Financing Water Resilience: Climate Bonds for China

By Lily Dai, Anna Creed, John Matthews 16 November, 2016

Matthews, Creed & Dai on the new water climate bond standard and the global & Chinese climate bond market

Global climate bond market is young but rapidly growing; China is the largest market, could reach USD46 bn in 2016
New Standard to provide assurance & benchmarks
Water is a key focus; new way to score water-related investments; already 1 bond sale in 2016 using standard

Climate finance at a global policy level has largely had a narrow focus: overseas aid, mostly from a few western countries, directed towards projects in the least-developed countries. Middle income nations such as China are largely excluded from these sources of finance, though the need for support for climate adaptation and mitigation projects is certainly no less urgent.

China has the world’s largest climate-aligned bond market, with a significant proportion of proceeds financing sustainable water projects

China has responded by rapidly developing a new national market for “green” and “climate” bonds designed to redefine climate finance from strictly public and national-level sources of support to a much larger pool of private sector investors. To date, China has issued USD16.7 billion labelled green bond, whereas 20% of the proceeds would be allocated to water projects. China also has the world’s largest climate-aligned bond market1, with a significant proportion of proceeds financing sustainable water projects. China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China has estimated that the green bond market in China could reach USD46 billion in 2016.

Climate bond market: young, niche & rapidly growing

Globally, the green and climate bond market is only about a decade old. Beginning in 2007, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the World Bank began issuing “green” bonds (also known as “climate” bonds) as a loan mechanism to show the use of proceeds applied to environment-positive projects. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, in the case of climate bonds, the use of proceeds were further refined to apply to climate change mitigation and/or adaptation projects. The standing of these institutions inspired market confidence as to the use of proceeds and the application of safeguard mechanisms, while a handful of other donor and multilateral institutions followed their lead.
However, as an investment category, green and climate bonds remained relatively niche markets with limited impact until about 2013. Issuances tripled to about USD10 billion that year after commercial finance and corporate institutions began promoting the market. These trends continued and expanded in both 2014 (USD35 billion) and 2015 (USD43 billion). To date, 2016 has seen even more explosive growth, probably running between about USD80 to 100 billion, which compares favourably with the Paris Agreement’s UNFCCC call for reaching USD100 billion for climate finance by 2020.

Green & climate bonds remained relatively niche with limited impact until about 2013…
…2016 saw even more explosive growth, probably running between about USD80-100bn

While the market pool has grown rapidly, some investors and investment journalists have become concerned that the credibility of these new bonds as environmental investments may be questionable with the new categories of issues.

But how green are green bonds?

Most were offered with the limited evidence of safeguards comparable than the original multilateral assurances2. How green are green bonds, and could the exposure of ineffective investments cause a collapse or systemic risk within the market category?

Credibility concerns & gaps in water

The need for open and independent standards was identified recently by a number of NGOs working with sustainability issues in the finance and investor communities. The Climate Bonds Initiative specifically has sought to address this challenge by establishing a Climate Bond Standard and Certification Scheme, to provide assurance and transparent, common benchmarks for the green bond market. These qualities will be key to supporting and growing the market.

Climate Bond Standard & Certification Scheme to provide assurance & benchmarks for the green bond market…

Water is a key focus for this Standard, since freshwater resources are often relatively hidden to investors, who may not readily see water embedded within energy, agriculture, and urban projects, much less how the water within one project may affect other issues and systems within the same basin. Moreover, the sensitivity of water-related investments to climate impacts highlighted special needs for these investments to demonstrate robustness and climate adaptation efficacy.

…water is a key focus since freshwater resources are often relatively hidden to investors

In mid 2014, a consortium of NGOs — Ceres, Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI), World Resources Institute (WRI), CDP, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), and the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) — coordinated the development of criteria to score the quality of water-related investments for their relevance to climate mitigation and climate adaptation, so that they can be certified under the Climate Bond Standard. Together, they organized a series of technical and industry working groups, which defined scoring criteria for issuers and verifiers to provide investor confidence in climate bonds.

Scoring the quality of water-related investments

These criteria effectively score the climate resilience and climate adaptive potential of these bonds in addition to their environmental impact. Phase one of the work targeted traditional “grey” water infrastructure investments with the exclusion of hydropower, while phase two (now underway) focuses on both the use of nature-based solutions for water management as well as on hydropower criteria. Both phases evaluate the climate mitigation impact as well as the ability of the investment to contribute to climate change adaptation (and/or to continue delivering services even while its climate context continues to evolve — the degree of “climate proofing” of those services). These issues remain well understood and appreciated by technical groups such as engineers, scientists, and resource managers. But the level of sophistication, even basic awareness, with policy and finance groups is far more limited.

“The successful issuance & sale in 2016 of the first bond scored against the standard represents a vivid shift in investor awareness”

The successful issuance and sale in 2016 of the first bond scored against the standard represents a vivid shift in investor awareness, with dramatic reactions from the development finance, investor, and water management press3, as well as major public institutions (e.g., White House promotion of the CBI standard for 2016’s World Water Day4). The standard has gone some distance towards filling gaps between the climate change, water, and finance communities. While specialized and focused in its goals, the standard defines a niche that has the potential to provide broader credibility for both issuers and investors than has previously existed to reduce the reputational hazards that have characterized the market to date.
Indeed, the definition of climate finance itself may be expanding. While climate finance within policy circles demands a demonstration of “additionality” (i.e., going beyond traditional pre-climate change era projects to address realized or potential climate impacts) and requires stringent tracking mechanisms. By lowering barriers and raising standards, a new pool of non-ODA climate finance has emerged.

The standard’s format appears to be flexible…
… new criteria is being developed for nature-based solutions for water investments

Moreover, the format of this standard appears to be flexible and extensible. On the basis of the successful completion of the first phase of developing water criteria in early 2016, CBI, AGWA, and SIWI with support from the Rockefeller Foundation began developing supplemental criteria to evaluate and qualify nature-based solutions (NBS) for water investments.
NBS investments depend explicitly on the use of ecosystems to provide grey infrastructure-like services, such as through so-called natural or green and hybrid infrastructure. Such services could include stormwater and flood protection, water treatment, and water storage. These criteria are currently still under development with a broad spectrum of industry and topical experts and are expected to reach a public consultation period by early 2017, for application to new investments within six months of the commentary process.

Climate Bonds Initiative, 2016. Bonds and Climate Change: State of the Market 2016.

Further Reading

  • Financing Innovation from Indonesia – Green finance is high on agendas. The Tropical Landscape Finance Facility is a new model for just such. How does this unique mix of capital work? China Water Risk sat down with Lisa Genasci, CEO of ADM Capital Foundation, to find out
  • Treating Landfill Black Water – Landfill leachate, a highly polluting effluent, is now under new China EPA standards. Regular treatment has limitations but EWS:AOx™ by OriginClear is versatile alternative as its Jean-Loui Kindler, Nicholas Eckelberry and Stephen Jan show
  • Fashion to Solve China’s Plastic Problem – With most PET made for fibres and not bottles, fashion is a big contributor to the plastic problem but it can also be part of the solution as Sondra Kim from Waste2Wear tells us. The company turns plastic waste into sustainable & high quality clothes
  • Corporate Disclosure: Can We See Clearly Now? – Global climate targets are connected to day-to-day operations of companies and with COP 22 underway China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor reflects on how clearly we are seeing corporate disclosure, the obstacles in our way & if there will be a sunny day
  • Water PPPs To Lead In China – All new water & wastewater projects in China need to follow the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model. Will this mean big change and how have other water-related projects been funded in China? China Water Risk’s Yuanchao Xu takes a look
  • What China’s New Green Bond Rules Mean – China’s new green bond rules can make it a major player in the global green bonds market. Trucost’s Huang & Ip expand on their Chinese characteristics and how they can help raise the annual requirement of RMB 2 trillion for climate solutions & environmental clean up
  • Green Finance Revolution: China Can Lead – Can financing required to meet targets laid down in Paris be met? WRI’s Shouqing Zhu & Andrew Steer on how China can lead with five recommendations
  • Climate Finance: Who Pays? – A Paris Agreement was made but a lot of it and our future climate resilience comes down to money – north of USD100 bn. Xu Nan from Central University of Finance & Economics takes a look at who could pay what
  • Corporate Water Reporting in China – CDP’s report shows potentially inadequate water risk assessment by Chinese companies & those with HQ’s in China. CDP’s Gillespy on their latest report and why it’s time to report on water risks
  • Water Risk Valuation – What Investors Say – See what 70+ investors have to say on different valuation approaches we applied to 10 energy stocks listed across 4 exchanges. Is there consensus? What are they most worried about?
  • Investors Can No Longer Ignore Water Risks – Ceres warns that water – or lack of it – is becoming a bigger financial issue for investors. Monika Freyman shares key points from their report on how to integrate water analysis into investment decisions
Lily Dai
Author: Lily Dai
Lily undertakes research on Chinese green bond issuance and policies, helps build connections with China and provides support for the Climate Bonds Standards work. Lily has recently competed an MSc in Carbon Finance at the University of Edinburgh, which focused on climate change and finance. Before joining Climate Bonds Initiative in September 2015, Lily did a consulting project for the UK Green Investment Bank on the lifecycle assessment of renewable energy projects. Lily also holds a BSc in Management (major in accounting, concentrating on ACCA).
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Anna Creed
Author: Anna Creed
Anna is the Standards Manager Climate Bonds Initiative. A strategy specialist, Anna has significant experience advising on green growth and low carbon development. For the last 8 years, she has worked with companies, Governments and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) advising on national and international policy development, and mechanisms to engage the private sector in sustainable land use. Anna began her career in the private sector, where she worked in consultancy and then in industry. This included working as a Strategic Planning Manager in a large FTSE 100 company, developing company strategies based on economic analyses and market modelling. She holds an MSc in Economics and a BSc in Economics & Philosophy, both from the London School of Economics and has qualified as an accountant with the ACCA.
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John Matthews
Author: John Matthews
John H. Matthews is the Secretariat Coordinator for the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA), which is hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and the World Bank. His work integrates climate change adaptation policy and science into practical implementation for sustainable resource management, infrastructure operations, and economic development. John has worked on five continents and some 20 countries. Current projects include coordinating the technical team for creating standards for water projects that are financed as so-called "green" or climate bonds, and acting as the lead editor for a 12-author publication designed to support the mainstreaming of climate adaptation into water management and planning due to publish in late 2015. He has authored or co-authored recent books, papers, and reports on decision-making frameworks for adapting water infrastructure and ecosystems to climate impacts, resilient approaches to environmental flows, integrating ecological and engineering approaches to robust water management, and using new economic tools to support long-term sustainable planning. He has an ongoing research program funded by the US Geological Survey, as well as a US NSF grant to merge ecological and engineering approaches to water management. He is a Water Fellow at Colorado State University. Previously, John directed the global WWF freshwater climate adaptation program for four years and the Freshwater Climate Change program at Conservation International for four years. He has PhD in ecology from the University of Texas. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon, where he enjoys trail running, timber framing, and finding wild mushrooms.
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