Can booming green bonds finance sustainable cities?

In this three-part blog series “Making Vanilla Green or Making Green Vanilla,” EDF+Business Sustainable Finance Manager Jake Hiller, and Clean Energy and Sustainable Finance Intern Gabriel Malek unpack how an environmental advocacy group like EDF could best use its resources and expertise to drive impact in the fixed income market. This research is informed by interviews conducted with Eric Glass, Senior Portfolio Manager at AllianceBernstein and founding member of the Municipal Impact Investment Policy Group; Rob Fernandez, Director of ESG Research at Breckinridge Capital; and Navjeet Bal, General Counsel of Social Finance Inc. and former Commissioner of Revenue of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Over the past few years, experts in socially responsible investing have become increasingly intrigued by green bonds, financial vehicles designed to kickstart environmental projects. In 2016, both EDF and the Stanford Social Innovation Review examined the strengths and challenges of the growing green bond market and outlined how this novel financial tool could help channel capital to sustainable development initiatives. Since the publication of these articles, the green bond market has expanded dramatically. In the US alone, the value of green bonds between 2016 and 2017 doubled to $48 billion. What began in 2008 with an experimental, World Bank-issued “green” labelled bond has since developed into a $155 billion market that is projected to expand this year.

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With Green Bonds, Legitimacy Comes to Those Who Verify

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


Namrita KapurGreen bonds have been hailed as a key vehicle for driving clean energy investments both before and after the signing of the Paris climate agreement. And the range of organizations utilizing them continues to diversify – Apple issued its own $1.5 billion bond last month to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for its operations. But as the pool of bonds issued each year grows, investors are increasingly concerned that clear standards are needed.

Through 2013, the World Bank was the primary issuer of green bonds. The simplicity of the market made it easier to verify the environmental benefits. As the market has grown, so has the need for institutionalizing transparency to validate the promised benefits.

While roughly two-thirds of global green bonds issued in 2015 received either third-party verification or second-party opinion, only two U.S. municipal offerings received any external review, casting doubts on the U.S. market’s credibility. Investors like insurance firm Allianz are concerned that many of the funds earmarked for sustainable development projects are not achieving the desired impact, and are calling for strong standards to help provide the market with increased certainty.

Bankers and investors are driving progress on transparency Read more

Green Bonds: A Year in Review

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


Green bonds were a glimmer in the eye for investors when we first reported on them two years ago, but since then these sustainability-oriented debt financing instruments have exploded onto the investment scene. In fact green bonds were held up as a key instrument to keeping warming below the global high-end target of 2°C at COP21.

career-544952_640-300x211In the past year, the market to buy these bonds — which, by design, are linked to an environmental benefit — has significantly grown and matured. Over the course of 2015, the green bond market expanded from $37 billion to $42.4 billion, with much of this growth due to diversification — both in who is issuing them and for what wider types of projects.

While expansion of this market is encouraging, its growth is much slower than most experts had originally anticipated. Early predictions for 2015 had the green bond market booming to $80 billion, or even $100 billion. Instead, numbers seem to have stagnated. What does the future hold for this market, especially in the wake of COP21? Read more

Inside the Climate Bonds Initiative with Sean Kidney

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.

2014 has seen exciting growth in the maturing green bonds market, with clear investor demand and issuance tripling compared to 2013. However, for the market to grow to scale, this sector needs the kinds of systems and accepted standards in place that sustain the $80 trillion global debt capital markets.

Climate Bonds InitiativeI recently caught up with a key figure in the green bond movement – Sean Kidney, chief executive and co-founder of the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) – to discuss the current state of green debt and what it will take to scale up investments. Kidney launched CBI as a project of the Network for Sustainable Financial Markets, after a career in social marketing and strategy consulting, including working at some of the largest Australian pension funds. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

I understand that policy will play a key role in scaling the green bond marketplace. What role is CBI playing in the policy arena?

A price on carbon is critical to creating a scale, but that has proved challenging to secure in the near-term. Instead, we are largely focusing on what we call financial system policy.

First and foremost, we are advancing international standards, working to establish clear, green and robust definitions. We have a huge number of organizations involved in this, representing $34 trillion of investors, and sizeable grants from Bloomberg and the Swiss government. The type of certification system we are working to establish is critical to building and maintaining reasonable confidence in green bond “credentials”.

Our second focus is what we call policy formulation, helping governments see that ‘There’s a pot of gold over there,’ and showing them how to harvest it. Examples of this effort include a couple of papers we published in the spring. One is about what China can do to grow its green bond market and the macroeconomic reasons to do it. We also published a report for the European Commission on Financing the Future, where we articulated the role of green bonds in designing stable financial markets.

Our third effort is what we call market education; here our focus is to increase issuance. We’ve established there is investor demand, and now we need to feed it with bonds, so we travel the world working with the issuer community. We brief banks and cities on this new market, hoping to motivate them to enter it and thereby build supply.

There’s a lot of issuance coming through the system. I think we’ll see double the market this year than we saw last year without too much difficulty, but I want it to triple again because triple gets us to a magical $100 billion issuance, which has political resonance. Read more

Demand Soars for Green Bonds

As noted in my last post on green bonds, there has been a recent dramatic growth in green bond issuance. Supply is responding to a burgeoning demand. Quite simply, investors are snapping up these debt instruments that are linked to an environmental benefit. Three recent transactions highlight this seemingly insatiable appetite:

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(Source: eProGuide)

  • Massachusetts’ sale of $350 million in green bonds in September attracted more than $1 billion in demand from retail investors and institutions. This — the state’s second green bond issuance — will fund clean water, energy efficiency, open space protection and river preservation projects.
  • The order book for the Nordic Investment Bank’s $500 million green bond issue quickly climbed to $800 million, with more than a third of investors being new to NIB. This bond will funnel proceeds to climate-friendly projects in Nordic countries, such as renewables, energy efficiency, green transportation and wastewater treatment.
  • In September, the World Bank tripled the size of its planned structured green bond to $30 million in response to investor demand, raising more than expected for climate projects, such as energy and forestry initiatives. Since its first green issuance in 2008, the World Bank reports raising more than $7 billion from 77 bonds in 17 currencies.

These data points back up the buzz I’ve heard among market players. At the recent Associated Grant Makers fossil fuel divestment panel, Sonia Kowal of Zevin Asset Management talked about the tremendous interest Zevin has seen from clients for buying green bonds. Read more

Impact Investing: Green Bonds 101

Prior to joining EDF, I worked in a variety of finance-related roles, from building the alternative energy franchise at an investment bank to pioneering investment in rural communities in the developing world at Root Capital. As part of my work at EDF, I’m investigating what financing mechanisms can drive investment in projects with big environmental returns, as well as financial ones. This post is the start of a new series looking at the green bond market, and in the future, I’ll be delving into other areas of impact investing.

Namrita Kapur

Eighteen months ago, you might have never heard of a green bond. The market averaged less than $3 billion per year, but that is quickly changing.  $14 billion in green bonds were issued in 2013 and Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects as much as $45 billion to be issued this year. One expert even sees the market climbing to $100 billion in 2015.

Flexible financing for sustainability projects

So what are green bonds, and what is driving this market growth? Simply put, they’re a debt instrument that can be linked to an environmental benefit. One compelling aspect of green bonds is their flexibility. While some may be tied to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, others are used for projects around climate resiliency, water infrastructure and a growing list of other high-priority sustainability areas.

As countries experience the mounting impacts of climate change, there is an increasing global demand for capital in these critical infrastructure categories. At the same time, funds that are integrating environmental, social and governance criteria in their investment decisions are looking for these types of instruments to add to their portfolios.

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