Reflecting on Earth Day During COVID-19

April 22, 2020
Val Smith, Chief Sustainability Officer, Citi


In 2019, Oxford Dictionaries declared "climate emergency" its Word of the Year. In 2020, as the world responds to the immediate and critical threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all eyes and minds are, not surprisingly, focused on the health and safety of our loved ones and on the economic challenges that fighting this virus has caused. Yet the important lessons we are learning today from this global health crisis – the need to increase community resilience, collaborate on solutions, and develop data to reduce risk – also apply to the longer-term, but just as potentially perilous, climate crisis.

To those who question whether climate change should be viewed now as being as worthy of our attention and support as it was a year ago, our unequivocal answer is yes. At some point, this tragic situation will subside, but the challenge that climate change poses to our planet will still be with us.

Today, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, our commitment to fighting the "climate emergency" remains a top priority for us at Citi.

Since it first launched as a social-action-based movement in the U.S. in 1970, Earth Day has evolved into a global call to action. Fittingly, this year's theme is "climate action," a phrase that articulates a clear response to the "climate emergency." The urgent need to take action, and go beyond promises and rhetoric, resonates with many of us as we acknowledge the need to do more – more to rebalance the natural world and human society, and more to amplify our efforts to finance climate solutions and reduce climate risk.

As we look to the future, we are proud of what we accomplished in the past year. In 2019, we concluded the Sustainable Progress Strategy that we launched in 2015. A few highlights include:

  • Financed and facilitated $68.6 billion in environmental solutions in 2019, exceeding our $100 Billion Environmental Finance Goal to reach $164 billion and meeting our goal four years early
  • Achieved 2020 operational footprint goals early for energy, waste and water reduction
  • Reached 86% of our goal of 100% renewable electricity for our global facilities, and we are on track to be 100% by year-end
  • Continued to implement the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) Recommendations, following the publication of our first TCFD report, "Finance for a Climate Resilient Future," in 2018

In addition to working towards achieving our goals, we also:

  • Co-developed the Poseidon Principles to promote the reduction of the shipping industry's greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050
  • Collaborated with 100+ global banks on an update to the Equator Principles (EP4) that enhances banks' commitment to Indigenous Peoples, climate and biodiversity
  • Became a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Banking, a set of principles that provide a framework to achieve a sustainable banking system, reaffirming Citi's commitment to a financial system that positively contributes to society
  • Updated our fossil fuel sector standards, including a target to reduce our credit exposure to the thermal coal mining sector by 50% by 2025, and to zero by 2030

Over the past year, a welcome reality is that many longstanding themes related to sustainability and climate change have become central to the business strategy for Citi and for our clients. That reality is reflected in much of the work we've accomplished, but we realize there is more to do. To continue supporting a more sustainable world and the transition to a low-carbon economy, we need to increase our focus on improving resilience, reducing climate risk, building sustainable infrastructure, and developing innovative, transition financing. All of these themes remain central to Citi's sustainability strategy going forward.

On the horizon, Citi is planning to deepen and broaden our efforts to confront climate change. Those efforts and activities include an expanded focus on engaging our clients, investors, fellow colleagues and advocacy groups, and developing stronger partnerships with our peers to take on this challenge together. We will also continue to build a more reliable toolbox for climate risk assessment that will enable our businesses to more accurately measure, understand and manage our climate change impacts and opportunities. We will continue to disclose and analyze those results, which remain central to our success and our ability to drive creative and collaborative solutions.

We also recognize that crisis fatigue may become part of the "new normal" as the world gradually moves past the current crisis. As an organization firmly committed to long-termism and forward thinking, we see the clear parallels between the virus and climate change that can't be ignored – including how the cost and disruption of managing the crisis will only increase the longer we delay. As we move forward at Citi, we will continue to challenge ourselves to answer the question: what did we learn from our response to this crisis that we can – and will – apply to the longer-term climate challenge?

We encourage you to do the same.

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