Let's Use Financial Engineering for Good, with a New Structured Product
At a time of difficulty, due to COVID-19 and climate change, innovative financial products are needed: for example, one that offers great liquidity and flexibility so that banks in Latin America and the Caribbean can reach social impact and climate commitments.
How sustainable infrastructure can decide Peru’s future
Last March, Peru experienced extreme weather conditions in the north of the country. This resulted in numerous physical, economic and human losses with costs associated at over US$3 billion, or 0.5% of GDP.
Planning for reconstruction, the country found itself at a crossroads: it could focus solely on meeting immediate construction needs or rebuild with a long-term vision. The latter option, to adapt the new infrastructure to the uncertainty of weather conditions, represents an opportunity to incorporate sustainability in highways, bridges, water distribution and management systems, as well as to leverage public-private partnerships and rebuild Peru’s economy to compete in the global market.
The government of Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki has launched a reconstruction plan called “Reconstruction with Changes” which has two phases. The first seeks to invest up to US$3 million in immediate reconstruction and resettlement. The second, projected to last five years, focuses on the development of modern, climate-resilient public works that represent an additional investment of US$6 billion.
A private sector opportunity
A large part of infrastructure losses is absorbed by private markets, and for this reason the private sector has a lot to gain from reconstruction. For example, a new highway can allow products to reach their markets more quickly, lowering the cost of doing business for companies.
The private sector not only benefits from reconstruction. It could also be part of its development. Estimates from the World Economic Forum suggest that for every dollar of public capital that is mobilized to close the infrastructure gap, five dollars of private capital should be mobilized. However, financing alone is not enough.
Key tools for reconstruction
IDB Invest (formerly known as Inter-American Investment Corporation), the IDB Group’s private sector arm, has experiences in technical assistance that can serve as a reference for Peru. In Mexico’s Port of Manzanillo, we found ways to adapt the design of the port to unpredictable weather conditions. This included ensuring reforestation and measuring the port’s carbon emissions. We made sure that the terminal operators have the tools and training necessary to replicate the environmental assessments every year.
We also use the Envision methodology, developed by Harvard University’s Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure and the Sustainable Infrastructure Institute. The methodology focuses on quality of life, leadership, resource allocation, the natural world and climate, and risk. The tool has helped our clients measure sustainability, particularly during project planning and design phases.
Environmental and social safeguards promote minimum quality in infrastructure investments. In June 2014, during the review of a loan to a local cement plant, our environmental models predicted atypical rains in Asunción, Paraguay. Our environmental specialists needed a contingency plan. When flooding occurred, the plant mitigated damage although there were some construction delays. The project’s sponsor recognized the importance of the environmental safeguard measures and invested in additional water studies, new internal routes with barriers and protected storage facilities.
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Corporate governance safeguards and attention to integrity also strengthen infrastructure sustainability. Although Latin America is a middle income region, two-thirds of its countries fall in the bottom half of Transparency International’s “corruption perception index.” According to this organization, 26% of Peru’s population has been the victim of corruption. IDB Invest maintains the highest standards of integrity, and we are confident that with our support for the RCC we will reduce this rate.
Finally, investments in sustainable infrastructure can attract institutional investors. Investing in socially and environmentally responsible companies is increasingly considered a fiduciary responsibility and a means for increasing the value of company assets over the long term. We have witnessed the interest of such investors when we presented sustainable and bankable investments. The Reventazón hydroelectric dam in Costa Rica and the Campo Palomas and Colonia Arias wind farms in Uruguay have been pioneer projects in attracting financing from local institutional investors. In Peru, we seek to leverage local money and our capacity to advise public-private partnerships to attract more local stakeholders.
This is a critical moment, but Peru is well positioned to convert its losses into opportunities. Investments in sustainable infrastructure are the only guarantee for building a more inclusive, less vulnerable, and more competitive future in the 21st century.
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Climate change is already a real threat that affects macroeconomic variables and company results in Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, Peru may not be able to reach its inflation target this year due to the rise in agricultural prices caused by atypical rains. In Colombia, insurers face pressure on their risk rating due to recent landslides and floods. In the Dominican Republic, the trade deficit and the exchange rate are being affected by the impacts of climate change on agricultural exports.
In effect, Latin America and the Caribbean lose an average of 1.21% of their gross domestic product (GDP) due to economic damages associated with climate change, according to the Climate Risk Index 2017. These events are geographically dispersed but are occurring with increasing frequency and generating unanticipated costs. The impact of climate change is all around us: from damaged roads and destroyed bridges that keep products from reaching their market to changes in agribusinesses such as coffee and cacao quality and harvest. It is even reflected in the risk to business continuity that a company may have when obtaining a bank loan.
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For this reason, more than 280 investors are taking steps to ensure that climate-related risks are formally presented, so as to make more informed decisions. This new process, associated with new regulations and reduced technology costs, is generating a tendency to divest stranded assets. In addition, institutional investors now prefer cleaner sectors, such as solar power. This opens up a window of opportunity, where financial institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean are already taking the lead.
What are the opportunities for the financial sector?
Climate change is accelerating the transition to more flexible, greener, and more circular economies. In Latin America and the Caribbean, we see how the financial sector is developing and using financial products that can only be explained by the existence of climate change:
Green bonds for financial institutions. Green and/or climate bonds are a new financing option and have begun to grow rapidly in the region with solar energy projects under way, such as Solar City in Mexico.
Investment funds. Ecotierra’s Canopy Fund is an example of this, in that it seeks to diversify the risks associated with climate change in the production of coffee and cacao, attracting both impact investors and traditional financing for such supply chains.
Climate finance. Climate finance has helped to launch public-private partnerships (PPP). For example, in Chile, public lighting is being replaced by LED technology, with the support of the Canadian Climate Fund for the private sector in the Americas (C2F).
Changes in business models. Banks are beginning to internalize climate change in credit ratings, for example by analyzing the flow of each of their clients according to the segment to which they belong.
In IDB Invest (formerly known as Inter-American Investment Corporation), the private sector arm of the IDB Group, we are developing approaches and tools to make it possible to reduce and transfer investment risks, facilitate the development of PPPs and promote financial innovation to adapt financial products to the new unstable reality presented by climate change.
These are just a few examples of how to take advantage of climate finance. What is clear is that climate change is an opening emerging sector that require specific financing. Those financiers that adapt are gaining the benefits as first-movers.
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Sustainable Energy & Infrastructure As Components of Economic Recovery
COVID-19 is not helping to curb climate change despite a moderate decrease in pollution due to less industrial activity and transportation, but it allows us to rethink energy policy decisions that will have a relevant, decades-long impact on the climate, and should help mitigate the problem.