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Global ESG market shrinks after sizable drop in US

Tan KW
Publish date: Wed, 29 Nov 2023, 10:35 PM
Tan KW
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A US retreat has resulted in an overall decline in the global market for ESG investing.

That’s according to the latest assessment by the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA), which provides updates on the size of the market every two years. The 2022 review, published on Wednesday, shows that investors had US$30.3 trillion in sustainable assets, down from US$35.3 trillion in 2020.

In the US, where high-profile Republicans have railed against ESG, investments in sustainable assets plunged to US$8.4 trillion last year from just over US$17 trillion two years earlier. The drop was attributed largely to a change in methodology used to calculate the numbers.

Still, questions about the future of sustainable finance persist in the US as lawmakers from more than a dozen states, spanning Utah to Florida, try to fight the incorporation of environmental, social and governance principles into business and investing.

Maria Lettini, chief executive of the US Sustainable Investment Forum, said during a call about the GSIA findings that a “more robust methodology” in the latest report resulted in a headline number “that I think we can feel much more comfortable standing behind.”

Against a backdrop of skepticism toward ESG, Lettini said it’s “super important” for US SIF to “show leadership in this space and respond to the quite valid critiques that perhaps the total sustainable assets in the US weren’t being assessed through a rigorous lens, which defines sustainability.”

In the rest of the world, ESG-related assets are still growing, according to GSIA. Sustainable investments rose more than 20% in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand between 2020 and 2022, the alliance said. Overall, however, the breathless pace of the ESG boom that characterized the previous decade appears to be over.

“The industry is maturing,” James Alexander, the chairman of GSIA, said during the call with journalists.

“We are taking a much more mature definition of what counts as sustainable now than we’ve done in the past,” he said. “We’re thinking more carefully about how do we avoid inadvertently perhaps greenwashing through the actions that we take.”

Interest in sustainable investing soared during the pandemic, when lockdowns caused energy prices to fall and buoyed portfolios that shunned fossil fuels. But when those lockdowns ended and economic activity came roaring back, the world order that followed proved difficult for many ESG strategies. 

The S&P Global Clean Energy Index has plunged 30% this year, as higher interest rates and supply-chain bottlenecks hammer wind and solar stocks. Bloomberg’s latest Markets Live Pulse survey shows investors expect the downturn to continue into 2024, with the negative sentiment extending to electric vehicle producers including Tesla Inc.

And the introduction of regulations across jurisdictions is forcing asset managers to justify ESG claims that previously went unchecked. There’s a “need for clearer definitions and a more shared understanding around what makes a sustainable asset ‘sustainable,’” GSIA said in its report.

The global investment industry is “at a critical juncture,” with the US facing its own “nuanced local financial market challenges,” Lettini said.

In its report, the GSIA said “the most common sustainable investment strategy globally is corporate engagement and shareholder action, followed by ESG integration then negative or exclusionary screening.”

 


  - Bloomberg

 

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