COP 28: The UN Sustainable Stock Exchanges Academy aims to empower markets around the world to play their part in the global transition to net zero.
The UN Sustainable Stock Exchanges (UN SSE) initiative started in 2009 as a collaboration between the UN and a small group of stock exchanges that could see the growing imperative to support sustainable finance and climate action.
Sustainable finance was still entering the mainstream back then, but there was a recognition among this small group of early SSE member exchanges that it would grow in importance. After meeting in 2009 and 2010, the group agreed to hold high-level CEO dialogues every two years. Starting with just five signatories, by 2015 membership of the group had tripled to 15. Now, there are more than 130 exchanges engaged with the initiative, from major stock exchanges to smaller exchanges and derivative exchanges.
“We went from encouraging exchanges to do much more and push the envelope a little bit and really foresee the changes that are coming,” says Tiffany Grabski, SSE Academy Head, who has worked on the initiative since 2014. “Now, we're running to keep up with the demand from exchanges who are eager to promote climate finance and look for our support.”
The SSE has always aimed to help stock exchanges with resources, advice and best practice. As exchanges identified a need for training for their markets, it made sense for the SSE to offer this to its members, leading to the formation of the SSE Academy.
It started with a model guidance, which stock exchanges can use to advise their market on how to disclose in alignment with the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework. This developed into training, in collaboration with everyone involved with the development of the framework.
“We'd never done the training for exchanges before,” says Grabski. “The results far surpassed my expectations. We thought that perhaps we should just be teaching exchanges – a ‘train the trainer’ type offering. But the reality is they couldn't keep up with demand for that information, so we ended up doing both audiences at once.”
A large number of stock exchange employees joined the training, but the whole market was also invited to attend. The stock exchanges are critical catalysts in ensuring that the correct information gets to the right people across these markets, says Grabski. “It's really the stock exchanges that are key to all of this working, being able to have that reach, so that's how we approached it. Hopefully we can keep growing the topics we offer.”
As this occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, training had to be provided virtually. The Academy tried various approaches to increase the interactivity of the courses, adapting the content based on feedback and questions from attendees. All Q&As from course sessions are kept and analysed to determine market needs.
“After going through more than 200 hours of answering questions frantically on Zoom, you start to realise what is lacking in the market and what information people still aren't getting,” says Grabski. “We were able to continually improve our training that way. The TCFD training was an experiment. We tried it out and realised that we have a really good distribution channel here. Now we're refining how we do this training. We adjusted TCFD for the banking sector, added a lot more interactivity and gave everybody a chance to test their knowledge and answer questions.”
The Academy is now adding in a “homework assignment” to help markets work towards developing a disclosure strategy. “We keep trying new things, seeing how it works, and hopefully continuing to improve with every training course.”
While the uptake has exceeded all expectations, with more than 25,000 people trained in more than 50 markets, the rollout has experienced some challenges. For example, the internet isn’t sufficiently reliable in some countries to support an online course, which means that the SSE Academy has had to provide in-person training in some regions. This required a complete redevelopment of the course in order to make it work in that format, focusing on the markets that need it the most.
Each market also has different levels of expertise and regulatory requirements, which have to be factored in. The SSE relies on each stock exchange to give an overview of those regulatory requirements to make it clear what is expected of each company. Many stock exchanges assume that the participants understand the regulatory landscape, but it’s not always the case, says Grabski.
“If they can stay on the call, it adds even more insight, because people can ask questions to the exchange to get market-specific highlights. Partnering with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has also been key to this, because they have boots on the ground and offices everywhere in the world. They usually try to bring in a local representative of the IFC to the call, so everyone can put a face to the name. They have that person's contact details and if they want support as they're moving forward, they at least have someone local that can help them through that.”
The SSE Academy is now offering training around the IFRS Sustainability Standards. It is also developing courses on wider sustainability issues; it has just launched one on gender equality, and is looking at the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD).
“It's really the first stepping stone so that people can feel comfortable to start moving forward on this. Then we can pass them off to other key capacity-building colleagues like A4S who can take them through a more intense learning journey.”
It’s critical that stock exchanges and their markets take an active role in driving a sustainable transition, says Grabski. Some can see the opportunity it offers and are pushing things forward.
“We were explaining the importance of these topics a lot more 10 years ago. Now, we're rarely explaining it to anyone – stock exchanges get it. But there is still a lack of understanding outside of stock exchanges. A lot of people don't understand the essential role of market infrastructure in shifting the direction of finance.”
Even if all the investors in the world wanted to invest exclusively in sustainable equity and debt, if the infrastructure is not there, it's impossible, Grabski explains. “Stock exchanges have many roles in that process, but they're really the key actor in the middle of this, which is not sufficiently recognised.”
As for the SSE Academy’s part, Grabski says the aim is to offer a public resource to decrease as many barriers to access as possible. “We want to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to get direct access to experts so that they can improve their knowledge in this area as it grows in importance.”