Hong Kong could become an intermediary for Asia’s green infrastructure financing needs, but only if businesses step up their sustainability drive and establish the city’s credibility in project implementation, according to Fung Academy, the learning arm of supply chain manager Fung Group.
“Asia’s going to need US$30 trillion worth of infrastructure, and much of that is going to need to be resilient green infrastructure. Why shouldn’t Hong Kong intermediate all of that?” Pamela Mar, Fung Academy’s executive vice-president, told the The Economist’s “Growing sustainable businesses in Hong Kong” webinar on Thursday.
The Hong Kong government has been working with local and mainland Chinese regulators to assess the feasibility and policy support required for developing the city as a carbon trading centre for the Greater Bay Area and Asia. It sees China’s carbon neutral ambitions as providing Hong Kong with huge opportunities to develop into a green finance hub and regional carbon trading centre. Green finance covers the financing of infrastructure that has environmental benefits, such as renewable energy projects, besides the trading of carbon emission offset units and quotas.
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While there is global momentum to invest in green infrastructure, the actual volume of investment is still well below desired targets, according to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Hong Kong is not the only city eyeing an intermediary role in Asia’s green finance opportunities. To tackle the “significant funding gap”, London-based HSBC Holdings and Singapore investment bank Temasek on Thursday announced a partnership to establish a debt financing platform based in Singapore, dedicated to sustainable infrastructure projects in Asia. The platform will aim to fund more than US$1 billion of loans within five years. it will target renewable energy and storage, water and waste treatment and sustainable transport.
“These things, the financial market and the corporate market, don’t move separately. They are one market. [Hong Kong] will only have the credibility to intermediate sustainable finance if our own corporate sector can step up to the task,” Mar said.
Businesses could drive sustainability by incorporating it into key performance indicators throughout a company as a whole, said Suzanne Cheung, head of sustainability at Swire Coca-Cola HK. She said that while Swire Coca-Cola HK was not a listed company, issuing sustainability reports since 2018 had served as an internal driver for its employees to keep track of how they recycled, as well as the carbon footprint of their operations.
One of the biggest obstacles to the adoption of sustainable practices by businesses was the misconception that sustainability had a high investment cost, Mark Cameron, JLL’s head of sustainability and energy in Asia-Pacific, told the webinar.
“What we’re starting to see now is that there may be a cost, but there’s a heavily positive return on that investment, especially as we start to look forward and we factor in changes that may be coming down the track,” he said.
There was a business case for sustainability, and investment in this area would have outsized benefits going forward, Cameron said. “The investments we make now in sustainability will pay off 10, twentyfold in the future, as we start to see things like increasing costs of energy,” he added.
Clear government policies and commitment to achieving net zero emissions and tackling climate change, for example, would be a major spur to companies, Jamie Allen, secretary general of the Asian Corporate Governance Association, told a Business Environment Council webinar earlier this week.
Awareness among board members about the importance of sustainability issues was important as well. “Awareness of the board leadership and controlling shareholder [about sustainability issues] is critical, because if they don’t buy into this then the company isn’t going to change,” Allen said.
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