What China’s New Green Bond Rules Mean

By Chaoni Huang, Derek Ip 16 March, 2016

Can these rules help China raise RMB2 trillion? Trucost's Huang & Ip expand on their Chinese characteristics

Rules published by PBOC & Committee set out 6 major themes incl: clean energy, pollution & resource recycling
China needs RMB2 trn/year for climate & environ clean-up; China's Guidelines & international standards differ
Within 2 months 3 Chinese banks already issued RMB38 bn of green bonds; opportunities for international investors

China has become the first country in the world to issue official rules on issuing ‘green bonds’ – bonds that are dedicated to financing sustainable solutions. The new rules are aimed at kickstarting a booming green bond market in China to raise much-needed capital from the private sector globally to invest in the country’s transition to a green economy.

China’s rules set out 6 major themes for green bond financing

The ‘Green Bond Guidelines’ and the ‘Green Bond Endorsed Project Catalogue’ were published by the People’s Bank of China and the Green Finance Committee of China Society of Finance and Banking on 22 December 2015. These government-backed documents set out important requirements on disclosure and use of proceeds to ensure a transparent and robust green bond market. They also set out six major themes for green bond financing in China: energy saving, pollution prevention and control, resource conservation and recycling, clean transportation, clean energy and ecological protection and climate change adaptation.

China needs min. RMB2 trn in capital per year to finance climate solutions & address environmental issues
~85% must come from the private sector

According to the Green Finance Committee, China needs a minimum injection of RMB2 trillion (USD330 billion) capital per year to finance climate solutions and to address environmental problems such as air pollution. Some 85% of this investment must come from the private sector, both at home and abroad. With the global debt market amounting to roughly USD100 trillion in 2014, much of the necessary investment could come from bonds.
The global green bond market has increased rapidly from USD11 billion in 2011 to almost USD42 billion in 2015 according to Climate Bond Initiative, with most of the participation being dominated by players from Europe and US. All this is expected to change, however, as the launch of China’s new rules signal the entry of an important new player into the market.

The Chinese shade of green

The current version of the Guidelines is very much focused on the environmental challenges in China and offers a ‘localized’ definition of green to the market. It emphasizes pollution prevention and ecological protection in response to the county’s environmental challenges, while setting out projects to deal with these issues in the upstream supply chain, such as cleaning up coal processing and mining.

There are notable differences between the Guidelines & international standards
The most obvious is the eligibility of clean coal in China

There are notable differences between the Green Bond Guidelines and international standards. The most of obvious one is eligibility of clean coal in China. In contrast, the Climate Bonds Initiative has excluded all fossil fuel related projects from the green bond universe. This is an important difference for foreign institutional investors who have environmental mandates in their investment strategies, and in the light of support for coal divestment and carbon reduction pledges made at the COP21 climate conference.
Such differences over what is green are not unprecedented. One example is the green bond eligibility criteria set by the Multilateral Development Banks which try to strike a balance between the need for economic growth and environmental integrity in developing countries where they finance projects. For example, Brazilian landfill projects financed by World Bank green bonds are in a grey area between ‘green’ and ‘dirty’, despite achieving carbon emissions reductions.
Both international investors and potential Chinese issuers in the international market should be aware of the implications of such differences. For international investors, it is necessary to engage with issuers and obtain better information in order to avoid infringing sustainable investment mandates. For potential Chinese issuers who are targeting international market, such differences would result in different investor appetite in the foreign market.

A good call on disclosure

The disclosure and use of proceeds requirements in the Guidelines are important features for both domestic and foreign investors. Integrity and transparency are fundamental to ensuring that the environmental and social benefits financed by green bonds are delivered. This is especially important to address possible investor concerns over the Chinese bond market. Unlike the developed market where voluntary reporting is often adopted, Chinese issuers have yet to incorporate robust measures to demonstrate that finance will flow into eligible green projects. The periodic disclosure requirement and clear allocation of proceeds in the Guidelines are aimed to clear doubts that some may have.

Expected participation of all 

Before the Guidelines and Catalogue were published, green bond issuance had been tested by a handful of trailblazers from China in the international market. In July 2015, Xinjiang Goldwind issued a three-year, USD300 million green bond and received orders of USD1.4 billion. Hong Kong’s CLP Holdings issued the first corporate green bond through its subsidiary in India in September last year, securing USD90.3 million for capital expenditure and refinancing of wind power assets. In October, Agricultural Bank of China issued the first Renminbi and US Dollar denominated green bonds, plugging a total of USD994.5m into the Chinese green bond market.

Only 2 months after the new rules, 3 Chinese banks have already issued a combined worth of RMB38 bn

Now China has made it clear which sectors and projects are allowed to be labelled as green, as well as establishing rules around issuing green bonds, China could rapidly become one of the biggest players in the green bond market. Indeed, only two months after the new rules, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, Industrial Bank and Bank of Qingdao have already issued a combined worth of  RMB38 billion (USD5.8 billion) of green bonds, which received over subscriptions. More is going to follow!
Institutional investors in China, such as pension funds, insurance companies, non-bank institutional investors, have been taking a more important role in financing the private sector as a result of the recent changes that allowed entry into stock market. It is reasonable to expect to see such investors in China becoming domestic green bond buyers in future. Indeed, these investors have long been active players in the traditional Chinese bond market.

Opportunities for international investors

The Green Bond Guidelines will also help Chinese issuers reach out to a more diversified group of international institutional investors that provide low-cost, long-term capital. Not only would Chinese overseas issuances matter for international investors, but China’s domestic issuances will become relevant to international investors. The fact that the Green Bond Guidelines will be implemented in the interbank bond market, which was made easier for international buyers to access earlier this year, represents an opportunity for international investors to fulfil their fiduciary duty while exploring investment opportunities in China.

Ecological Civilization

Alongside commitments to cap the country’s coal consumption and carbon emissions from around 2030, China has put an ambitious goal of becoming an ‘ecological civilization’ on the table. Prior to the Green Bond Guidelines and Catalogue, the Chinese financial community has already started the search for green investment options in the equity market. The creation of the SSE 180 Carbon Efficient Index, launched in October 2015 by Shanghai Stock Exchange and China Securities Index, is a good example of how regulators and market participants are recognizing climate change and environmental risks embedded in the financial market.

“… sustainable investment can only be fully realized with a wide range of green investment options that match the different needs of investors.”

However, this alone is far from enough to entertain all investment strategies, nor to help minimize climate change and environmental risks for investors. The concept of sustainable investment can only be fully realized with a wide range of green investment options that match the different needs of investors.

The launch of the China’s Green Bond Guidelines and Project Catalogue is an exciting development that will help unlock much needed capital to finance the country’s transition towards sustainable economic growth. It is a call to action by the Chinese government for issuers to take advantage of the surge in interest in green bonds to gain access to new sources of capital, and for financiers to benefit from new investment opportunities in one of the world’s biggest economies.

Further Reading

  • Beautiful China 2020: Water & The 13 FYP – China wants to exert tireless efforts to build a Beautiful China where the sky is blue, the land is green and the water runs clear. Find out what this means for water, the environment and the economy in the next five years in the upcoming 13th Five Year Plan
  • Key Water Policies 2015 – 2016 – Over the last year China has released multiple of key water-related policies ranging from tackling the war on pollution, monitoring, food & energy security, green finance to promoting circular economies and more. Stay on top of them with China Water Risk’s review
  • The Road From COP21 So Far – Political momentum on climate action has not let up since Paris. With Fiji being the first to ratify the climate deal, CDP’s Kate Levick updates on the road so far to a low-carbon economy
  • 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
  • China Water Risk’s 5 Trends for 2016 – Prioritizing environment alongside employment signals a reshuffle. To show it’s serious, China will “kill a chicken to warn the monkey”. The Year of the Monkey brings with it wild swings, so check out our top 5 trends in water for 2016 for it is better to be in a position to disrupt than be disrupted
  • 2015 World Water Week: Key Takeaways – What’s water’s role in sustainable development? How can we ensure water for all? China Water Risk’s McGregor on this, how Asia is fairing, the Sustainable Development Goals & more from World Water Week 2015
Chaoni Huang
Author: Chaoni Huang
Chaoni Huang joined Trucost in 2012 and is responsible for Trucost’s business development, account management and partnership in Asia. Prior to Trucost, Chaoni was a senior ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) investment analyst at MSCI in London and Beijing, and was instrumental in the team and research expansion in China and India. Between 2006 and 2007, Chaoni worked as a project manager at the UNEP Finance Initiative in Geneva. Chaoni is also an executive board member of China Carbon Forum, a guest researcher for the China Economy and Sustainable Development Centre at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, and a regular public speaker on environmental matters in Asia. Chaoni has an honours degree in Economics from the University of Warwick (UK) and is fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.
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Derek Ip
Author: Derek Ip
Derek joined Trucost’s financial institutions team in 2015 after completing an MSc in Carbon Finance at the University of Edinburgh. He is focused on natural capital accounting and portfolio climate risk projects for investors. During his MSc study, he worked with CDP on corporate behavioral change strategy and the Climate Bonds Initiative on green bond policy research in China. Prior to his MSc study, he worked for a venture capital firm in Hong Kong and Beijing focusing on clean tech early stage investment during 2009-2011. He later moved on to become a carbon and sustainability consultant in Hong Kong with a business development and project management role. His works included supply chain sustainability improvement programs across Asia and corporate carbon management projects for major listed companies in Hong Kong and China.
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