Alison Midgley, sustainable finance manager at the World Wide Fund for Nature UK (WWF) firmly believes that the private finance sector can be a power for environmental change.
Alison should know. Growing up in South Africa, a ‘treasure trove of natural beauty’ with a ‘dynamic and changing economy’, Alison saw first-hand the impact of climate change on communities and the landscape itself.
Yet the lack of funding available for environmental projects frustrated her, and it eventually led her to where she is today: building allies in the finance industry to effect change.
“My life in South Africa has shaped everything I’ve done throughout my career,” explains Alison.
“South Africa has immense resources, yet it has many challenges. It’s extremely vulnerable to climate change and land degradation. Impoverished communities struggle to access water, energy and food.”
“I started in law and languages then moved to biological science. I spent a long time looking at how if you restore nature properly, you can actually prevent poor communities from being exposed to harmful pollution and secure their access to food and safe water.”
“I became fascinated with conservation technologies and from there, it was a natural step to environmental finance.”
Her role at WWF
At first, Alison’s role at WWF was looking at how to achieve sustainable financial investments in sectors affected by climate change such as forestry, agriculture and shipping but it’s since evolved into working directly with the finance sector.
“We have an enormous challenge in the next few decades which is to cut our carbon emissions to reach net zero by 2050,” says Alison.
“The finance sector has a vital role in helping us achieve these goals.”
“Sometimes, it might feel disconnected from the environment and the planet as a whole, but finance is a key driver of decision-making. When it’s a force for good, it can genuinely result in huge sustainable changes across businesses.”
Attitudes to the environment are changing
According to Alison, there’s been a ‘fundamental shift’ since 2015 with the signing of the Paris Agreement – a legally binding treaty on climate change. There was widespread recognition and awareness from both the business community and the private finance sector of the significance of climate change.
“We started to see a shift in the narrative. Companies started to realise that actually investors and shareholders do care about the risks of climate change, especially to vulnerable industries.”
“Leaders are already starting to look at the impact of their portfolios on climate change and biodiversity.”
“There’s been a shift from ‘how is climate change going to affect and disrupt the supply chains and productivity levels in my portfolio’ to ‘what impact is my portfolio as a whole having on the environment? How is it driving environmental risks such as deforestation and nature loss, pollution, carbon footprints?’”.
How does finance fit into the change?
With this gradual change in awareness, Alison’s remit has been one of collaboration and influencing: collaborating with an ever-growing network of stakeholders and influencing financiers and governments to define what good looks like from an environmental, social and governance (ESG) perspective.
“How do we engage policymakers on what best standard is to achieve change for things like net zero and deforestation-free supply chains? How do we reduce UK’s international footprints of food production and work towards sustainable agriculture? It’s about building networks for experts to come together, problem solve and knowledge share. It’s also about working together on business transition plans and modelling tools to help us understand the best and most feasible pathways to success.”
To this end, Alison believes that the finance sector plays a key part in the 10-year transition to a net zero economy. It is also key in helping business shift towards sustainable supply chains that are free from human and environmental rights issues.
“Being allies for this shift doesn’t have to mean compromising on profitability.”
“We’ve already seen real progress over the last few years around renewable energy transitions and environmental protections. We’re on the cusp of change and it’s an exciting wave to be riding.”
Alison’s Power Profile
What music empowers her?
“I really like upbeat music like Afrobeat which combines West African musical styles with jazz, soul and funk, like that of Miriam Makeba and Amadou.”
Who is her hero?
“I like writers who make me think differently about life, business and the economy. My current heroes are:
Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics
Caroline Criado-Perez, author of Invisible Woman
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work”
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