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Erste chief executive calls on policymakers to step up on climate

Emerging Europe has been slow to join the fight against climate change. Now the region’s biggest banking group is making its voice heard.

Bernd Spalt. Photo: Wolfgang Zac

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. At the recent United Nations climate conference, COP26, bankers and asset managers waxed lyrical about the opportunities for stakeholders of all stripes to profit from the energy transition. Costs were only mentioned in the context of the need for modest amounts of public-sector financing to ‘catalyze’ vast flows of investment from the private sector.

Bernd Spalt, chief executive of Austria’s Erste Group, has little time for such rose-tinted views.

“There will be on the transition journey win-win situations where everybody will benefit, where newer and greener technologies will pay for themselves and create pools of profitability,” he says. “But the idea that this will apply in every area is naïve.

“Overall, the transition will cost money. There will be many opportunities and there is no alternative, but there will be victims on the road and there will be net payers.”

He is equally unhappy about any suggestion that the financial sector can save the world. This was certainly the impression given by COP’s focus on the unprecedented participation of the private sector and the fanfare around the news that institutions representing $130 trillion had signed up to the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (G-Fanz).

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