Including Ecological Risk in Country’s Credit Ratings

10/18/2011 04:00 PM

UNEP FI project seeks framework for assessing government bonds

Could an abundance of natural wealth be a factor in positively influencing a country’s credit rating and the quality of its bonds? Could a resource-guzzling economy be cause for a downgrade?

The UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) in collaboration with Global Footprint Network and leading financial institutions will endeavor to shine a light on these questions with a groundbreaking project to explore the role of natural resource accounting in strengthening risk models for government bonds. The project seeks to incorporate how much natural wealth countries have – and how much they spend – into assessments of long-term credit risk.

Tightening constraints on resources and their potential impacts on national economies have been largely absent from financial analysis. Yet such factors are thought to have growing implications for the long-term credit risk of many government bonds, especially those with long-dated maturities.

“The global financial crisis has taught us more than anything that some of the core risks that affect the value of debt securities and derivatives can simply run ahead of our ability to understand them,” said Paul Clements-Hunt, Head of UNEP FI. “This is why we must deepen our understanding of the risks posed by climate change, water scarcity and the overuse of natural resources for securities. We should not be caught off-guard again. This project is one of the first that tries to quantitatively and systematically consider the linkages between the use of natural resources and its impact on a country’s core economic indicators that in turn influence the quality of its bonds.”

The bond project was launched yesterday at workshop at a side-event to the UNEP FI Global Roundtable, which is taking place in Washington D.C. this week. The Roundtable draws hundreds of leading financial experts along with high-level government officials seeking to address the link between financial stability and environmental sustainability.

The project has two aims: it will investigate the linkages between ecological risk and country-level risk in sovereign bonds, and develop a methodology to explore how credit rating agencies, investors and financial information providers can integrate ecological data into their respective models. In particular, the analysis will look at the risks to countries whose populations and/or industries require more resources than is domestically available and which are hence reliant on ecological services from abroad.

“As resource constraints tighten globally, countries that depend heavily on ecological services from other nations may find that their resource supply becomes insecure and unreliable. This has economic implications – in particular for countries that depend upon large amounts of ecological assets to power their key industries or to support their consumption patterns and lifestyles,” said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel. “Meanwhile, those countries with reserves of valuable natural capital may find themselves in an advantageous position.”

The project will substantiate the business case for financial institutions and ratings agencies to include ecological criteria as a key component of financially material country credit risk analysis.  Institutions will thus be enabled to work towards better inclusion of financially-material environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues in financial products and services.

Learn More Read the Investment & Pension Europe article: Forests into Fixed Income.


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