The "climate challenge" is one of the most complex issues facing the world today. A year after launching the VanEck Vectors® Green Bond ETF (NYSEARCA:GRNB) and in recognition of Earth Day, we revisit the role that green bonds can play in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Where We Are Today
2017 was another record year for green bond issuance, once again nearly doubling the issuance of the prior year, an encouraging trend that reflects the growing demand for sustainable investments. But discouragingly, 2017 also saw a rise in CO2 emissions for the first time in four years. It was one of the hottest years on record (2016 was the hottest) and one characterized by extreme weather events and the most expensive hurricane season ever. It's clear that more needs to be done, and quickly, if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be achieved.
Nearly 200 countries ratified the Paris Agreementi in 2015, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to less than 1.5-2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Each signatory must develop and maintain target reductions in emissions, and in 2017 several countries, most notably France, issued green bonds to help finance these efforts.
The Paris Agreement was dealt a blow when the U.S. announced its decision last June to exit the Agreement. While disappointing, the impact of the withdrawal is unclear and progress will likely continue (see Paris Exit Won't Squash Green Bonds). The rest of the world has reaffirmed their support, and many U.S. cities, states, and companies have pledged to help deliver on the U.S. emissions reductions targets. Encouragingly, the U.S. was actually the largest issuer of green bonds in 2017.ii
Still Moving Forward
Although progress may have felt uneven in 2017, there is palpable momentum not only in the growing issuance of green bonds, but also the increasing recognition of the risks of climate change and the magnitude of the challenge. The World Economic Forum's 2018 Global Risks Report identified environmental risks among the most significant systematic risks facing the world in terms of likelihood and impact.iii In addition to the immediate physical impact of climate change and the financial risks associated with stranded assets, secondary risks can include food and water shortages, social unrest, and large-scale involuntary migration.
An estimated $1 trillion in new investment is needed annually to transition to a low-carbon economy.iv This is in addition to the massive infrastructure spending needed to modernize existing and build new infrastructure to address population growth - all of which will need to be low/no carbon emissions. Overall, up to $90 trillion in new infrastructure investment will be the estimated need through 2030.v This significant investment need creates potential financing opportunities for investors, and green bonds are well suited to meet this challenge.
The Role of Green Bonds
Green bonds are like conventional bonds, except that the proceeds are used only to finance environmentally friendly projects. Investors do not need to adopt new or untested structures. Many green infrastructure projects are long-dated in nature, require significant upfront investment, and generate ongoing cash flows. As a result, green bonds will likely be a significant part of the overall financing of green projects, in addition to equity, loans, and other financing types. Most green bonds are backed by the full balance sheet of the issuer, allowing investors to direct capital towards specific projects without taking on the direct risk of the project.
At the same time, the full spectrum of bond types, credit enhancement structures, and risk transfer mechanisms are available in the green bond space. For example, 2017 saw innovations such as green sukuk,vi green commercial mortgage backed securities (CMBS), and the largest green sovereign bond to date. The massive size of the global fixed income market, the array of structures available, and the inherent flexibility of the Green Bond Principles have put green bonds at the forefront of addressing the climate challenge.
Focus on Transparency
Increased and more standardized disclosure related to climate risk assessment and management has long been at the top of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investor demands. Regulators are accelerating the push to help quantify and evaluate these risks. For example, in 2015 France began mandating carbon disclosure for listed companies and carbon reporting for institutional investors. Similarly, in 2017 the Financial Stability Board's Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) released its final recommendations for financial disclosures, taking into account various climate scenarios with the underlying assumption that climate risks are, or could become, material to investors and impact the risk-return profile of an organization. To date, over 250 organizations have expressed support for the TCFD's recommendations.vii
By disclosing the use of proceeds of green bond issues, as well as developing green bond frameworks to identify, assess, and manage climate risks and investments, green bond issuers are in many ways ahead of the curve. And to the extent that the market does begin to adequately factor in climate-related risks into market pricing, entities that are proactively addressing and disclosing these risks will likely benefit.
Facing the Climate Challenge
The cost of the climate challenge is so significant that it can be difficult to grasp, as are the potential consequences of failing to mitigate or adapt to climate change. The accessibility of green bonds, therefore, makes them an extremely valuable tool to address this challenge.
Because green bonds are like conventional bonds, and have similar risk and return profiles, investors of all types - large and small, traditional and those with an ESG mandate - can seamlessly incorporate them into their portfolios. Policymakers have begun to provide guidance to the market, which will help promote standardization and reduce risk to green bond issuers and investors. We feel the green bond market is well positioned to play a leading role in meeting the global climate challenge head on.
i Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that entered into force in November 2016, and aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
ii Source: Climate Bonds Initiative
iii Source: World Economic Forum
iv Source: International Energy Agency
v Source: The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate
vi Sukuk commonly refers to the Islamic equivalent of bonds. However, as opposed to conventional bonds, which merely confer ownership of a debt, Sukuk grants the investor a share of an asset, along with the commensurate cash flows and risk. As such, Sukuk securities adhere to Islamic laws sometimes referred to as Shari'ah principles, which prohibit the charging or payment of interest.
vii Source: Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures
This content is published in the United States for residents of specified countries. Investors are subject to securities and tax regulations within their applicable jurisdictions that are not addressed on this content. Nothing in this content should be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell shares of any investment in any jurisdiction where the offer or solicitation would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction, nor is it intended as investment, tax, financial, or legal advice. Investors should seek such professional advice for their particular situation and jurisdiction.
The information herein represents the opinion of the author(s), but not necessarily those of VanEck, and these opinions may change at any time and from time to time. Non-VanEck proprietary information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed. Not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of future results or investment advice. Historical performance is not indicative of future results. Current data may differ from data quoted. Any graphs shown herein are for illustrative purposes only. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission of VanEck.
An investment in VanEck Vectors® Green Bond ETF (GRNB®) may be subject to risks which include, among others, credit risk, high yield securities risk, call risk, and interest rate risk, all of which may adversely affect the Fund. International investing involves additional risks which include greater market volatility, the availability of less reliable financial information, higher transactional and custody costs, taxation by foreign governments, decreased market liquidity and political instability. Changes in currency exchange rates may negatively impact the Fund's return. The Fund's assets may be concentrated in a particular sector or region and may be subject to more risk than investments in a diverse group of sectors or regions. Any indices listed are unmanaged indices and include the reinvestment of all dividends, but do not reflect the payment of transaction costs, advisory fees or expenses that are associated with an investment in the Fund. Certain indices may take into account withholding taxes. An index's performance is not illustrative of the Fund's performance. Indices are not securities in which investments can be made.
Fund shares are not individually redeemable and will be issued and redeemed at their Net Asset Value (NAV) only through certain authorized broker-dealers in large, specified blocks of shares called "creation units" and otherwise can be bought and sold only through exchange trading. Shares may trade at a premium or discount to their NAV in the secondary market. You will incur brokerage expenses when trading Fund shares in the secondary market. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Returns for actual Fund investments may differ from what is shown because of differences in timing, the amount invested, and fees and expenses.
Investing involves substantial risk and high volatility, including possible loss of principal. An investor should consider the investment objective, risks, charges and expenses of the Fund carefully before investing. To obtain a prospectus and summary prospectus, which contains this and other information, call 800.826.2333 or visit vaneck.com. Please read the prospectus and summary prospectus carefully before investing.