Climate Impact Event curated by AXA
Scientists are trying to warn politicians, stakeholders and citizens about the dangers humanity and biodiversity are facing due to climate change since decades, but, despite all their warnings, scientists and academics (including myself), often feel that the seriousness of global change threats are not yet fully comprehended. We are often called “alarmists” when we just explain that the future of humanity is at stake.
So, when I was asked to represent the AXA Chair for Functional Mountain Ecology at the Climate Impact Event organized by AXA in association with the UN Principles for Sustainable Insurance Initiative, in Paris, I did not know what to expect. I had no idea how AXA would tackle this serious issue. And I certainly didn't expect a CEO to mention his heart. All I knew was that the AXA Research Fund supports top scientific research, addressing important issues our planet is facing. It represents 250 million euros, 650 research projects and 300 academic institutions in 36 countries. I knew that because, since May 2019, Dirk is holding the AXA Chair for Functional Mountain Ecology in Toulouse. He could not make it to Paris, as he had to be in Toulouse for the evaluation process of his new institution, EcoLab, happening the exact same day.
The world of finance and investors is unknown to me. My vision of insurance is kind of limited to sporadic meetings with customer advisors regarding my personal insurance contracts. And, let’s be completely honest, I think part of myself was also wondering if AXA is sponsoring research essentially for a question of image, or if the philanthropic activity truly matters to the insurance company.
Why being so suspicious? Maybe because we, as researchers, are used to meeting people saying they are concerned but acting as if they are not. One example? When Paris organized the COP 21, in 2015, observers and NGOs pointed out the inconsistency between the messages conveyed by the organizers (limiting the impact of climate change) and the unsustainable way the event was organized, in terms of waste management, omnipresence of plastic and difficulty in finding vegetarian or vegan food. A real highlight!
So, in Paris, in the magnificent building of AXA, Avenue Matignon, I couldn’t help but look at the event from every angle. What did I see? Unlike the COP 21, the Climate Impact Event organized by AXA, from what I have seen, was sustainable: no plastic, recycled cups and a 100% vegetarian buffet, so delicious that it could only delight the vegetarian I am. Being surrounded by people working in the financial, industrial, and insurance world, I could not not notice many other details showing me that I was in a completely different world than research in ecology, a world with its own (impressive) culture: clothes (I was the only one with flowers on her clothes), postures, attitudes, jargon, atmosphere, all was different and new to me. Not uninteresting for an ethologist like me.
The discussion was chaired by Butch Bacani from the United Nations (Program Leader Environment's Principles for Sustainable Insurance Initiative) and divided in three panels. Panel 1: “Updating our investment tool box to tackle climate change”. Panel 2 “Getting ready on the liability side: Climate resilience and insurance”. And Panel 3 “The responsibilities of corporate players in the transition to a low carbon economy: the necessary collaboration between financial and industry sectors”.
These titles do not speak much to you? They did not to me neither. So, I took tons of notes.
I could summarize here what was said, but I won’t. I’ve decided not to take the risk to modify the words that have been spoken so that they perfectly and honestly reflect what has been said, and that you can make your own opinion. So, I created a few slides with quotes from the discussion. Reading these slides, you will understand the messages conveyed: 1) climate change is real, happening now and makes us vulnerable, 2) we need to change to green energy, 3) investors need to invest in green energy (and not in brown energy anymore), 4) AXA, as an investor, will set an example.
At the end, Thomas Buberl, the CEO of AXA, announced new commitments. AXA's new climate strategy will align its investments with the Paris Agreement, reinforcing its coal exit policy: a complete coal exit by 2030 in OECD countries, and in 2040 in the rest of the world.
In short, my feeling is that AXA tried to convince stakeholders that the threat of climate change is real but has solutions and these solutions need to be implemented, for the future of humanity. AXA was actually doing, or trying to do, what we scientists were trying to do since decades unsuccessfully due to our limited means to increase pressure on decision making bodies. I dearly hope that the message convinced the biggest investors of Europe and the world, because if the CEO of a big company such as AXA, sharing the same culture, speaking the same language does not succeed to convince them, who will?