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As the fight against climate change continues, governments and businesses around the world are looking for new ways to tackle what former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon once described as the “defining challenge of our era”.

While governments and NGOs provide significant leadership in addressing this challenge, the fact is financial markets and investors are also driving change here through investing in sustainable initiatives.

In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a sharp uptick in climate change investing, with funds that invest in sustainability receiving around $370 billion between January and November 2020 – almost double from the year prior.

And with the rise of the data economy, it is no surprise to see that data and analytics has emerged as a way to better understand the nature of climate change and help these investors make more informed decisions.

That’s why last year the World Economic Forum and Refinitiv launched the Future of Sustainable Data Alliance (FoSDA).   

The FoSDA is all about identifying the right data to help governments and investors deploy sustainability. 

“The FoSDA partners have been using their collective expertise and experience to deliver ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) data recommendations for the financial community. By engaging with regulators and industry we can together address the key challenges in the ESG dataspace and facilitate sustainable investing,” said Matthew Blake, Head of Financial and Monetary System at the World Economic Forum.

As it stands today, the Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) space is characterised by a number of significant data gaps. In many cases, this data might already exist, but it has simply not been defined or categorised, rendering it ineffective.

In fact, according to research from Refinitiv, 98 per cent of investors take sustainability data into consideration when deciding whether or not to invest in specific projects.

While climate change is now widely acknowledged as an immediate threat to the human population, much remains unknown in terms of how investors can address these concerns in an effective manner.

FoSDA was created to help ensure these investors are provided with reliable, decision-ready data to help promote investment in sustainable economic activities. 

Data best practices 

Late in 2020, the FoSDA launched its initial best practices for using data to address the issue of climate change. 

They were as follows:

  • An appeal for identifying and creating a path to filling ESG data gaps and data holes
  • An offer of mapping data to sustainability taxonomies and policies
  • An identified need for ESG data talent development globally

To ensure these recommendations are implemented, the FoSDA has engaged with global regulators to help identify data sets that might be useful to help investors.

It also identified ‘binary reporting’ as an issue facing the ESG sector. When looking at topics like deforestation or water management, most company reports use a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to reflect whether or not there is a policy in place. This in turn means the data is not as useful for investors as it could be. To address this, FoSDA has called on regulators to move towards metric-led reporting.

FoSDA is also encouraging investors to be more creative with how they look at data and the ways in which they combine different datasets. It uses the example of geospatial data.(data that relates to an object of the earth). On its own, this data is of limited use in relation to ESG investment. However, by simply overlaying this data with asset location data, the combined dataset can be used to show how a company’s various assets are impacting the environment.

At smrtr, we have launched the smrtr for Good initiative as a way to help make the world a better place using data. Click here to find out more.

Image: Unsplash/Nicholas Doherty

By Georgie Brooke, Chief Executive Office at smrtr