Sarah Roberts

Annabel grew up in Australia and holds a Bachelor of Environments from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Sustainable Development from La Sorbonne, Paris. Since 2021, she has worked for UBS in London as a Sustainability Research Analyst, bringing a strong awareness of the fragility and power of nature with her.Annabel grew up in Australia and holds a Bachelor of Environments from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Sustainable Development from La Sorbonne, Paris. Since 2021, she has worked for UBS in London as a Sustainability Research Analyst, bringing a strong awareness of the fragility and power of nature with her.

How did your interest in sustainability start for you? Did your environment in Australia have anything to do with it?

Australia definitely had something to do with it—I grew up in a drought. From an early age, I was used to water restrictions, taking a quick shower, and learning about water conservation in school. Living in Melbourne, we were always near nature. It’s a real city sprawl, over 40km across, and because of that, at the outer limits of the city, you could still be in Melbourne but already in the bush [the Australian outback or wilderness]. It was like having the planetary boundaries on my doorstep. Humankind’s impact on nature was so easy to see.

So, I became aware of my environment. News of the droughts were always in the paper. The dam levels were published alongside the weather. In the state of Victoria, water levels in the reservoirs were often down to about 10% so it was always a point of conversation. Then there were the bush fires. When I was at school one of my teachers lost her home to a bush fire. We often had weeks of 40 degree Celsius and above heat.

When I was older, I started to study the environment and the design of Australia, its vastness, and the dangers of that became apparent. Heatwaves were increasing, with often two or more per summer.

I moved to Europe to continue my education and when I got here, I realized there was no such thing as total fire ban days—a common thing in Australia. The thinking around fire and water here is different, which sometimes still surprises me. Lately, we’ve been seeing more bush fires here too and now people are becoming more aware of their environment.

What area of ESG are you currently focusing on?

I’ve recently done a lot of work on regulations in the EU, the Green Deal Policy, and the potential implications of that.

Regulations are not just about risk mitigation, there are opportunities, too.

A lot of EU regulations are compliance based. For example, the deforestation free regulation requires companies importing a range of goods (e.g., timber, cocoa beans, soya) to provide a due diligence certificate specifying where they were grown and certifying that they were not produced on land that was deforested. Companies that have already done their homework on this could be a step ahead of their competitors.

In the US market, regulations around sustainability are often viewed as more straightforward. Take the US Inflation Reduction Act. It offers significant tax credits for “green” technology e.g., EVs and charging stations. There you have a clear business benefit.

However, the EU is usually more complex. Some regulations are now applicable to countries that are not actually part of the EU but import into or have operations in the bloc e.g., the CBAM, and proposals like the CSDDD and Ecodesign. The Ecodesign regulation wants to see reduced waste through increased durability and repairability, among other things. For that regulation every product in the EU will have to comply, whether produced in the EU or imported. The EU regulations are certainly challenging for companies and asset managers; however, the aim is to decouple resource use from economic growth. For the environment, that’s a worthwhile ambition, but clearly it’s difficult.

What do you think is an under-discussed aspect of sustainability/climate change that needs more focus?

Definitely water. In the developed world I think it’s taken for granted that every day, water comes out of the tap. We don’t appreciate how much we need water for everything.

It’s not just about drinking your eight glasses of water a day, it’s about food production, sanitation, heating systems, safety, and energy (for example fire safety and nuclear cooling). We use water for transporting goods too and have seen disruption to that recently due to prolonged droughts in Europe.

It’s becoming harder to capture water too. Rainfall is getting more intense due to the climate crisis, so we are losing more of it with run-off. We need to consider water a lot more as it becomes more valuable.

In terms of technology, there’s a range of innovations in agriculture that could be leveraged a lot more. So, we need to be investing in these areas.  

What are the opportunities associated with a greater understanding of ecosystems? In both the financial industry and society more broadly.

The nine planetary boundaries are important to understand in terms of ecosystems. They are all interconnected and have an influence on each other. A lot of climate modeling is based on nature continuing to do what it has always done. It’s an assumption that thing will stay the same. But nature is continuously changing and as we push the boundaries farther and farther, they may fail.

Water comes back to that too. Public awareness around the risks involved with climate change e.g., water and fires, is starting to connect the effect these things will have on our economies. This summer’s Canadian wildfires are a good example. Smoke from the fires significantly impacted the air quality in New York—airports were closed and people advised to stay home. So, there was a clear impact, including financial.

The opportunities now come in our potential to find solutions for the environment that actually work. We need to take a holistic look at climate and nature and their interconnectedness. We will not protect our ecosystems and get to Net Zero without doing so.

What has given you most hope that we can successfully adapt and meet climate change?

I think there needs to be a collective realization that we need to change. That’s how we will get there. Policy is getting there but will take some time when you consider implementation. Science is doing a really good job in many respects, like climate modeling and tech innovation. We’ve seen great advances, but we need patient investment in that to keep moving forward.


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