2 July 2019

Moving green finance to the mainstream

In June, the UK became the first major economy to commit to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

This was welcome. Political action is a necessary step towards limiting global temperature increases to two degrees, as set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement. But it is not sufficient.

An estimated USD100 trillion of new spending is required by 2030 to transition to a low-carbon economy. Governments and public sector bodies cannot do this on their own. Banks, investors and issuers must pull their weight. So far, we aren’t doing enough.

Green bonds issuance grew by 3 per cent from 2017 to 2018, totalling USD167.6 billion by the end of the year. Total sustainable debt issuance reached USD247 billion in 2018. These figures look big – but they won’t make a dent in climate change.

What can be done to tackle this?

Banks, investors and issuers must pull their weight

First, we need to be confident in the business case for green finance. We need to move green finance out of its niche position and make sustainable projects the norm.

A boost in demand has to be matched by an uptick in supply. Here, investors face a problem – what truly counts as sustainable? A lack of certainty has so far impaired the uptake of sustainable investment.

Improved disclosure may not be a particularly exciting term, but giving investors more information could unlock the true power of sustainable finance.

HSBC and other financial institutions have been closely involved in the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which has developed a voluntary disclosure benchmark for green and sustainable issuance.

We support voluntary disclosure, but the private sector has very little time left to show that this can work. Otherwise it will become mandatory.

Finally, we need to let people exercise the power of their wallets.

In many countries, consumers can specifically choose electricity providers that generate 100 per cent of their power from renewables. They should have the same freedom of choice with retail investment and other financial products – mortgages, insurance and pensions.

If our climate problem is to be solved, it will be through countless incremental changes across every area of our lives.

The financial sector is uniquely placed to help make this happen. Our industry can channel cash flows from across the world into the right places. We must meet the challenge in front of us, and open the taps on green finance.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in The Daily Telegraph in the UK on 25 June 2019.