Green bonds: India's best bet against climate change

Green bonds: India's best bet against climate change

In light of the tumultuous economic and environmental climate that the world is experiencing today, adopting a proactive stance on issues that have repercussions on the industry as a whole, is a need of the hour

Green Bonds: Tackling climate change the financial way Green Bonds: Tackling climate change the financial way

India's unique geography, geology together with its vast climatic diversity, make it vulnerable to this century's existing 'pandemic', climate change. As part of its endeavour to accomplish sustainable development goals, India has made aggressive strides towards a low-carbon economy with ambitious targets like achieving a robust 175 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity by the year 2022.  

Targets like these warrant massive capital funding. While debt is the primary source of funding renewable power projects, with the challenges of climate growing fast, we will have to find more innovative methods to achieve development goals. This is where green bonds, as a form of raising debt, come into the picture.  

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A green bond, in simplistic terms, is a debt instrument, like any other bond, by which investors can finance sustainable assets or projects. The proceeds of the green bond offering are earmarked for use towards financing 'green' projects like electric vehicles, mass rapid transport systems, water and irrigation management, and renewable energy. They can be raised either by financial institutions for further lending to green projects, or by the developers directly for investment in their projects.  

Evolution of green bonds in India

Green bonds as a means of finance is a fairly new concept and have garnered a lot of traction in the past decade with issuers like Yes Bank, EXIM Bank, IDBI, NTPC Limited, and Axis bank amongst others, raising debt for renewable energy, water management, and low carbon building projects. In 2017, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) acknowledged the need for green bonds and issued a circular prescribing disclosure requirement for issuance and listing of 'green debt securities.' Recently, JSW Hydro raised $707 million through green bonds which were oversubscribed four times. 

Benefits of green bonds 

The most vital characteristic of green bonds is that it focuses on garnering positive impact on sustainable development goals and protection of the environment. In addition to this, since these bonds are issued for projects ear-marked as 'green', its credentials have the potential to attract a larger pool of investors globally in view of the rapid integration of environmental, social, and governance ("ESG") metrics in the process of investment analysis.  

Apart from being a good alternative to conventional bank debt which is subject to sectoral limitations, green bonds are also an effective tool in driving down the cost of capital and reducing asset-liability mismatches. 

Additionally, with the development and growth of the green bonds market in the country, we may see new participants such as debt aggregators who pool loans from banks or developers and issue green bonds, securitising cash flows from the loan pool.  

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Despite the far reaching benefits of green bonds, there are still certain challenges that persist given that this form of financing is seemingly at a nascent stage and public and private sector project developers are still educating themselves on the utility of green bonds in infrastructure projects.

It is imperative to also highlight that demand and performance of green bonds would ultimately depend on the robustness of the bond market of the country. In addition to this, India's sovereign credit rating of BBB- means that many green bonds would also require credit enhancement to attract international investors.

Impact of other government policy measures like imposition of basic customs duty on import of solar modules and cells into India from April 2022 might also result in an increase in the overall cost of setting up solar power projects in view of the lack of domestic manufacturing capacities.

Regulatory uncertainty is also created by situations where tariffs are unilaterally revised or allotted tenders are cancelled. Such events adversely impact investment into the renewable energy sector and in turn, would also impact the popularity of green bonds amongst investors. 

Conclusion and way forward

India has the second-largest bond market among emerging markets after China. However, India's green bond market is less than a tenth of that of China's, which points to India's untapped potential.

In order for the Indian green bond market to be an attractive avenue for investors, perhaps the following areas should be of principal focus: 

  • Any form of decrease in the cost of raising green bonds in view of the generally high costs of issuing the same in India is key to making it attractive for project developers. This would require regulators like the Reserve Bank of India and SEBI to also get on board.   
  • The government may explore formulating principles and standards for certification of climate change projects. From an issuer's perspective, if the policy framework of the country provides a direct financial or compliance related incentive for tagging projects as 'green', the same would also encourage green bonds as a mode of finance.  
  • Introduction of projects with prospective green bond issuance and strategic green bond issuances by government and semi-government institutions would help in improving global investor sentiment in the Indian green bond market.

In light of the tumultuous economic and environmental climate that the world is experiencing today, adopting a proactive stance on issues that have repercussions on the industry as a whole, is a need of the hour. 

Promoting green bonds as a form of debt funding, for a sector that is most adjacent to the overall issue, should be the prime focus, as if we fail to adapt and take action now, we will eventually be forced into a consequential shift from a 'proactive' to a 'reactive' sustainable development policy, where we may have to think even ahead of green bonds as a potential mitigation tool.  
(Deepto Roy, Partner; Pranav Nanda, Senior Associate; Archis Choudhary, Associate, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.)