Three trends in the global financial market are converging to make sukuk, the Islamic financial instrument most similar to a conventional bond, a potentially viable form of finance for green investments: (1) banks are reluctant to finance infrastructure due to stricter capital requirements; (2) an increasing number of investors are interested in ‘environmentally sustainable investing’ (in other words, investing to promote activities seen as positive for the environment); and (3) the market for sukuk is growing significantly. While these three trends are distinct and not obviously related, taken together, they create a market opportunity for sukuk to be used as a tool to finance environmentally sustainable infrastructure projects.
The need for significant infrastructure spending is obvious in both developed and developing countries. From crumbling transportation infrastructure in the United States to inadequate power generation capacity in India, the evidence is clear that improving infrastructure is a global priority. At the same time, popular concern about climate change and the detrimental impact of increasing greenhouse gas emissions has also made improving infrastructure in an environmentally sustainable manner a priority.
“Growing a Green Bond Market in Mexico: Issuers and Investor Summit” was held Oct. 27 in Mexico City, organized by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Asociación de Bancos de México, HSBC, and Crédit Agricole. The timing could not have been better. Although the first green bonds were issued in the last decade, their popularity has exploded in recent years. According to estimates, the market will be a $40 billion one this year, a figure that represents a fourfold increase relative to last year.
A green bond is a financial market debt instrument. Its uniqueness lies in the commitment of the issuer to channel the funds raised exclusively toward green projects, that is, projects that have a positive impact on climate change and involve both renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Sitting on the train heading back from New York to Washington D.C., gazing out of the window at stressed watersheds, I had some time to reflect on a very special Climate Week. What does it all add up to? Where does it leave us as a global community needing speed and scale in our climate action?
Much is being written. Let me add a perspective. Here are three thoughts amid my swirl of memories, moments and impressions.
Climate osmosis – the street reaches the hallowed halls
It was difficult to stand in the canyon that is 6th Avenue, with a sea of people stretching in both directions – environmental activists, nurses, pensioners, business people, every possible faith community, moms, a sprinkling of celebrity and a dash of statesmen – and not be moved. On the Sunday before the Summit, more than half a million people took to the streets in People’s Climate Marches in New York and more than 160 countries across the globe. The marchers demanded climate action from their leaders, suggesting that the politics of climate action, once considered too hard to handle, might no longer be as difficult as leaders think.
The reverberations continued for 48 hours and became a point of reference in almost every speech at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Leadership Summit. More than 120 heads of state and government came to hint and in some cases pledge action on climate change. New coalitions of governments, businesses, investors, multilateral development banks and civil society groups announced plans to mobilize over $200 billion for low-carbon, climate-resilient development. Forests and cities were big winners, landing pledges of around $450 million for forests and bringing together more than 2,000 cities in a new Compact of Mayors to help improve accounting of urban greenhouse gas emissions and the actions cities are taking to reduce them.
In January, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim urged the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos to look closely at a young, promising form of finance for climate-smart development: green bonds. The green bond market had surpassed US$10 billion in new bonds during 2013. President Kim called for doubling that number by the UN Secretary-General's Climate Summit in September.
Just a few days ago—well ahead of the September summit—the market blew past the US$20 billion mark when the German development bank KfW issued a 1.5 billion Euro green bond to support its renewable energy program.
Since the launch in 2008, the World Bank’s green bonds have grown quickly and reached an important milestone in August. Earlier, this month, the World Bank launched a US$550 million green bond bumping the total amount of World Bank green bonds issued to over $4 billion dollars since the green bond program began. This milestone prompted us to pause and take stock of the program and the new market it helped start.
As countries move toward a low-carbon, climate resilient future, the appetite for innovative climate finance is growing. One way to fill this financing need is through the capital markets. The World Bank’s green bonds, first launched in 2008, have been recognized as a catalyst for the growing market of climate bonds. This market is on its way to becoming an important source of funding for countries looking to grow in a clean and sustainable manner. A sampling of expected project results – over 165,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emission reduction benefits per year in Belarus, and 800,000 tons per year in China, reducing vulnerability to climate-related flooding and water scarcity flood events for about 500,000 farmer households in Indonesia, and producing 6MWhs of electricity out of a landfill in Jordan – highlights the crucial role green bonds and other innovative funding mechanisms could play in financing the fight against climate change.
The World Bank started issuing green bonds in 2008, responding to a group of Scandinavian pension funds interested in supporting activities that address mitigation and adaptation to climate. Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) was the lead manager of this inaugural green bond.
Why would a group of large investors care about climate change when their primary concern is ensuring adequate returns for their investment portfolio to meet their future financial obligations? This group includes pension funds, insurance companies or foundations. Pension funds alone are estimated to hold over US$25 trillion globally
As Alan Miller indicated in his recent blog, a report published by Mercer (a well-known investment advisor) estimates that uncertainty around climate policy could contribute as much as 10% to overall portfolio risk for investors to manage over the next 20 years. So, investors are beginning to pay attention. Choosing to support investments that help address climate change or increase climate-resilience also helps reduce the exposure of portfolios to this risk.
Green bonds issued by the World Bank is one such instrument. Funding raised through green bonds is earmarked for eligible low-carbon and adaptation projects financed by IBRD in its member countries. For example, the money could be used for funding an eco-farming project in China, or improving the solid waste management in Amman, Jordan. On the mitigation side, eligible projects could include solar and wind farms. On the adaptation side, it could be protection against flooding or droughts.
Earlier, this month, a 'Green Bond Summit' gathered about 110 representatives of the investment community. The event was hosted by State Street Global Advisers -- an asset manager with over $2 trillion under management in different asset classes. The goal was to discuss how green bonds could attract greater participation from large investors to scale-up financing of climate solutions through the capital markets. The World Bank, a pioneer of the green bond, and other issuers such as ADB, EIB, and IFC deliberated with the participants on prospects for common green bond standards, the financial characteristics investors expect, and the policy issues that underlie the demand for climate investments.