trends mapped in fifteen country studies carried out by the Inquiry, Simon Zadek argued that shaping the financial economy with an eye to the needs of the real economy can be a tool not only for addressing the climate crisis but also to more generally promote sustainable and equitable economic development.
  • Potential U.S. Role: The panelists considered the U.S. role in realizing the harmonization of “green” reforms and financial reforms, recognizing that Washington could both lead the way with regulatory approaches and learn from other reform-oriented leaders. For example, the role of central banks is changing as financial stability becomes more intertwined with long-term value drivers like climate change.
  • Moving the Conversation Forward: The UNEP Inquiry’s work is only a first step in bringing the conversation on green finance into new venues, such as the G20’s Green Finance Study Group meeting this year.


John Lipsky

John Lipsky was the first deputy managing director at the IMF from 2006 to 2011 and currently serves as an advisor to the UNEP Inquiry.

David Livingston

David Livingston is an associate in Carnegie’s Energy and Climate Program.

Leonardo Martinez-Diaz

Leonardo Martinez-Diaz is currently serving as the deputy assistant secretary for environment and energy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Michelle Patron

Michelle Patron served as special assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama and senior director for energy and climate on the U.S. National Security Council from 2013 to 2015.

Griffin Thompson

Griffin Thompson is currently director of the Office of Electricity and Energy Efficiency at the U.S. Department of State and serves as an adjunct professor for Georgetown University.

Simon Zadek

Simon Zadek is co-director of the UNEP Inquiry and a senior fellow at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.