The Prime Minister’s relationship with Ms Symonds, a passionate environmentalist, has been credited with influencing his declarations about ‘building a green recovery’ after the Covid pandemic by striking agreements on cutting carbon emissions and boosting renewable technologies.
Now, as the UK prepares to hold the presidency of both the G7 and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) next year, Mr Johnson has overcome Treasury opposition to the introduction of ‘green bonds’, which act like mortgages for businesses that want to pursue environmentally friendly projects.
Carrie Symonds, left, has convinced Boris Johnson about the need for green bonds
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has expressed concern about the need for green bonds
The Government has faced significant criticism over preparations for the summit, with former COP President Claire Perry O’Neill attacking Mr Johnson for a ‘failure of global vision and leadership’.
The US, China and France currently boast the three largest green bond markets, with Barclays, Credit Suisse and NatWest among 30 firms to last month back the introduction of a new ‘Green+ Gilt’.
Mr Johnson – whose father Stanley is also a committed environmentalist – used his speech to the Tory Party conference to back a clean energy revolution. Ms Symonds, who is on maternity leave from her job as an adviser at Oceana working to support the Bloomberg Foundation’s Vibrant Oceans Initiative, wears ethical clothing labels and campaigns on issues such as stopping the cull of badgers.
A source said: ‘Rishi’s Treasury is typically cool on issues such as green bonds, regarding them as a bit “gimmicky”, but Boris is less sceptical, and thinks that the “optics” would be good for COP26.’
The Treasury is understood to fear that transforming the goals of central banks risks damaging their credibility and could fuel a dangerous green asset bubble. Almost £182 billion of green bonds were issued worldwide last year – a rise of 20,000 per cent in a decade, according to Environmental Finance. A letter co-signed by the London Stock Exchange Group last month said: ‘With COP26 approaching, a Green+ Gilt would send an important signal both domestically and internationally. It would demonstrate to other governments and… UK-based corporates, that the UK is providing a model to follow in issuing sustainable bonds.’
But former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who now serves as the UK’s finance adviser to COP26, warned in January against a sudden overexpansion of the green bond market by printing money to buy such products.
Mr Carney said calls for asset purchases to address policy goals, such as ‘green QE [quantitative easing] to support the transition to a net zero carbon world’ should be ‘resisted’. ‘While carefully circumscribed independence is highly effective in delivering price and financial stability, it cannot deliver lasting prosperity and it cannot address broader societal challenges.’