Latin America is at the forefront of renewable energy’s battle against established fossil fuels. Costa Rica is the only country with a 100% renewable electricity grid, while recent energy auctions in Chile and Mexico look set to produce some of the world’s cheapest solar and wind power.
One factor is the region’s incredible renewable energy resources. It has some of the most efficient wind, solar and geothermal power plants on the planet. The other, paradoxically, was the slow development of government support and subsidies, which meant renewable energy only came to the region when it could compete on price. Yet as the rollout of clean technology spreads across the region it will need increasing amounts of international investment.
That should create interesting opportunities for the UK’s world-leading finance sector. Canning House recently hosted a conference in collaboration with corporate law firm, Eversheds Sutherland, to explore how UK firms can gain exposure to the Latin American renewable story. Sir Roger Gifford, a former Mayor of the City of London and currently Chairman of the UK Green Finance Initiative, presented a study, sponsored by Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and HM Treasury, that outlines how the UK can become a global leader in green finance.
Harnessing the UK’s strengths
The study, which had input from more than 150 professionals across 80 financial service could help the UK navigate climate change and Gifford runs us through its key proposals. The insurance industry believes that most corporations and governments remain unprepared for climate change. But that lack of preparation is an opportunity. For example, the UK can build on its expertise in climate and environmental science to help manage the risk to investors created by global warming. Big data and analytics techniques are crucial. The other opportunity is to develop and promote new climate-resilient insurance products.
“The insurance industry believes that most corporations and governments remain unprepared for climate change…”
The main opportunity is in funding the deployment of the new technologies across Latin America. Globally the amount being invested annually in renewable energy is growing fast. However, it’s a mixed picture as in the UK, investment in the development of new cleantech is falling. The response, says Gifford, is to channel investment into developing innovative clean technologies. The government should set up a green investment accelerator for early-stage technology grant funding. It should also establish a dedicated public-private green venture capital fund. Finally, it can increase opportunities for green businesses through favourable public procurement policies.
This recognition of the rising importance of climate issues must be reflected in the regulatory environment, says Gifford. Regulators must ensure that fiduciary duty clearly states the importance of environmental and social governance (ESG) issues. A fund’s statement of investment principles must explain how social, ethical and environmental challenges are considered. Moreover, the government must ensure that investment consultants have sufficient ESG expertise. Indeed, the government and professional bodies must help educate a wider group of stakeholders about climate change.
For the UK to really add value to Latin America’s renewable energy boom it needs to bring new financing models that aren’t yet common in the region. One of the most exciting is ‘green mortgages’, which have the potential to fund the large-scale spread of clean technology. The basic idea is to provide favourable financing to environmentally-friendly construction, thereby creating a market tool to incentivise more green construction.
“The green bond market, where companies issue bonds and use the funds for environmentally-friendly projects, is booming…”
To kickstart the green mortgage market the government should provide short-term incentives to banks and financial entities to provide these products. Meanwhile UK lenders should start taking environmental factors into account for all of their mortgage-lending decisions. It’s also important to identify environmentally-friendly buildings and the government should introduce green building ‘passports’ for residential and commercial properties by 2020. Meanwhile, research is needed to understand the effectiveness of using tax measures to encourage energy-efficient retrofits to the existing building stock.
Successful examples of green mortgages already exist in the US, with lender Fannie Mae. Meanwhile in the UK, Barclays is one of the pioneers with its green mortgage. It categorises new builds into an A or B energy efficiency rating. Applicants choosing more environmentally-friendly buildings get a mortgage rate reduction of at least 0.1%. That might not sound too impressive but they can also borrow more with loan to values up to 90% compared to the typical 75%.
The green bond market, where companies issue bonds and use the funds for environmentally-friendly projects, is booming. The government can help the UK take a leadership role by issuing its first sovereign green bond and use the money for renewable projects in the UK. It should also continue its work of green diplomacy – encouraging other governments to take climate change seriously and help them build capacity. That in turn will create more receptive markets for UK green finance.