Turning green policies into greenbacks


Although the Nepal budget this year cut tax breaks for electric vehicles and did not acknowledge a green path to post-COVID economic recovery, Nepal has an opportunity to tap into next-door China’s rapid strides in green financing.  

China was first mover among developing countries to put itself on a low carbon trajectory, using green finance as one of the main tools, and it has now become the world’s largest market for carbon credit, green bond markets and investments in a sustainable economy.

Being right next door, Nepal could tap into this potential and use its international goodwill in restructuring the country’s economy towards a green transition.

Nepal’s chance to green its budget, Kaustubh Dhital

After the 2014 climate agreement between President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama alongside the consequent ratification of the Paris Agreement, China has taken a leadership role in global climate governance. 

Beijing went against the commonly held ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) framework’, which protected developing countries from taking costly and ambitious climate action that allowed them to opt for voluntary incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

There has been public pressure on the Chinese government to act on worsening air pollution, and China was shamed at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 for rising carbon emissions. 

Since then, there has been strong political will from President Xi Jinping himself that led to China’s U-turn on environmental and climate policies. China also benefited from technocrats and advocacy coalitions to realise the benefits of a green economy. 

Nepal can learn from China’s Green Finance Task Group made up of experts from ministries, financial regulators, academics, banks and other financial institutions, complemented by international experts. It was set up in 2014 to help the central government identify barriers and opportunities in green finance.

Its recommendations formed a key part of the 2016 ‘Guidelines for Establishing the Green Financial System’ policy document, which sparked rapid development of green finance in China. It makes sense for Nepal to similarly bring together experts from across the industry to design a green financial system appropriate for Nepal. 

It is equally important for Nepal to step up its climate and green investment reporting alongside the measurement of environmental benefits and climate risk exposure. Presently, Nepal requires financial institutions (FIs) to report on climate/green finance flows and activities. 

However, the framework does not require FIs to report on climate risk exposure on the portfolio level. Nor does it make environmental and social policies externally verified through independent reviews. Nepal also does not require FIs to calculate the environmental benefits of their investments and any climate risk exposure assessment. 

Build back greener, Bishwa Nath Oli, Maheshwar Dhakal and Rudriksha Rai Parajuli

Along with a systematic update of Nepal’s framework, there is much space for capacity building within the country’s banking sector in climate risk exposure methodologies. This is because banks play a key role in ‘assessing risks, originating loans, and underwriting the issuance of equities and debts’.

Nepal’s membership of the Sustainable Banking Network gives hope for the future of Nepal’s green finance regime. However, international agencies, financial and academic institutions, banks and lobby groups should also facilitate bilateral channels to allow China to play a key role in knowledge transfer and capacity building in Nepal. 

For example, the Green Finance Leadership Program led by Tsinghua University, focused on technical assistance on green finance to developing country financial regulators could be a starting point. 

All these ideas could lay the groundwork for Nepal to continue greening its financial system, acknowledging that it is a long and complex process and requires specialised investment vehicles, fiscal and financial support, financial and legal infrastructure moving forward. 

 Nepal needs to green its economy for several reasons. The financial system is dominated by banks with most of their assets invested in the brown sectors such as agriculture, construction, and real estate, all with environmental hazards and high climate risk. 

According to the 2020 Global Climate Vulnerability Index, Nepal is ranked as the 9th most vulnerable country in the world to the climate crisis. Nepal’s banks have limited knowledge on environmental risk calculations making their investments highly risky – for example in infrastructure downstream from expanding glacial lakes.

Saving Gokyo from itself, Ang Rita Sherpa

Nepal therefore needs to increase the resilience of its economic and financial system not just by incorporating long-term environmental and climate risks, but also safeguarding current investments through green insurance schemes. 

Presently, the Nepal government has a framework to catalyse public financing into climate change in the broader context of economic development and government fiscal planning process. However, greening the financial system would provide much-needed incentives for increased private sector investments in sectors such as renewable energy. 

This would also diversify the portfolio of banks and reduce risks accordingly. An International Finance Corporation (IFC) study shows that this would open up investment potential of $46.1 billion by 2030, which the private sector, including multilateral development banks, local and regional financial institutions can tap into (see chart). 

Nepal's Climate Investment Potential broken down by Sectors. Source: IFC 2017

Nepal lockdown proves air quality can be improved, Sonia Awale

The 2015 earthquake followed by the Indian Blockade highlighted the need for Nepal to reduce its energy dependency. In 2017, Kathmandu was listed as the 7th most polluted city in the world, resulting in poor health, and increased socio-economic cost. This means Nepal needs to think long-term, realise its potential in hydropower and renewable energy, and demonstrate the financial benefits of investing in green projects. 

The Rastra Bank has made significant efforts in this transition. The Sustainable Banking Network reports that Nepal is making progress in developing its green finance system and has evolved from the ‘Preparation’ to ‘Implementation’ stage in recent years (see chart). The guiding force behind this has been the adoption of the ‘Guidelines on Environmental and Social Risk Management for Banks and Financial Institutions’ by Nepal Rastra Bank in 2018. 

SBN Progression Matrix with Assessment Results for Nepal. Source: Sustainable Banking Network, 2019

Although Nepal has made significant progress in integrating environmental and social governance, there is much more left to do on climate and green finance. Nepal’s current framework involves inter-agency collaboration between financial supervisors/regulators, industry associations and financial institutions. However, this does not include environmental agencies and ministries, civil society and the media. 

Reliance on public financing to adapt to climate change is not enough. Because of its climate vulnerability, Nepal needs to urgently green its financial system and leverage private sector financing. Bilateral support and knowledge transfer between China and Nepal could be a good place to start. 

Rastraraj Bhandari is pursuing a Masters in Economics and China Studies at the Yenching Academy of Peking University in Beijing.