Consultancy’s lead partner for climate and sustainability services says incentives are not enough to retain world-leading talent over the long term
Companies are embedding ESG talent even faster than they did digital talent 15 years ago, says Mohit Grove
Hong Kong needs to sharpen its competitive edge and strengthen its ecosystems for sustainable finance and green tech to retain the thousands of environmental, social and governance (ESG) experts it aims to attract through high salaries and immigration programmes, according to accounting firm Deloitte.
Making Hong Kong into a true hub for green finance and tech would give the city a long-term edge over global peers, said Mohit Grover, lead partner for climate and sustainability services at Deloitte Hong Kong.
“That would mean that these people will be given opportunities that are world-leading, while some other jurisdictions are also providing [similar] sets of incentives,” he said.
The call for improving the local business ecosystem comes after Hong Kong issued a series of policies since last year to fill its ESG talent pool in support of the government’s plan to develop the city into a high value-added economy and meet its 2050 sustainability targets.
The government is offering cash subsidies for professionals to take ESG-related training courses in Hong Kong, and has relaxed immigration requirements to attract overseas professionals with ESG expertise to fill the city’s sustainability jobs.
Companies are also engaged in a “ bidding war” for people with ESG and sustainability experience after bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing proposed introducing tougher requirements for listed companies to disclose climate and sustainability-related risks and opportunities. Qualified ESG experts can expect salary increments of 20 to 30 per cent when changing jobs, according to recruitment consultancies Robert Waters and Page Executive.
“What we see with ESG [talent] is very similar to what digital [talent] was 15 years ago, when companies and organisations were looking for people with a combination of technology and business expertise,” Grover said. “It’s not just one function or one specific team in the organisation, but today everybody is digitally literate, and every organisation has a digital DNA.
“We see this very similar transition happening for ESG. It is not going to be an isolated topic, but it will be embedded in all aspects of the organisation. And the change that digital technologies took many years to achieve is going to take place in just three or five years in the ESG world.”
Demand for experienced ESG professionals is expected to flourish in coming years, as Hong Kong seeks experienced people from around the globe to revive the job market after an exodus of expatriates and local residents who fled their hometown during the Covid-19 pandemic years and Beijing’s political clampdown since 2019, according to Sue Wei, managing director at recruitment firm Hays Hong Kong, which released an Asia Salary Guide 2023 in April.
“While compliance regulation roles are currently the main driver for ESG-related hiring in the industry, new roles and opportunities are increasingly being created as banks and financial institutions move to meet stakeholders’ and customers’ expectations and demands,” the salary guide said.
As the world focuses on sustainability, countries and regions vying to lead the clean transition race are also on an ESG talent hunt. For example, the National University of Singapore set up a Sustainable and Green Finance Institute to drive green finance and cultivate local talent. Demand for ESG experts in the United States and European Union is also far outpacing supply.
The renewable energy transition is already causing a green jobs boom, especially in Asia-Pacific. Worldwide employment in renewable energy reached 13.7 million in 2022, an increase of 1 million since 2021 and up from a total of 7.3 million in 2012, with close to two-thirds of all jobs located in Asia, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency and the International Labour Organization last month.
If Asia-Pacific countries seize the decarbonisation opportunity, they could add US$47 trillion to the region’s economies by 2070 and create 180 million jobs by 2050, according to Deloitte.
It’s crucial for Hong Kong to implement more ESG-related initiatives to encourage start-ups and local communities to develop green tech solutions, and improve its financial ecosystems and infrastructure through robust regulations and standards to become a world-leading green finance hub, said Deloitte’s Grover.
“I think these developments are needed so ESG talents from different countries will come to Hong Kong to grow their presence and solutions rather than just come here for the incentives,” he said. “I think this is where the real competitiveness of Hong Kong will also be determined.”