On April 2, more than 2,400 people from around the world participated in Webinar on Environmental Information Disclosure by Financial Institutions and Green Bond Issuers, co-hosted by Tsinghua University and the World Bank’s Global Knowledge and Research Hub in Malaysia. The two-hour event, the first online series of the Green Finance Leadership Program (GFLP), was opened by Dr. Ma Jun, Chairman of China Green Finance Committee and Director of Green Finance Center at Tsinghua University. Dr. Firas Raad, the World Bank’s Country Manager for Malaysia, delivered a welcome speech.
Experts from China, Hong Kong SAR, Malaysia, Singapore, France, the UK and the US, shared their experiences and cases in environmental information disclosure. They said that better disclosures could help draw more capital into green industries, improve market transparency, promote innovations in green products and reduce the risk of “green-washing”.
Speakers from commercial banks, asset managers, MDBs, the academia and international organizations stated that the COVID-19 outbreak have made investors more aware of the importance of green and sustainable development. Iberdrola, the Spanish utilities company, received 11.5 times over-subscription for its most recent issuance of green bonds. Speakers also pointed out during the webinar that the size of responsible investment worldwide has already reached USD30 trillion, and is estimated to grow by 34 percent to reach USD40 trillion by 2021. However, the lack of consistency in disclosing ESG data poses a major barrier to the further growth of responsible investment. Although many countries and international organizations have released guidance on disclosing environment-sensitive information, the inconsistencies of standards and differences in data granularity and quality are hindering the improvement of companies’ ESG performances, the decision making of investors and analyses by research institutions.
Dr. Ma, in his speech, laid out four forces needed to improve environmental information disclosure. First, governments should make explicit regulatory requirements, preferably mandatory environmental information disclosure requirements. Second, investors should further grow their demand for environmental information and a preference for green products. Third, a collective endeavor in capacity building is needed by MDBs, NGOs, rating/verification agencies and research institutions. And lastly, industry associations also play an important role, such as the China-UK Environmental Information Disclosure Pilot Project led by the China Green Finance Committee and the City of London in promoting environmental disclosures by financial institutions in the two countries.
In his concluding remark, Dr. Ma called for green stimulus given that many countries may experience a recession or a sharp economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and national governments have been introducing economic stimulus plans which will likely involve more fiscal and financial resources than ever. These stimulus plans may include investments in infrastructure, public health and education, as well as measures to encourage consumption and support people's livelihoods.
“Stimulus programs should include as many green projects as possible, focusing more on green and low-carbon projects than at any other time in history,” said Dr. Ma. “Even if not labeled as green, all projects in the stimulus plans should meet environmental and social standards and should not damage the environment or exacerbate emissions,” he said.
Any policy incentives in the stimulus plans, such as tax exemptions, subsidies and guarantees, should also support green activities, e.g. green consumption, Dr. Ma added.
Launched in May 2018, the GFLP is intended to build an international platform for knowledge sharing and capacity building in green finance. To date, the GFLP has successfully held five events, drawing more than 3000 participants from at least 60 countries and regions around the world, many of which from emerging economies. This webinar is the first of its online series.