Widespread greenwashing by businesses is compromising efforts to prepare for climate impacts such as floods and heatwaves, the chair of the Environment Agency will say in a speech on Monday.
Emma Howard Boyd, addressing the UK Center for Greening Finance and Investment Annual Forum, will warn businesses are embedding liability and storing up risk for their investors by giving the false impression they are addressing the climate crisis.
The danger is, she says, that people “won’t realise this deception until it is too late”.
Howard Boyd addresses concerns over greenwashing after the climate change committee said last week in its annual progress report that the government was failing to enact the policies needed to reach the UK’s net zero targets.
Lord Deben, chair of the committee and a former Conservative environment secretary, said the government had set strong targets on cutting emissions but policy to achieve them was lacking. “The government has willed the ends, but not the means,” he said.
Howard Boyd, who leaves the Environment Agency in September, is interim chair of the Green Finance Institute. She will say that nearly £650bn public and private investment investment planned by 2030 is at considerable risk unless severe climate impacts are considered in planning and delivery.
“As with the government’s ambition for net zero by 2050, delivering on climate resilience and nature recovery requires robust, consistent and trusted data,” she will say in her speech.
“If we fail to identify and address greenwashing, we allow ourselves false confidence that we are already addressing the causes and treating the symptoms of the climate crisis.”
Howard Boyd is set to praise the work of activists including ShareAction, Make My Money Matter and ClientEarth for their work calling out greenwashing.
Earlier this year, the Bank of England’s first climate stress test suggested that UK banks and insurers would end up taking on nearly £340bn-worth of climate-related losses by 2050 unless action was taken to curb rising temperatures and sea levels.
Howard Boyd says there is underinvestment in climate adaptation. Action was needed and she is calling for a collaboration between the public and private sectors.
“Around the world, just 5% of climate finance goes towards resilience and virtually none of that comes from the private sector,” she will say.
Howard Boyd wants to see more government involvement to drive investment in climate adaptation, starting with a Treasury-commissioned review to assess the economics of climate resilience.
“This would help us understand how preparedness for climate shocks supports sustainable economic growth, establishes an overarching ambition for adaptation investment and a plan to achieve it,” she will say.