December 02, 2014
Once a niche market, "green bonds" — debt instruments designed to raise capital to finance climate-related or otherwise environmentally beneficial purposes — have proven increasingly popular with investors. In the first half of 2014, for instance, approximately $20 billion in green bonds were sold, a figure that is expected to nearly double by year's end — explosive growth for a niche financial instrument that just two years ago accounted for only $3 billion of the $80 trillion bond market.
The first "green" bond labeled as such was issued in 2008 by the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. At the time, it was a product specially tailored to satisfy demand from Scandinavian pension funds looking to invest in environmentally friendly fixed-income products. The bond, which was developed in close collaboration with Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken and the inaugural group of investors, supported a pre-defined set of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. Since then, growing investor demand has helped to broaden the pool of environment-related bond issuers, as well as the criteria used to define the objectives of said issues. This, in turn, has led to some confusion as to what exactly makes a bond "green."
Lacking a universally accepted definition, the original issuance process developed by the World Bank Group often is used as a guiding benchmark. All World Bank projects are designed to achieve concrete development results and pass environmental, social, and governance due diligence filters. The subset of projects that address climate change — including projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the adverse effects of a warming climate — are reviewed by environmental specialists to determine whether they meet the World Bank's eligibility criteria, which were developed with the help of academics at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). If they do, the future proceeds of the bond are allocated to the selected projects. Projects supported in this manner have included solar and other renewable energy installations, waste management infrastructure, and reforestation initiatives. The progress and outcomes of all projects financed by the World Bank are monitored periodically. In the case of green bonds, the World Bank Treasury monitors the progress of each project and provides a summary and impact report to investors interested in learning more about the expected social and environmental outcomes of the project or projects their investments are supporting.