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Green Finance for the SDGs: The Potential of Islamic Finance

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The financial industry can play a critical role in building a stable and prosperous economy when it is managed with accountability. This requires redirecting investments into economic activities that deliver a good balance between economic, environmental and social objectives in order to promote human well-being and mitigate global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, or inequalities. Many analysts are now taking a closer look at a ‘green economy’, which promotes economic growth while also achieving sustainability objectives.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change were two major turning points in advancing global action to promote the transition to a green economy and tackle climate change. Their implementation has contributed to the growth of environmental awareness and embedding sustainability in the financial industry, suggesting a paradigm shift in the way financial intermediation is conducted and monetary transactions are structured. In turn, new investment products and financial instruments labelled as green, climate-related or sustainable and responsible were developed. Among them are green bonds and green and Sustainable and Responsible Investment (SRI) sukuk.

Challenges and Opportunities in Implementing the SDGs

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates a $2.5 trillion annual gap for achieving the SDGs while the implementation of renewable energy solutions requires an additional net investment of $1.4 trillion, or about $100 billion per year on average between 2016 (when the SDGs were adopted) and 2030 according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

On the other hand, a recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate highlights that the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable approach to growth could lead to an economic boost of $26 trillion up to 2030 and help create more than 65 million new jobs.

This rising awareness has promoted the development of new asset classes that could be classified under the umbrella of sustainable finance. Activities labelled under this category take into account environmental and social considerations. Other related or sub-categories include climate finance, ethical finance, responsible finance and green finance.

What is Green Finance?

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines green finance as being finance for ‘achieving economic growth while reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing waste and improving efficiency in the use of natural resources’.

For the past decade, the global green finance market has witnessed a rapid growth, with the development of financial instruments such as green labeled and unlabeled bonds; green loans; green investment funds; green insurance; and recently green sukuk. Although the first green bonds were issued in 2008, the market has significantly developed to mobilize financing for the 17 SDGs with more innovative structures, taxonomies and governing frameworks.

The Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IDFC) estimates green finance at $134 billion. According to Thomson Reuters, in 2019, a total of $185.4 billion in green bonds were issued, which are debt market instruments where the proceeds are allocated to green eligible projects that target climate mitigation and adaptation activities as well as other environmental issues involving energy, water, transport, water, waste, or construction.

Islamic Finance

Considered as an ethical, inclusive and socially responsible finance because it connects the financial sector with the real economy and promotes risk sharing, partnership-style financing and social responsibility, Islamic finance has emerged as an effective tool for financing development worldwide. This explains its increasing significance as an alternative mechanism in infrastructure financing. In an Islamic financial system, transactions must be asset-linked, which increases the financial sector’s stability, and be based on a set of Islamic legal contracts that promote profit and loss sharing. In addition, the principles of social justice, solidarity and mutuality are promoted and investments in sectors that are considered unethical are prohibited.

Islamic finance has the potential to bridge the finance gap required to achieve the SDG agenda and the transition to a green economy. This justifies its identification by participants of the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July 2015 as a promising alternative to traditional sources of funding and the recommendation for its utilization to realize the SDGs.

The Islamic financial industry comprises four key segments: Islamic banking, Islamic funds, takaful(Islamic insurance) and the sukuk market. While the four segments can contribute to financing the SDGs, the sukuk segment attracted greater attention recently with the development of green and SRI sukuk. Sukukalso enable the targeting of a wider, global investor base comprising both conventional and Islamic investors.

Sukuk

The Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) defines sukuk as certificates of equal value representing undivided shares in ownership of tangible assets, usufructs and services or (in the ownership of) the assets of particular projects or special investment activity.

The sukuk market is one of the fastest growing segments in the Islamic financial industry with about 24.2% of the total global Islamic financial assets and new issuances amounting to $93 billionin 2018 according to the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB).

Often qualified as Islamic bonds, sukuk represents an innovative instrument for financing green projects. Their asset-backing requirement facilitates their link to the real economy and therefore widens the scope of environmental sectors that can be financed. In addition, sukuk can be structured in various ways using single or hybrid Islamic contracts such as agency, partnership and leasing contracts. This flexibility facilitates financial innovation in addressing specific financing needs.

Green sukuk can contribute to achieving nine of the SDGs. These are Good Health and Wellbeing (SDG3), Quality Education (SDG4), Clean Water and Infrastructure (SDG6), Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG7), Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG8), Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (SDG9), Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG11), Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG12) and Climate Action (SDG13).

We first saw the impact of sukuk in 2017 when the world’s first green sukukwas issued by Malaysian-based Tadau Energy to finance a solar power project in Malaysia. Since then, the market has developed significantly with the amount of green sukuk issuance reaching$5.38 billion at the end of 2019, representing 58 issues by nine issuers, mainly led by corporates in Malaysia and the GCC.

The green sukuk market development was also supported by the implementation of enabling frameworks such as the Malaysian Securities Commission’s SRI Sukuk Framework and the recent Indonesia green bond and green sukuk framework.

Towards Green and Blended Finance

The OECD defines blended finance as the strategic use of development finance for the mobilization of additional finance towards sustainable development in developing countries. This requires reconsidering other sources of financing while leveraging the limited public and development finance funds.

A good example to consider is Islamic social finance. The Islamic social finance sector broadly comprises traditional Islamic institutions such as zakat (almsgiving) and waqf (endowments), as well as Islamic microfinance. These segments usually target the bottom of the pyramid populations, who lack access to basic safety nets such as education, appropriate health systems, food and other basic needs.

Zakat and waqf are at the heart of the Islamic economic system as they promote the principles of social justice, solidarity, brotherhood and mutuality whereas microfinance enables small businesses that usually cannot access traditional financing modes, to access financing for small projects that generate income and therefore reduces their reliance on charity.

Zakat and awqaf institutions have played a significant role in the cultural, socio-economic and religious life of Muslims for centuries. Today, many scholars are calling for the revival of these institutions to address contemporary development challenges including environmental issues. Zakat and waqf could be used in green blended finance transactions to address several SDGs and develop inclusive green solutions for smallholder farmers, rural access to clean energy and cooking solutions, water treatment and sanitation solutions, etc.

In conclusion, the widespread transition to a green economy will ultimately require a sustained focus on continuing the growth of the global green finance market and further development of these key financial instruments as promising alternatives to traditional sources of funding.

This article is submitted on behalf of the author by the HBKU Communications Directorate. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the University’s official stance.

Dr. Dalal is Assistant professor of Islamic finance at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). She was previously a visiting academic at the Durham Centre for Islamic Economics and Finance, Durham University Business School and a visiting lecturer in a number of international universities. Dr. Aassouli worked at the International Islamic Liquidity Management Corporation in Malaysia where she assisted with the establishment of the IILM's sukuk programme. Before that she held several positions in Europe where she had exposure to the African, European and Latin American markets. Dr. Dalal holds Masters from NEOMA Business School, and Paris Dauphine University and a Ph.D. from ENS de Lyon in France. Her areas of research interest include Islamic finance in general and its implications for corporate finance, ethical finance, development finance, green finance, sustainable development and socially responsible investing

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Economy

Finding Fulcrum to Move the World Economics

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Domenico Fetti / Wikimedia Commons

Where hidden is the fulcrum to bring about new global-age thinking and escape current mysterious economic models that primarily support super elitism, super-richness, super tax-free heavens and super crypto nirvanas; global populace only drifts today as disconnected wanderers at the bottom carrying flags of ‘hate-media’ only creating tribal herds slowly pushed towards populism. Suppose, if we accept the current indices already labeled as success as the best of show of hands, the game is already lost where winners already left the table. Finding a new fulcrum to move the world economies on a better trajectory where human productivity measured for grassroots prosperity is a critically important but a deeply silent global challenge. Here are some bold suggestions

ONE- Global Measurement: World connectivity is invisible, grossly misunderstood, miscalculated and underestimated of its hidden powers; spreading silently like an invisible net, a “new math” becomes the possible fulcrum for the new business world economy; behold the ocean of emerging global talents from new economies, mobilizing new levels of productivity, performance and forcing global shifts of economic powers. Observe the future of borderless skills, boundary less commerce and trans-global public opinion, triangulation of such will simply crush old thinking.

Archimedes yelled, “…give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world…”

After all, half of the world during the last decade, missed the entrepreneurial mindset, understoodonly as underdog players of the economy, the founders, job-creators and risk-taker entrepreneurs of small medium businesses of the world, pushed aside while kneeling to big business staged as institutionalized ritual. Although big businesses are always very big, nevertheless, small businesses and now globally accepted, as many times larger. Study deeply, why suddenly now the small medium business economy, during the last budgetary cycles across the world, has now become the lone solution to save dwindling economies. Big business as usual will take care of itself, but national economies already on brink left alone now need small business bases and hard-core raw entrepreneurialism as post-pandemic recovery agendas.

TWO – Ground Realities:  National leadership is now economic leadership, understanding, creating and managing, super-hyper-digital-platform-economies a new political art and mobilization of small midsize business a new science: The prerequisites to understand the “new math” is the study of “population-rich-nations and knowledge rich nations” on Google and figure out how and why can a national economy apply such new math. 

Today a USD $1000 investment in technology buys digital solutions, which were million dollars, a decade ago.Today,a $1000 investment buys on global-age upskilling on export expansion that were million dollars a decade ago.  Today, a $1000 investment on virtual-events buys what took a year and cost a million dollars a decade ago. Today, any micro-small-medium-enterprise capable of remote working models can save 80% of office and bureaucratic costs and suddenly operate like a mini-multi-national with little or no additional costs.

Apply this math to population rich nations and their current creation of some 500 million new entrepreneurial businesses across Asia will bring chills across the world to the thousands of government departments, chambers of commerce and trade associations as they compare their own progress. Now relate this to the economic positioning of ‘knowledge rich nations’ and explore how they not only crushed their own SME bases, destroyed the middle class but also their expensive business education system only produced armies of resumes promoting job-seekers but not the mighty job-creators. Study why entrepreneurialism is neither academic-born nor academic centric, it is after all most successful legendary founders that created earth shattering organizations were only dropouts.  Now shaking all these ingredients well in the economic test tube wait and let all this ferment to see what really happens.

Now picking up any nation, selecting any region and any high potential vertical market; searching any meaningful economic development agenda and status of special skills required to serve such challenges, paint new challenges. Interconnect the dots on skills, limits on national/global exposure and required expertise on vertical sectors, digitization and global-age market reach. Measuring the time and cost to bring them at par, measuring the opportunity loss over decades for any neglect. Combining all to squeeze out a positive transformative dialogue and assemble all vested parties under one umbrella.

Not to be confused with academic courses on fixing Paper-Mache economies and broken paper work trails, chambers primarily focused on conflict resolutions, compliance regulations, and trade groups on policy matters.  Mobilization of small medium business economy is a tactical battlefield of advancements of an enterprise, as meritocracy is the nightmarish challenges for over 100 plus nations where majority high potential sectors are at standstill on such affairs. Surprisingly, such advancements are mostly not new funding hungry but mobilization starved. Economic leadership teams of today, unless skilled on intertwining super-hyper-digital-platform-economic agendas with local midsize businesses and creating innovative excellence to stand up to global competitiveness becomes only a burden to growth.

The magnifying glass of mind will find the fulcrum: High potential vertical sectors and special regions are primarily wide-open lands full of resources and full of talented peoples; mobilization of such combinations offering extraordinary power play, now catapulted due to technologies. However, to enter such arenas calls for regimented exploring of the limits of digitization, as Digital-Divides are Mental Divides, only deeper understanding and skills on how to boost entrepreneurialism and attract hidden talents of local citizenry will add power. Of course, knowing in advance, what has already failed so many times before will only avoid using a rubber hose as a lever, again.  

The new world economic order: There is no such thing as big and small as it is only strong and weak, there is no such thing as rich and poor it is only smart and stupid. There is no such thing as past and future is only what is in front now and what is there to act but if and or when. How do you translate this in a post pandemic recovery mode? Observe how strong, smart moving now are advancing and leaving weak, stupid dreaming of if and when in the dust behind.

The conclusion: At the risk of never getting a Nobel Prize on Economics, here is this stark claim; any economy not driven solely based on measuring “real value creation” but primarily based on “real value manipulation” is nothing but a public fraud. This mathematically proven, possibly a new Fulcrum to move the world economy, in need of truth

The rest is easy  

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Evergrande Crisis and the Global Economy

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China’s crackdown on the tech giants was not much of a surprise. Sure, the communist regime allowed the colossus entities like Alibaba Group to innovate and prosper for years. Yet, the government control over the markets was never concealed. In fact, China’s active intervention in the forex market to deliberately devalue Yuan was frequently contested around the world. Ironically, now the world awaits government intervention as a global liquidity crisis seems impending. The Evergrande Group, China’s largest property developer, is on the brink of collapse. Mounding debt, unfinished properties, and subsequent public pressure eventually pushed the group to openly admit its financial turmoil last week. Subsequently, Evergrande’s shares plunged as much as 19% to more than 11-year lows. While many anticipate a thorough financial restructuring in the forthcoming months, the global debt markets face a broader financial contagion – as long as China deliberates on its plan of action.

The financial trouble of the conglomerate became apparent when President Xi Jinping stressed upon controlled corporate debt levels in his ongoing drive to reign China’s corporate behemoths. It is estimated that the Evergrande Group currently owes $305 billion in outstanding debt; payments on its offshore bonds due this week. With new channels of debt ceased throughout the Mainland, repayment seems doubtful despite reassurances from the company officials. The broader cause of worry, however, is the impact of a default; which seems highly likely under current circumstances.

The residential property market and the real estate market control roughly 20% and 30% of China’s nominal GDP respectively. A default could destabilize the already slowing Chinese economy. Yet that’s half the truth. In reality, the failure of a ‘too big to fail’ company could bleed into other sectors as well. And while China could let the company fail to set a precedent, the spillover could devastate the financial stability hard-earned after a strenuous battle against the pandemic. Recent data shows that with the outbreak of the delta variant, the demand pressure in China has significantly cooled down while the energy prices are through the roof. Coupled with the regulatory crackdown rapidly pervading uncertainty, a debt crisis could further push the economy into a recession: a detrimental end to China’s aspirations to attract global investors.

The real question, therefore, is not about China’s willingness to bail out the company. Too much is at stake. The primal question is regarding the modus operandi which could be adopted by China to upend instability.

Naturally, the influence of China’s woes parallels its effect on the global economy. A possible liquidity crisis and the opaque measures of the government combined are already affecting the global markets: particularly the United States. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) posted a dismal end to Monday’s trading session: declining by more than 600 points. The 10-year Treasury yields slipped down 6.4 basis points to 1.297% as investors sought safety amid uncertainty. The concern is regarding China’s route to solve the issue and the timeline it would adopt. While the markets across Europe and Asia are optimistic about a partial settlement of debt payments, a take over from state-owned enterprises could further drive uncertainty; majorly regarding the pay schedule of western bondholders amid political hostility.

Economists believe that, while a financial crisis doesn’t seem like a plausible threat, a delayed response or a clumsy reaction could permeate volatility in the capital markets globally. Furthermore, a default or a takeover would almost certainly pull down China’s economy. While the US has already turned stringent over Chinese IPOs recently, a debt default could puncture the economic viability of a wide array of Chinese companies around the world. And thus, while the global banking system is not at an immediate threat of a Lehman catastrophe, Evergrande’s bankruptcy would, nonetheless, erode both the domestic and the global housing market. Moreover, it would further dent Chinese imports (and seriously damage regional exchequers), and would ultimately put a damper on global economic recovery from the pandemic.

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Economy Contradicts Democracy: Russian Markets Boom Amid Political Sabotage

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The political game plan laid by the Russian premier Vladimir Putin has proven effective for the past two decades. Apart from the systemic opposition, the core critics of the Kremlin are absent from the ballot. And while a competitive pretense is skilfully maintained, frontrunners like Alexei Navalny have either been incarcerated, exiled, or pushed against the metaphorical wall. All in all, United Russia is ahead in the parliamentary polls and almost certain to gain a veto-proof majority in State Duma – the Russian parliament. Surprisingly, however, the Russian economy seems unperturbed by the active political manipulation of the Kremlin. On the contrary, the Russian markets have already established their dominance in the developing world as Putin is all set to hold his reign indefinitely.

The Russian economy is forecasted to grow by 3.9% in 2021. The pandemic seems like a pained tale of history as the markets have strongly rebounded from the slump of 2020. The rising commodity prices – despite worrisome – have edged the productivity of the Russian raw material giants. The gains in ruble have gradually inched higher since January, while the current account surplus has grown by 3.9%. Clearly, the manufacturing mechanism of Moscow has turned more robust. Primarily because the industrial sector has felt little to no jitters of both domestic and international defiance. The aftermath of the arrest of Alexei Navalny wrapped up dramatically while the international community couldn’t muster any resistance beyond a handful of sanctions. The Putin regime managed to harness criticism and allegations while deftly sketching a blueprint to extend its dominance.

The ideal ‘No Uncertainty’ situation has worked wonders for the Russian Bourse and the bond market. The benchmark MOEX index (Moscow Exchange) has rallied by 23% in 2021 – the strongest performance in the emerging markets. Moreover, the fixed income premiums have dropped to record lows; Russian treasury bonds offering the best price-to-earning ratio in the emerging markets. The main reason behind such a bustling market response could be narrowed down to one factor: growing investor confidence.

According to Bloomberg’s data, the Russian Foreign Exchange reserves are at their record high of $621 billion. And while the government bonds’ returns hover at a mere 1.48%, the foreign ownership of treasury bonds has inflated above 20% for the second time this year. The investors are confident that a significant political shuffle is not on cards as Putin maintains a tight hold over Kremlin. Furthermore, investors do not perceive the United States as an active deterrent to Russia – at least in the near term. The notion was further exacerbated when the Biden administration unilaterally dropped sanctions from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. And while Europe and the US remain sympathetic with the Kremlin critics, large economies like Germany have clarified their economic position by striking lucrative deals amid political pressure. It is apparent that while Europe is conflicted after Brexit, even the US faces much more pressing issues in the guise of China and Afghanistan. Thus, no active international defiance has all but bolstered the Kremlin in its drive to gain foreign investments.

Another factor at work is the overly hawkish Russian Central Bank (RCB). To tame inflation – currency raging at an annual rate of 6.7% – the RCB hiked its policy rate to 6.75% from the all-time low of 4.25%. The RCB has raised its policy rate by a cumulative 250 basis points in four consecutive hikes since January which has all but attracted the investors to jump on the bandwagon. However, inflation is proving to be sturdy in the face of intermittent rate hikes. And while Russian productivity is enjoying a smooth run, failure of monetary policy tools could just as easily backfire.

While political dissent or international sanctions remain futile, inflation is the prime enemy which could detract the Russian economy. For years Russia has faced a sharp decline in living standards, and despite commendable fiscal management of the Kremlin, such a steep rise in prices is an omen of a financial crisis. Moreover, the unemployment rates have dropped to record low levels. However, the labor shortage is emerging as another facet that could plausibly ignite the wage-price spiral. Further exacerbating the threat of inflation are the $9.6 billion pre-election giveaways orchestrated by President Putin to garner more support for his United Russia party. Such a tremendous demand pressure could presumably neutralize the aggressive tightening of the monetary policy by the RCB. Thus, while President Putin sure is on a definitive path of immortality on the throne of the Kremlin, surging inflation could mark a return of uncertainty, chip away investors’ confidence: eventually putting a brake on the economic streak.

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