Global economists update Adam Smith's 'Wealth of Nations' for the 21st century climate crisis

Published  08 November 2021
   5 min read

Royal London’s CEO, Barry O’Dwyer, will consider the principle of stewardship and how it applies to financial institutions in the climate era, as part of the Adam Smith at COP26 lecture series. The lectures taking place from 8-10 November will look at the macroeconomic themes behind the COP26 negotiations. A unique ‘Wealth of Nations in the 21st Century’ essay series, prepared by the Edinburgh-based Global Ethical Finance Initiative (GEFI), in conjunction with the University of Glasgow and Royal London, which takes Smith’s seminal work and updates it for the climate era, will also be launched.

A major new essay series has been launched at COP26 in which leading global thinkers explore today’s climate crisis through the eyes of economic pioneer Adam Smith.

The reimagining of the Wealth of Nations includes a foreword from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, in which she argues that Smith would have likely ‘supported regulation to guard against the destruction of the planet’.

She also makes the argument to look beyond GDP as the primary measure of a country’s success, adding: “At this pivotal moment for the planet and as we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic, progressive nations and governments are increasingly focussing on wellbeing, not simply an increasing GDP for the sake of it.”

The series of five essays has been prepared by the Edinburgh-based Global Ethical Finance Initiative (GEFI), in conjunction with the University of Glasgow and Royal London, bringing together world-renowned experts to reimagine Smith’s works.

The authors include Usha Rao-Monari, Under-Secretary-General at the UN, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli from Glasgow University, Lord Meghnad Desai, Professor Emeritus at the London School of Economics, sustainable fund management pioneer David Pitt-Watson and former Malaysian Central Banker Dr Zeti Aziz.

This series of essays takes the Wealth of Nations and updates it for the 21st century, asking how Smith’s work applies to the challenges of today.

The work is designed to encourage and inspire further creative thinking and practical action to leave an enduring legacy after the COP26 summit.

The essays will be explored at an evening lecture series taking place across three days from today (8 November), at the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, and online.

In her foreword, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon writes:

“We cannot know exactly how Smith would have responded to the climate emergency, but given his support for reasonable protections against, for example, abuse of monopolies it seems likely that he would have supported regulation to guard against the destruction of the planet.

“This series of essays takes the Wealth of Nations and updates it for the climate change era, asking how the themes of Smith’s work apply to the challenges of today and teasing out how Smith himself might have reacted to the climate emergency.

“It showcases Scotland’s proud academic history, and is a timely celebration of one of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment.

“It is the perfect time to reach back into our past as we look ahead to a future that is cleaner, greener and more just.”

Sam Wheldon-Bayes of the Global Ethical Finance Initiative, editor of The Wealth of Nations in the 21st Century, said:

“During the 18th century, the Scottish Enlightenment put Glasgow at the heart of world thinking. Today, with the world in Glasgow for COP26, we ask what we can learn from one of the great pioneers of the Scottish Enlightenment.

“Expert authors, across three continents, from the fields of finance, economics, politics, development and central banking have written five essays drawing on Smith’s themes and reflecting on the climate crisis.

“They consider both how Smith’s thinking can guide our approach to climate action, and what he himself might have thought about the climate crisis.

“Our wish is that the essay series drives creative thinking and practical action to make the changes needed in the financial system for a sustainable future for planet and people.”

Kaisie Rayner, Climate Change Lead at Royal London, said:

“When Scottish moral philosopher and economist Adam Smith wrote his first book about markets, the role of government, and society, in 1759, he would never have imagined it’s global impact, far less its continued relevance in the modern world. Yet, here we are over 250 years later considering how it can help us navigate the 21st century. That’s quite some legacy.

“As the eyes of the world focus on Glasgow, it’s fitting that we consider Smith’s instruction to be guided by a moral compass. We also hope that leaders gathered for COP26 emulate the global success of Smith’s works and provide a legacy we can all contribute to and be proud of. The action we take on climate change over the next decade will radically shape the health of the planet, so we have to act now to help customers retire into a future worth living in.”

Notes to Editors

The essays, including the foreword from Nicola Sturgeon, can be read here:

Adam Smith at the COP – more information available here:

Register for the launch events at:

Interview requests for authors or series editor: 07952 290 889

Further details on the essays:

  • Of the Causes of Improvement in the productive Powers of Labour - Lord Meghnad Desai – renowned UK economist
  • Of the Nature, Accumulation and Employment of Stock - David Pitt-Watson, pioneer of ethical fund management and co-chair of finance negotiations at Paris Climate Summit
  • Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations - Usha Rao-Monari & George Gray Molina, Under Secretary at the UN charged with driving the UN’s Development Programme
  • Of Systems of political Economy - Prof. Sir Anton Muscatelli, Dr Michele Battisti & Dr Craig Smith, Leading Scottish Economist and Vice Chancellor of Glasgow University
  • Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth - Tan Sri Dr Zeti Aziz, former Governor of the Central Bank of Malaysia
  • The Misinterpretation of Adam Smith: Bringing Back the Theory of Moral Sentiments - Kaisie Rayner, Head of Climate Change at Royal London

About GEFI:

The Global Ethical Finance Initiative (GEFI) is the hub at the centre of the ethical finance movement. We curate independent conversations among a broad coalition of financial services stakeholders, as well as delivering practical projects. We are the partner for action on ethical finance, based in Scotland.

The finance sector needs to act together to achieve decisive action at COP26 in Glasgow, the most important summit since Paris. With a global footprint and Scottish roots, GEFI has united the leading financial services stakeholders committed to action at COP26 with a campaign of over 30 events and activities. We are committed to making finance work for COP26, and COP26 work for finance.


About Royal London

Royal London is the largest mutual life insurance, pensions and investment company in the UK, with assets under management of £153 billion, 8.8 million policies in force and 4,075 employees. Figures quoted are as at 30 June 2021.

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Lena Nunkoo, PR Manager