Will Green Finance Have a Role in a Future Recovery?
It’s not always easy to think long term when faced with an immediate crisis.
The pandemic and the resulting economic seize-up is driving short-term carbon-reduction as manufacturing activities slow and oil use falls. The emissions reductions, though large, will likely be temporary and not enough to slow global warming.
But while many predict green-focused reforms will fall by the wayside as nations struggle to recover, the evidence for this (so far) is weak. Purchase agreements that let companies buy their own wind and solar power are slightly higher through March, with 2.4 gigawatts of deals signed, up from 2.1 gigawatts in the same period last year. (To be sure, BloombergNEF warns that activity could slow as deals get dragged out.) Companies continue to set science-based targets for reaching emissions reductions in line with the Paris Agreement. More than 100 companies set such targets this year, up from 53 this time in 2019 (though the pace of commitments slowed in March).
It’s those long-term goals that could make green bonds, which tie their proceeds to environmental projects, a more important way to obtain dedicated financing going forward. The pace of green bond issuance slowed last month, but that won’t necessarily last.
Green bond performance has hinted that, at least in market downturns, they may be able to deliver a “greenium.” UBS analysts said in late March that they expected green bonds to show “lower volatility and smaller drawdowns” during stressful market periods, and so far that’s panned out. Green bonds have “proven to be a more defensive way to invest in investment grade debt,” said Thomas Wacker, head of credit research at UBS. The bonds outperformed in the market drop, but the gap narrowed as central banks came in to buy other types of corporate debt, he said.
David Zahn, head of European fixed income at Franklin Templeton Investments, said “this is the opportunity that you can actually try to put in policies to limit the amount of carbon emissions over the next several years.”
Green bonds often are used to fund renewable energy and efficiency, but a lot of the projects are also focused on critical infrastructure like public transport and sustainable water management. In a positive sign from Eastern Europe, officials from Poland, Europe’s biggest polluter, said this week that they will keep their plan to issue more green bonds.
“Recovery in the green context could see some more attention,” said Wacker. If pandemic bailout plans focus on renewable energy and clean technology the way they did after the 2008 recession, that could lay the groundwork for more sovereigns and corporations to issue green debt, he said.
—with assistance from David Caleb Mutua.
Sustainable Finance in Brief
- Pollution costs are making a comeback in Europe after carbon prices dropped more than 25% in March, a sign that investors are betting industrial production will recover on the continent.
- Amazon fired three employees who criticized the company over working conditions and climate change.
- Moody’s cited ESG in a third of its credit rating actions last year.
- Executives halting dividends due to the coronavirus should consider cutting their own pay as well, a U.K. investor group said.
- “Social washing” is a growing headache for ESG investors amid Covid-19.
Emily Chasan writes the Good Business newsletter about climate-conscious investors and the frontiers of sustainability.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.