EU sustainable investment rules need better corporate data - banking report

Simon Jessop and Kate Abnett
·2 min read
EU flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

By Simon Jessop and Kate Abnett

LONDON (Reuters) - European Union rules aimed at defining sustainable investments should help reduce "greenwashing" by businesses, but better quality corporate data is needed to ensure they work effectively, a banking report said on Tuesday.

The sustainable finance rules will classify investments that can be marketed as sustainable, a move aimed at steering much-needed cash into low-carbon projects to deliver the bloc's climate goals.

From January to August 2020, 26 of the region's biggest lenders tested the EU framework across a range of core banking processes, including retail banking, trade finance and lending to smaller companies.

As the main providers of finance to companies across the EU, the ability of the banking system to track and report on whether corporate activities are sustainable or not could prove crucial in assessing the rules' success or otherwise.

The lenders broadly welcomed the regulations as they seek to align their businesses with the transition to a low-carbon economy, the report by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative and the European Banking Federation found.

However, they also raised a number of issues, many of which were data-related and could require a phasing in of reporting requirements.

While many large companies are already required to disclose certain environmental and social information by law, the bulk of smaller and mid-sized banking clients are not, hampering banks' assessment of their alignment with the rules.

Concerns over the quality, detail and standardisation of data is also an issue when looking at banks' lending overseas, something that would be made more complex as other regions launch their own regulations.

The banks who tested the EU rules called on regulators to seek global alignment of regulations, and for better tools to manage data from clients, such as a centralised EU database.

While under no compulsion to lend to activities that can be classed as sustainable, banks see sustainable finance as a growth area that is likely to take on more importance in coming years should policymakers tighten environmental legislation.

With more investors globally looking to become shareholders of companies with a good record on managing environmental risk, banks are also likely to look to reduce their exposure to environmentally or socially harmful activities over time.

The European Commission is expected to finish the section of the rules covering climate change in the coming months, before they take effect in 2022.

(Reporting by Simon Jessop and Kate Abnett; Editing by Pravin Char)