6 minute read 3 Nov 2021
Modern green eco office building with tree outside

How investors can help finance a green recovery

By Mathew Nelson

EY Global Climate Change and Sustainability Services Leader

Leading a purpose-driven team that shares a common passion for creating positive impact. Workplace diversity and equality advocate. Engineer. Father of two boys. Australian Football League fan.

Contributors
Local contact

Head Sustainable Finance for Financial Services | Switzerland

Responsible for building the Sustainable Finance team in Switzerland. Trusted advisor in regulatory transformation and governance projects. Passionate about family, sports, mountains and the ocean.

6 minute read 3 Nov 2021

Investors are pursuing green recovery opportunities, but a long-term strategy could be needed to manage market bubble concerns.

In brief
  • The race to net zero and decarbonization are central to investors’ investment decision-making, likely requiring significant climate scenario analysis capability.
  • Investors see a significant green recovery opportunity, but there are concerns about a market bubble as demand outstrips supply in renewables opportunities.
  • Two factors could dampen concerns: the volume of finance required to meet renewables goals and the amount of funding required to decarbonize “brown” industries.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, there was concern that it could slow investors’ focus on climate change. With markets reeling from lockdown shocks, would investment managers back away from pre-COVID-19 pandemic climate change pledges?

In fact, the EY 2021 Global Institutional Investor Survey found that the COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed the importance of climate change, with investors making the climate crisis and the energy transition central to their investment decision-making process. There are a number of key developments in this area:

  1. The race to net zero and decarbonization are now central to investors’ investment decision-making. This will likely require significant scenario analysis capability for both corporates and investors.
  2. Investors see a significant opportunity from efforts by national governments to drive a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are some concerns about a market bubble as demand outstrips the supply of opportunities in innovative new renewables solutions.
  3. However, there are two issues that could dampen the threat of a market bubble: first, the sheer volume of finance required to achieve renewables goals and the investment flow funding gap; second, the significant amount of funding likely required to “green the brown” by decarbonizing many industry sectors.
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1

Chapter 1

The road to net zero and decarbonization

The transition to net zero is central to investors’ investment decision-making.

The race is on to get to net zero by emissions reduction, carbon sequestration and offsetting programs. The research shows the transition to a net zero world is also central to investors’ investment decision-making today.

Making progress on net zero and decarbonization is unlikely to be without its challenges for both corporates and investors. Companies should undertake robust scenario planning to help understand the potential implications of a range of climate outcomes and stress-test the current risk management and strategy processes within their business. At the same time, investors should engage with companies on the requirement to recast their organizational strategies to incorporate decarbonization, and environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. They should also have a strong grasp of each industry’s pathway to decarbonization, founded on comprehensive quantitative data analysis.

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Chapter 2

Green recovery opportunity, but market bubble concerns

Investors are actively targeting green investments, but there are concerns of a market bubble.

While the transition to a net zero carbon economy can present significant material challenges, efforts by governments to encourage the transition could be an opportunity for investors. Many investors appear to be already capitalizing on the opportunities, with 92% of investors surveyed saying they had made an investment during the course of the preceding 12 months because they saw that target benefiting from the green recovery.

Green recovery opportunities

92%

Investors surveyed who reported making an investment in the previous 12 months because they saw that target benefiting from the green recovery.

Investors also see this transition continuing, with 88% of respondents saying it is likely that they will increasingly target green-focused investment opportunities following the COVID-19 pandemic, as they seek opportunities that are more resilient to global crises and able to provide sustainable long-term value.

For example, one area that has significant potential is nature-based sequestration. Nature-based solutions to climate change, sometimes called “natural climate solutions,” involve conserving, restoring or better managing ecosystems to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Examples include allowing forests to regrow, restoring coastal wetlands and switching to restorative agricultural practices such as cover crop rotation that support healthy soils.1

According to the UN’s inaugural State of Finance for Nature report, if the world is to meet its climate change biodiversity and land degradation targets, it will need to close a US$4.1t financing gap in nature by 2050. To achieve this, investments in nature-based solutions would likely need to triple by 2030 and increase four-fold by 2050.2 This acceleration would equate to a cumulative total investment of up to US$8.1t and a future annual investment of US$536b. The report found that about US$133b a year currently goes toward nature-based solutions; 86% of it is public funds with the remainder made up of private capital. As more companies emerge with compelling business models in this space, it is an area that is likely to receive growing investor attention.

However, there is some concern that the green recovery opportunity could become a victim of its own success. The concern is that with the industry’s interest in environmental issues surging, the result could be too much capital potentially chasing too few opportunities. The EY 2021 Global Institutional Investor Survey shows that investment managers are concerned that demand is outstripping supply, as the industry looks to invest in projects across areas such as renewable energy, electric vehicles and plant-based food:

  1. Seventy-seven percent of investors surveyed said that with high demand for green investments, many investors will find limited investment options because of a relatively small number of equities meeting their environmental criteria.
  2. Seventy-six percent of investors surveyed said that shortage of supply in suitable green investments will lead to some investors overpaying for green assets, creating the risk of a market bubble.

One important issue that appears to be driving concerns of a market bubble is whether the sustainability or green claims of companies – either established players or innovative new players in green technologies – are credible. A common concern, for example, is whether large and well-resourced companies can talk up their sustainability credentials and, as a result, whether ESG-labeled investment products consist of organizations that are less sustainable.3

The scale of the issue is reflected in the fact that regulators are making moves to deal with this problem. For example, the EU’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR), which came into force on 10 March 2021, is designed to introduce more transparency and essentially categorize investment products into sustainable and non-sustainable.3

At the same time, investors looking to get into emerging green technology companies should establish whether claims made about the potential of these technologies – and the potential for future revenues – stand up to rigorous examination. This could be important in helping to identify whether companies and the projects they invest in will survive in the long term beyond the initial wave of enthusiasm. This in turn means having deeper insight beyond the stated claims and reporting of companies. Investor analysis should seek to understand whether an opportunity really is sustainable and viable in the long term.

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Chapter 3

Financing renewables and “greening the brown”

Financing required for renewables and decarbonizing industries could dampen market bubble concerns.

There are two issues that could dampen the threat of a market bubble:

  1. First, the sheer volume of finance required to achieve renewables goals. Based on the International Energy Agency’s Current Policies Scenario, around US$7.7t is committed to renewables, but US$12.9t is required under the Sustainable Development Scenario. This means there is an estimated US$5.2t of additional investment required. The International Energy Agency’s Sustainable Development Scenario outlines a major transformation of the global energy system, showing how the world can change course to meet the three main energy-related Sustainable Development Goals simultaneously.4 Clearly, there is a significant gap to be filled.
  2. Second, emerging green technologies are only part of the race to net zero. As institutional investors begin to align more with net zero, it is likely they will try to invest in low-carbon and net zero initiatives, such as the new technologies that can help the move toward a decarbonized economy. However, a huge amount of funding will likely be required to decarbonize many industry sectors.

As a result, a significant amount of equity capital will likely need to flow to those organizations that are currently in the emissions-intensive sectors. Companies demonstrating a clear strategy to capitalize on the net zero transition could develop a way for investors to allocate capital and avoid the growing reputational risks of supporting emissions-intensive sectors.

In other words, as well as investing in the green, it could also be important to green the brown industries. For investors, this could mean a focus on engagement rather than divestment, working in partnership with companies to reduce carbon and make the energy transition.

Summary

Now more than ever, there is growing awareness among investors of all sizes that they should consider the climate crisis and energy transition when deploying capital. An increasing number of institutional investors are pursuing sustainability opportunities. To play a leading role in financing the green recovery, investors should develop a long-term strategy that manages the risk of a market bubble, and overcomes the current weaknesses and gaps in credible and consistent ESG data and disclosures from target companies.

About this article

By Mathew Nelson

EY Global Climate Change and Sustainability Services Leader

Leading a purpose-driven team that shares a common passion for creating positive impact. Workplace diversity and equality advocate. Engineer. Father of two boys. Australian Football League fan.

Contributors
Local contact

Head Sustainable Finance for Financial Services | Switzerland

Responsible for building the Sustainable Finance team in Switzerland. Trusted advisor in regulatory transformation and governance projects. Passionate about family, sports, mountains and the ocean.