Commitment to sustainability opening doors to post-pandemic capital in Africa

City centre of Cape Town in South Africa. View from the nearby mountain Lion’s Head. Photo Credit Wikipedia

By Wildu du Plessis, Head of Africa, Baker McKenzie

The industrials, manufacturing and transport (IMT) sector is being hit hard by COVID-19 disruption, but commitment to sustainability could very well lead the sector to recovery. This is according to Baker McKenzie’s report “Sustainable Success: Exploring environmental, social and governance priorities for industrials through COVID-19 and beyond” which revealed that industrials have taken great leaps forward in relation to environmental, social and governance matters (ESG) in the past decade.  The report outlines how CEOs in the sector have signed up to a new holistic definition of company purpose and most public companies now report on ESG goals. Access to funding is also becoming intricately linked to a commitment to ESG principles, with industrials looking at sustainability initiatives as a way to source capital for projects in Africa.

According to the report, the economic challenges and the huge changes that have turned the world upside down in 2020 cannot be ignored, but the fundamental imperative to embed and prioritise ESG remains — and is arguably more important than ever as the fragility of the world’s current systems and norms is revealed.

The report found that sustainability can be used as a lever of recovery and competitive advantage, where companies proactively consider ESG issues as part of their COVID-19 response and decision-making. Connecting sustainability and business models more closely offers industrials the opportunity to reimagine supply chains, production and revenue streams — the basis for long-term reinvention and success. As such, sustainability is set to be a powerful guiding principle of COVID-19 recovery and a source of advantage for IMT companies. In the fight for post-pandemic capital in Africa, embracing sustainability provides a valuable edge for African industrials. Funding in some areas is already contingent on meeting certain global ESG standards and other investors have followed this lead — requiring documented, planned policies and processes in relation to ESG before investing.

Access to capital will be critical to corporate recovery and in ensuring that key industrial and infrastructure projects in Africa can continue. Africa’s leaders have been assessing how best to mobilise capital from local savings pools, shore up development finance from various development finance institutions like the International Finance Corporation, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, and direct capital raised via green bonds towards qualifying projects.

The market for green and sustainable bonds is set to expand further in the coming years and industrials in Africa are likely beneficiaries of the capital raised. The African Development Bank (AfDB) Green Bond programme, for example, facilitates the bank’s green growth policy by providing capital for eligible climate change projects. Investors are able to finance climate change initiatives via green bonds, which is then allocated to eligible projects.

Green bonds are gaining in popularity across Africa and the larger economies of sub-Saharan Africa have all embraced this.  In 2019, Kenya set up the legal framework and rules for the launch of its first green bond on the Nairobi Securities Exchange,  with the aim of raising capital for green transport, water and energy infrastructure projects in the country. The country announced in 2020 that it planned to issue its first diaspora bond for green infrastructure projects this year, so that Kenyans living abroad could be given the opportunity to participate in the country’s post pandemic recovery via investments in sustainable projects.

Nigeria was the first African country to issue a Sovereign Green Bonds in 2017 and launched its the Green Bond Market Development Programme a year later. The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) Green Bond Market is a platform for green bonds in the country and four bonds are listed on the platform. Late last year, the NSE signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Luxembourg Stock Exchange to promote cross-listing and trading of green bonds in Nigeria and Luxembourg, with Access Bank’s Green Bond the first to be listed on both exchanges.

In South Africa, in an effort to drive investment and make it easier to list and trade sustainability-linked instruments, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) launched a sustainability segment for green bonds in June this year. In July 2020, the African Development Bank invested ZAR 2 billion in Africa’s first Sustainable Development Goals-linked bonds (SDG bonds), which were issued by Nedbank and listed on the newly launched green bonds segment of JSE. This bond issuance is expected to create jobs, promote SMEs run by members of under-represented groups in the country, and act as a catalyst for green projects.

Post pandemic, IMT initiatives in Africa are expected to have a heightened focus on improving Africa’s capacity for green, low-carbon and sustainable development, via, for example, clean energy, community healthcare, green transport, sustainable water, wildlife protection and low-carbon development projects. A commitment to ESG principles is clearly taking centre stage in the quest for post pandemic funding, with access to capital for large industrial projects now likely to contain sustainability requirements.

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