October 27, 2021

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U.K. Green Bonds Not Green Enough for Ethical Investing Pioneer

(Bloomberg) — A veteran ethical investor plans to shun the U.K.’s debut sale of green sovereign bonds.

Triodos Investment Management BV, part of a bank at the early forefront of sustainable finance for decades, won’t buy the long-mooted debt offering next week, saying it isn’t green enough. While the Dutch money manager has more stringent criteria than most, that hasn’t stopped it from investing in other sovereign green bond sales from the likes of Italy, Germany and France.

“The U.K. green bond framework is the first one we consider not to be green enough according to our standards,” said William de Vries, Triodos’ director of impact equities and bonds, in an interview.

Triodos is concerned about the proceeds of the debt being used for carbon-capture technology and so-called blue hydrogen. Both are integral to the U.K. government’s plan to cut emissions, with the nation planning to issue at least 15 billion pounds ($21 billion) in debt this fiscal year to finance such projects.

“We have a serious problem with these types of projects because we don’t think carbon capture projects will add to carbon reduction in the end,” de Vries said.

Investment is pouring into carbon capture, involving burying carbon dioxide deep underground, yet it’s controversial as it’s unproven on a large scale and activists argue it could become a distraction from reducing emissions. Meanwhile blue hydrogen is made from natural gas and requires byproduct carbon dioxide to be captured, whereas green hydrogen is produced from renewable sources through water.

READ: Why Hydrogen Is the Hottest Thing in Green Energy: QuickTake

According to a U.K. investor presentation earlier this month, green gilts can finance both green and blue hydrogen. That may be a fillip to U.K. industry, with Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc — mainstays of the FTSE 100 stock index — among oil firms pursuing blue hydrogen.

The funding effort still leaves Britain as a latecomer to the green bond market, with most western European countries including Ireland, Spain and Belgium having sold such debt. A boom in sales looks set to take global ethical debt issuance toward $1 trillion this year.

The green gilt framework has been welcomed by other ethical investors, who praised its reporting requirements on the social benefits of green projects. De Vries also liked the social element and hoped other issuers would adopt similar mechanisms.

Still, for Triodos, whose roots in sustainable investing go back to 1968, the problems over the use of proceeds are insurmountable. It’s now part of a growing breed of specialist ethical investors that are becoming more activist, rejecting assets that the broader universe of data-driven environmental, social and governance funds are snapping up. That’s leading to splits over what counts as a green investment and risks greenwashing by some borrowers.

“We have had doubts and questions with other green bond frameworks, for instance the Belgium one, but after consulting with them we decided to give them the benefit of the doubt,” de Vries said. The U.K.’s “allocation to carbon capture solutions makes this not possible.”

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