Since its launch in March this year, the Berne Union’s Climate Working Group (CWG) has been trying to tackle one of the most pressing issues facing the export credit, trade finance and political risk insurance industries: how to accelerate climate action to support the transition to a net-zero global economy. Eleanor Wragg speaks to CWG chair Leah Gilbert Morris, director of export credit agency (ECA) and international relations at Export Development Canada, Paul Heaney, Berne Union acting secretary general, and Eve Hall, Berne Union associate director, to learn more about the progress so far.


GTR: What was the rationale behind creating the CWG at the Berne Union?

Heaney: The overall theme of climate feeds into most of our work, as does the philosophy of information sharing and highlighting best practice. There is no other group for our industry that is bringing this together, so our objective is to find examples of best practice within our industry and use them to educate our members, as well as to seek a way to connect to some of the wider dialogue on climate action.

Hall: Different institutions are at different levels of development when it comes to the climate. Some ECAs are more advanced, some are pioneers, and some want to learn more about the topic and how it applies to export credit. The aim of the group is to get everybody behind the idea with an enthusiastic, can-do attitude.

Gilbert Morris: It isn’t as if the Berne Union has taken all things climate and put them into this little working group. It’s a cross-cutting issue that is mainstreamed into the broader dialogue across the membership. However, the stark reality is that export credit and credit insurance are a very niche universe, and expertise in the climate domain, be it from the technical, the product or the policy side, is still evolving. There are no magical pockets of capacity and resources out there in the world to make these things happen. The role the Berne Union plays here is as a platform for individuals and organisations to come together and jointly apply this really crucial expertise and capacity to get things done.


GTR: One criticism often levelled at industry working groups by civil society is that they are all talk and no action. What are you doing to ensure that the CWG effects real change?

Gilbert Morris: There are a lot of examples globally of working groups that haven’t delivered anything. However, from the outset, this group has been clear on its mandate. This is about knowledge sharing. None of us in the credit insurance or export credit industries already have a beautiful methodology laid out for us for this journey. We don’t have the pathway forward. No-one has the perfect set of products in their toolkit to solve for climate; all of this is net new work by the industry. The complexity of that necessitates a working group to do a lot of the talking so that everybody starts to understand how it’s being done and can learn and build upon the work done by others. Airtime within the group is very much necessary to make progress here, but it isn’t just talk: you can see examples of the progress being made in the products that are coming out of the working group.


GTR: The CWG is focusing on three workstreams based around climate products, incentives and innovation; best practice in low-carbon transition; and policy coherence and alignment. What examples are there of progress across these areas?

Gilbert Morris: The group is committed to a very high level of transparency in what we do, so anybody externally can judge our progress. All of the minutes from the working group meetings are published online, and we are making the deliverables publicly available.

We do this because we want to be part of the broader climate discourse. We’re a small segment in a very large industry, and this is our way of saying, ‘here’s what we’ve got, take it, learn from it, and tell us what we need to know.’

From the workstream on product innovation, AXA XL has shared its performance insurance solution and its application to new technology as an enabler for renewable and climate projects. This is one of the most impactful pieces because here is an organisation that has figured out how to de-risk this very narrow segment of unproven renewable energy technology.

Some of the multilateral members, meanwhile, have been working at the confluence of climate and biodiversity and taking some interesting approaches, not necessarily in terms of new products, but innovations within how you account for biodiversity and nature-based solutions.

On the technical side of sharing best practices, CWG members have developed a series of bite-sized explainer videos exploring organisational and process adjustments that support the low-carbon transition. UK Export Finance has shared its experience in implementing Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures reporting to disclose climate-related risks and opportunities, for example, while bpiFrance has shared its carbon footprint calculation methodology. The intent here is to start to really demystify what it takes to achieve these commitments and the types of conversations you have to have with your boards and governments.

The third workstream is on the policy coherence side. It’s important to reiterate that this isn’t a policy setting group, and that in no way is the aspiration. However, we are working to take the policy measures that are already out there in the credit insurance and ECA world and try and align around those so we can understand what they mean to each institution and understand how we’re making progress with them or not. The cross-section membership of this group is a real value add here, because we get to hear about policy advances taking place in the multilateral space, or in the development finance institutions space. Cop27 is coming up, and so we have recently spent a lot of time aligning around what we are all doing and how we can work together to better amplify the voice of the industry.


GTR: Given differing national commitments and policies on climate action, how difficult is it to find common ground among the CWG’s broad membership?

Heaney: It wouldn’t be appropriate or helpful for us to get involved at the individual policy level. We have such a diverse group of members that it is impossible to set standards or dictate a path to net zero or anything of that sort. This initiative, like everything that the Berne Union does, is really focused on information sharing and best practice.

Gilbert Morris: I’m not sure that the goal is necessarily to find the common ground. It’s more to surface what is being done so that we can build upon that work being done by others. No one institution is going to necessarily have the perfect model, because all of this is brand new, but the approaches are being shared in this working group so we can all start to figure out how we get started with this, be that what capacity we need, or what conversations we need to have to achieve buy-in internally. By showcasing the efforts of climate action leaders, we can assist the broader membership who might not have the same scale of resources, so that they can start to tackle some of the issues as an institution.


GTR: With inflation at multi-decade highs and a gloomy trade outlook as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, governments around the world are facing a tough macroeconomic and geopolitical environment. Is momentum still there around climate action, or do you see it taking a back seat to more pressing short-term issues?

Gilbert Morris: There are so many pockets of people in the world right now that feel that there is no time to waste on this issue. The customers and clients of Berne Union members are all raising their hand for help on how to figure this out, be that because they’ve realised that getting a handle on their climate performance will give them better access to global supply chains or because they see it as a key performance indicator. I certainly don’t see climate action going away or taking a backseat to other issues. Even in the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, everyone is doubling down on the issue of energy security, but they are doing so without setting aside climate in that dialogue.

It’s a case of: ‘We need to keep the lights on, and we have to be very mindful of the fact we still have these climate ambitions. How is there a synergy here? And how do we solve this together?’