The former Governor of the Bank of England's halo is a little tarnished
Mark Carney is Davos Man personified — one of those globetrotting super-leaders untroubled by the messy business of actually getting elected (or, at least, not anymore). Other examples of the caste include Bill Gates, Christine Lagarde, John Kerry and David Miliband.
These folk don’t have to signal their virtue; it is simply assumed as part of that aura of liberal respectability at that surrounds them at all times.
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Except that Carney’s halo looks a little tarnished today. Since his stint as governor as the Bank of England (and high-status Brexit antagonist), he’s been earning a crust at Brookfield Asset Management which invests in “long-life, high-quality assets and businesses in more than 30 countries around the world.”
However, when Greenpeace took a look at those “high-quality assets”, they found they were reported to include major investments in the fossil fuel industry (including some of the dirtiest sectors like coal and oil sands).
But so what? We all use fossil fuels — both directly and indirectly. Indeed, for the time being, our whole way of life still depends on them. Someone’s got to fund the infrastructure that makes it all work.
However, Mark Carney’s problem is that his other jobs since leaving the Bank of England include United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance and Boris Johnson’s finance advisor for the forthcoming COP26 climate change conference.
This is awkward. In fact more than that, it’s dangerous — because it undermines the moral authority of those in power to tell the rest of us to change the way we live.
It should be said that Brookfield also invests in low carbon sectors, hence Carney’s claim that the company is “net zero”. But in this context, does this claim make any sense? Presumably, Brookfield is investing in clean tech to make money. I hope they do — the best way to decarbonise is to make it pay. But this does not buy them the moral excuse to also fund polluting technologies. If you were to mug an old lady one day and then help her across the road the next, this does not make you a ‘net zero offender’.
Brookfield says that it invests in “long-life” assets. But fossil fuel infrastructure cannot have a long-life. If countries are serious about achieving the net zero targets they’ve signed up to, then time is running out for the most polluting industries.
Indeed, rather like the ‘bad banks’ that were used to manage non-performing loans after the banking crisis, we must start thinking about public institutions that can manage the decommissioning of dirty industries that have no place in the future.