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ING | Reflections of Climate Week NYC Shifting from Talk to Action

Remarks by Gerald Walker, CEO of ING, Americas |

Somewhat surprisingly, Climate Week NYC received relatively limited attention in the mainstream media last week.  The event saw the same familiar themes – reiterating the actions that need to be taken to stem the continued negative impact of climate change. But was there more than just the same old? Yes, a little: there were some encouraging movements at the government level – and one very important call to action in the business world.

More than 60 CFOs from large international companies including ABInBev, Enel, and Verizon committed to linking half of their corporate financing to ESG targets by 2025. This is a massive sea-change from just a few years ago – and they called upon their counterparts across the corporate world to follow their lead. In case you missed this, it was reported on by the Wall Street Journal.

Attention in the boardrooms is clearly increasing as stakeholders including regulators, shareholders, customers, and employees are demanding more accountability in disclosure and action upon environmental, social, and governance promises. So, it’s not surprising that we are seeing a rapid rise in sustainability-linked financing – where the pricing of an instrument such as a loan adjusts based on the issuing company’s performance against its ESG goals. In the US alone, corporates went from accounting for 3% of global sustainability-linked borrowing in 2020 to 28% of sustainability-linked borrowing so far in 2021.

And while this type of financing seems to be having its moment, perhaps it’s easy to forget that it was only in 2017 that ING pioneered the very first sustainability-linked loan for Philips. Since that time, we have used our experience and knowledge to support a full spectrum of clients with their transition to a net-zero world.  And given the enormous growth of the market for sustainability-linked financial products and their potential for helping make the global economy more sustainable, we consider it our responsibility to speak up when it drifts from its goals.

To be effective, sustainability targets linked to financing must be ambitious, recognized industry-wide, and verified by a reputable, independent party. This is the only way to protect the credibility of the market and make sure companies tackle the most difficult and urgent issues first. So-called greenwashing will undermine the underlying objectives. You can read more here.

In the run-up to Climate Week and in ING’s continued efforts to be transparent and accountable, I had previously shared our first integrated climate report outlining how financing for our clients impacts climate change. If you missed that ground-breaking document (a first in our industry), you can find it here.

So as the dust settles on another Climate Week, my thoughts now turn to COP26 in November. Hosted in my home country of Scotland, this year’s event is already generating international headlines. Last week at the UN General Assembly, we saw some more ambitious sustainability commitments from the US and China. Positive signs for sure, but in a super inter-linked world, we need everyone on the same page … or at least in the same book.

Maybe after the trauma of COVID-19, there will be greater attention on this imperative. My hope is that COP26 becomes the moment for rapid acceleration of progress …. as UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized, we are still “light years away from reaching our targets.”


  • Gerald Walker, CEO, ING Americas

Compliments of ING – a member of the EACCNY.