Here's a question you don't hear too often of late. Could the global banking sector actually be a force for good?
Given the likelihood that you are currently faced with a dwindling pension, rampaging sense of job insecurity and pervasive sense of impending economic catastrophe the most likely answer is "erm, no, not really".
In fact, given the mess the bonus chasing greed monkeys have imposed upon the rest of us you would be forgiven from subscribing to the opinion of guy who this summer reportedly journeyed to Wall Street with a cardboard sign displaying three simple words: "JUMP! You fuckers".
And yet while the reputation of the global banking sector might be lower than the proverbial snake's belly it remains arguably the most powerful weapon we have in the fight against climate change.
As the recent meltdown made excrutiatingly clear the banks' sit at the hub of every aspect of our lives and as such they have the power to shape our economies in a manner that is far more immediate than anything governments can muster.
As we are now all finding out, when they get things wrong the shockwaves reverberate throughout the economy damaging everything they touch. But equally, when they get things right they have the potential to drive progressive change on a similar scale.
That is what is so exciting and potentially revolutionary about the launch this week of the climate principles, a set of guidelines requiring financial institutions to consider the carbon impact of their investment decisions.
The principles have already secured support from Crédit Agricole, HSBC, Munich Re, Standard Chartered and Swiss Re, and they also form part of a wider trend that has seen Citi, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America sign up to a similar set of US guidelines governing investment in the energy sector. Meanwhile, countless specialist ethical and green investors, such as the newly launched Earth Capital Partners, are also operating in line with stringent sustainable investment criteria.
There are variations between these different investment guidelines, but they all boil down to a commitment to push the companies the banks invest in to embrace environmental best practices and, in extreme cases, withdraw financing from the most polluting projects.
In theory, this is a hugely effective means of forcing the world's most carbon intensive industries to clean up their act.
When it comes to regulation, the most carbon intensive sectors know there always will be loopholes to exploit, politicians to lobby, and fines that are so modest they won't make much difference to the bottom line. In contrast, they are also aware that not being able to get access to finance because of a poor environmental record could very easily destroy them.
Those businesses that refuse to listen to politicians calls for more responsible behaviour will have no choice but to listen to their bankers, on the understandable grounds that it is the bankers that carry the bigger sticks.
Sadly, in practice, all this is likely to prove far more difficult to achieve.
The power of initiatives such as the climate principles will be hugely diminished unless all the banks are willing to act in unison, something that will be nigh on impossible to achieve in a competitive market.
As long as some banks remain happy to lend to whoever they like regardless of the environmental implications others will almost certainly fall foul of the argument that if "we don't lend to them someone even less responsible will". It may be the same rationale deployed by loan sharks and drug pushers, but it has a certain morbid logic to it.
And yet, there are early signs that these initiatives could work.
The confirmation this week that HSBC is to phase out its investments in some of the more environmentally dubious companies operating in the rainforest regions of Malaysia and Indonesia, combined with Bank of America's commitment to back away from mountain top removal coal mining projects proves that at least some banks are willing to back up their support for voluntary investment guidelines with real world action.
If enough banks follow their lead it will not be long before companies that illegally clear rainforest or engage in the most polluting forms of mining or energy production simply have to change their ways or risk their capital flows grinding to a halt.
Moreover, there is every chance that more banks will follow suit given that most of the companies already signed up to these types of guidelines have done so for sound commercial reasons.
HSBC, for example, is not considering pulling out of financing oil sands developments because of a sudden attack of environmental conscience, but more because it is fearful that potential carbon legislation in Canada could mean it struggles to make its money back.
If enough banks conclude there is no longer decent returns to be had from carbon intensive industries that fail to clean up their acts - a prediction that carries considerable weight in the UK following the publication of new carbon budgets - then they will rapidly create a self fulfilling prophecy by refusing to provide financing for the worst environmental offenders.
Tempting as it may be to continue to blame the bankers for all our woes, it looks like we could do with them stepping away from the ledge for a little while yet.
Right, I'm off to try and disable my flash player.
Have a good weekend,
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