Climate change

Green shoots for HK's financial sector?

Jessica Robinson calls on HK to put green concerns on the agenda of finance decisions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2012, 2:19am

Few would deny that natural resources are vital for sustainable development. Lesser known but equally undeniable is the fact that private-sector finance has a critical role to play.

Hong Kong has one of the highest concentrations of financial institutions in the world - does this not present an opportunity to promote the city as a hub of green finance?

A long-term strategy is needed. But more immediately, a recent commitment by chief executives in the financial sector offers an opportunity for action.

Launched at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the Natural Capital Declaration is a pledge by the sector to work towards integrating natural capital considerations into its products and services. Natural capital is the value of goods and services that are provided by our ecosystem that are essential to life. Historically, they have been treated as "free goods" - almost always undervalued or simply unvalued.

This is closely linked to the topical issue of emissions trading. After all, the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme is aiming to address the market's failure to value natural capital - in this case, clean air.

It is worth considering what the financial sector can do. With the Natural Capital Declaration, an important step has been taken.

Given the developments on emissions trading, this provides an obvious place to start. Financial institutions should begin with their own operations, but this represents only a small part of their overall impact. The best outcome would be for the sector to influence the behaviour of those who use their services and products - through investment, lending and project financing.

But what does this mean for Hong Kong?

At first sight, not a lot. Hong Kong is not known as a hub of green finance. However, there is an exciting opportunity to define such a role.

The government could take the groundbreaking step of mandating all incorporated institutions to become signatories to the Natural Capital Declaration, supported by policies requiring measurement and disclosure about the use of natural capital. With suitable incentives, natural capital considerations could be integrated into business models and practices. This would foster financial innovation, improve risk management techniques and support financing opportunities such as the development of new tradeable commodities.

All journeys require the courage to take the first step. With last week's announcement of the EU-China collaboration on climate change, in particular on emissions trading, steps are being taken. It is time for Hong Kong to take one, too.

Jessica Robinson is director of Enecore, a consultancy specialising in energy and emission reduction services