The Future of Sustainable Finance
Last week I attended the London meeting of the The Future of Sustainable Finance at the G7. The panel of knowledgeable experts provided a fascinating discussion. It touched on many of the areas raised in the detailed 2018 report by the EU’s High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance.
For financial institutions, the report indicates the required route to make sustainable finance successful. In this blog I continue that thought with a summary of several ideas raised by a selection of the speakers: Sir Roger Gifford, the Bank of England’s Michael Sheren, and former Member of Parliament Arlene McCarthy OBE.
Michael Sheren suggests that the way we’ll move the needle is to prove the links between ESG and risk. One of the challenges in the coming years is to convince bankers and investors to move capital towards ‘green projects’. Fortunately, there is now a lot of evidence to help this process, we simply need to put the case forward in their language.
There are some encouraging signs, too. The Bank of America recommends investing in stocks with good ESG performance as they are less likely to go bankrupt. Other financial institutions are following a similar trend: Hermes, Aviva, AXA, and Norges Bank are all orientated towards longer term ESG portfolios.
Sustainability issues are now priority
Arlene McCarthy set our minds back to 2008. The priority was clear then, she said: fix the financial system. The EU needed to ensure financial stability, regain credibility and the trust of European people. At this stage, sustainability was a secondary motivation. However, the mood is very different now. The EU felt, said McCarthy, that the time had come to step in with a clear mandate in mind: ’it's time for action’.
The work of the HLEG is testament to this. The report provides clear operating guidance for sustainable finance initiatives, such as: upgrading disclosures to make sustainability opportunities and risks transparent; enabling retail investors to invest in sustainable finance opportunities.
It was exciting to hear the connection highlighted between opportunity and risk. The vision laid out in this report is undoubtedly different compared to a decade ago. The HLEG recommendations are not only part of a toolkit to better manage financial risk, but they are pushing forward the principle that the responsibility and fiduciary duty of the financial actors (both investors and authorities) are broader and include economic and ESG elements.
The creation of the EU green taxonomy to define which products are 'green', and the introduction of the 'Green supporting factor' (a practical example of policy implementation of the relationship between ESG and risk) are concrete steps in this direction. The HLEG recommends EU legislation (including the NFR directive) to align to the Sustainable Development Goals, the TCFD, and French Article 173.
As Sir Roger Gifford rightfully concluded, green finance is about risk mitigation, profitability and allocated finance. The principles of green (or rather sustainable) finance encourage lending on the basis of projects. This makes lending less risky - the purpose of the money is clear.
This direction of action calls for a deeper definition of materiality - one that ensures a stronger connection between the issues and the financial consequences. In this sense, the HLEG recommends that the EU follows the same example as SASB in the US.
Author: Donato Calace, Director of Innovation at Datamaran