Belfast Telegraph

The colour of money is turning green

Richard Gillan
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While the four local Northern Ireland banks have printed money in an array of colours since 1929, the colour of money is now changing, not literally, but with the move towards green or sustainable finance. As Chancellor Rishi Sunak said recently, “the global financial system will be rewired for net zero”.

Green mortgages are already on the market to provide a better deal for buyers of more energy-efficient homes, sustainability-linked loans offer reduced rates based on achieving sustainability targets, and the provision of sustainable finance is now a key focus for the banking sector. Similarly, investors are increasingly seeking to place money into green bonds and funds with strong ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) characteristics.

Climate change is also on government agendas worldwide, and financial incentives (or penalties) will follow evolving legislation being designed to meet the various renewable energy, emission reduction, and net zero targets agreed by nations across the globe.

Businesses across the economic spectrum are also becoming more aware of the requirement to be green. For some, this is directly due to environmental regulations or taxation necessitating a move to more sustainable operating models. For many, it is a result of increased customer scrutiny around green practices and products. And for the rest, there remains the more general corporate responsibility. Sustainability reporting may eventually lead to a requirement for all businesses to outline the environmental impacts of their activities, with possible negative impacts (directly or indirectly) if these don’t tell a positive green story, including the ability to secure finance for growth.

So, with all this focus on a green economy, how well placed is Northern Ireland to benefit?

Well, Northern Ireland managed to achieve its 2020 target of 40% electricity from renewable sources, supported by the NIROC subsidy scheme, though like many other countries the proportion of renewables in our overall energy usage (including heat and transport) remains low, and we are now lagging behind GB and the Republic of Ireland in terms of having both climate legislation and financial supports. We also have some significant challenges in reaching net zero, such as a high reliance on agriculture and amongst the lowest density of woodland in Europe.

While a new energy strategy from Stormont is imminent, having two competing climate bills going through local government is an unnecessary complication, but it seems inconceivable that we will not have climate legislation in 2022, and whichever bill comes through will require financial incentives to support implementation.

The next 12 months will be a key period to define targets and identify the financial supports that will be available in Northern Ireland to support delivery across a wide range of target areas, such as increased renewable energy generation, improved energy infrastructure, use of green hydrogen and facilitating the transition to electric vehicles.

As with any revolution, the green one will require finance from various sources, and sustainability is likely to remain high on the agenda for funders, investors, governments and businesses for many years to come.