Switzerland’s first financial delegation at COP28
The COP (Conference of the Parties), probably the world’s best-known climate conference, meets every year to tackle the challenges of climate change. States come together to negotiate on actions to be taken and review compliance with agreements reached. The 28th edition (COP28) takes place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023. This year, for the first time, two Swiss delegations are travelling to the conference: the official negotiating team, comprising representatives of the authorities and selected figures from civil society, which attends every year; and the Building Bridges delegation of high-ranking representatives from the Swiss financial sector headed by the SIF, which is making its inaugural visit.
Ahead of COP28, the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) interviewed Caroline Wehrle, Senior Policy Advisor on Sustainable Finance at the SIF, who is coordinating the Building Bridges delegation at COP28.
Why is COP28 important for Switzerland and the financial sector?
Caroline Wehrle: The COP is more than just a central conference for climate negotiations: it also hosts a wide range of events and meetings on sustainable finance issues. With so many thought leaders and decision-makers on climate and environmental issues gathered together in one place, it facilitates close cooperation and enables efficient bilateral meetings. The Finance Day on 4 December is especially relevant from the SIF’s perspective: that’s when the most important events at the interface between the environment and finance are scheduled. It’s a chance to get up to speed on the latest global developments in sustainable finance and play an active role in shaping them.
Switzerland is sending two delegations to COP28 for the first time this year. What’s the thinking behind that?
The main task of Switzerland’s official negotiating delegation is to ensure effective implementation of the Paris Agreement, which the country ratified in 2017. The negotiations are conducted day and night, behind closed doors. The negotiators’ workload is so high that they are rarely able to attend the various events at the COP venue. The Building Bridges delegation can fill that gap.
What are the differences between the two delegations? To what extent do they complement each other?
There are a number of good reasons why a delegation of high-ranking financial sector representatives is accompanying the official negotiators to the COP. One is that it enables us to position Switzerland better as a leading centre for sustainable finance. It means we can actively present Swiss approaches and actions at events and bilateral meetings. Another is that delegation members can learn about the latest initiatives in sustainability and therefore better assess how Switzerland is performing relative to other financial centres, where future opportunities lie, and where there is still catching up to do.
What motivated the SIF to set up the Building Bridges delegation alongside the Swiss negotiating team?
Switzerland has been very active in sustainable finance over recent years, with the principal aim of enhancing transparency and comparability on the market. It has brought in disclosure requirements based on the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations and launched the Swiss Climate Scores, as well as conducting voluntary PACTA tests to measure alignment with the Paris Agreement. Internationally, Switzerland has been heavily involved in setting up the Net-Zero Data Public Utility, an international, publicly accessible climate data platform. Since the electorate voted in favour of the Climate and Innovation Act in June 2023, Switzerland has also been the first country to enshrine in law a target of net zero by 2050 for all companies. It explicitly includes the financial centre, and is intended to make an effective contribution to aligning finance flows with the Paris Agreement. Switzerland is performing well by global standards: the financial centres of Geneva and Zurich are ranked 3rd and 4th in the recently published Global Green Finance Index. Looking ahead, we’re aiming to advertise our approaches more strongly abroad.
Why is the delegation called “Building Bridges”?
We want as many people as possible to ask us that very question at COP28. There’s a Building Bridges conference in Geneva every year, which brings together all the key players in sustainable finance to build bridges between the financial community and the world of sustainable development. Because Geneva is home to so many international organisations and NGOs, it’s the perfect place to do that. The conference was launched in 2019, and the numbers taking part have risen sharply since then. There’s growing interest in the topic. Now, the goal is to raise the international profile of Building Bridges.
What is the Building Bridges delegation aiming to achieve by taking part in COP28?
The delegation aims to promote dialogue and forge new contacts, bring participants up to date about new developments and innovative initiatives, and present Switzerland’s way of doing things confidently to a global audience. The goal of Building Bridges is to do what its name says, on an international scale. At the SIF, we provide the general policy framework and ensure that market participants enjoy the transparency necessary to make good decisions. But we leave the specifics of implementation to the private sector. Sector associations such as the SBA, the Asset Management Association Switzerland (AMAS) and others have a key role to play. The fact that many voluntary instruments such as the Swiss Climate Scores and initiatives such as the Net-Zero Data Public Utility are explicitly supported by sector associations helps us encourage more financial institutions to raise their ambitions.
The Building Bridges delegation will operate entirely outside the official negotiations. How important do you believe its discussions will be?
A lot of innovative ideas and cooperations come out of informal conversations. COP28 gives participants greater access to key decision-makers. We have a targeted strategy of organising meetings with central players to discuss specific future initiatives and measurable progress.
What are your expectations as you and the delegation head to COP28?
Unlike other global conferences, where every detail can be planned out in advance and everything runs like clockwork, the COP demands a degree of flexibility, openness and curiosity. It’s important to leave space for spontaneous conversations and encounters.
What does taking part in COP28 mean for you personally?
It’s my second time at the COP. I was part of the negotiating delegation on financial issues at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh. Negotiations of that kind are tough and non-linear, because the UN system requires all contracting parties to agree to the text that’s been drawn up. At the time, the events and meetings away from the negotiations made a welcome change. So I’m looking forward to lots of interesting conversations during the delegation’s trip.
Caroline Wehrle, many thanks for talking to us.
Caroline Wehrle is a Senior Policy Advisor in Sustainable Finance at the State Secretariat for International Finance (SIF). She is active in a number of international forums and initiatives related to sustainable finance, climate and nature-related issues (G20 Sustainable Finance Working Group, Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, Climate Data Steering Committee, OECD, FSB Transition Plans Working Group, Climate Vulnerabilities and Data Group, International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Platform on Sustainable Finance (IPSF) and Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD)). She has extensive experience in the multilateral space, including as a Policy Advisor in IMF issues and a Senior Advisor to the Executive Director at the IMF. She holds an MSc in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics and a Master in Quantitative Economics and Finance from the University of St. Gallen.