The world is currently experiencing what can be labelled as a global energy crisis, with surging prices for oil, coal, and natural gas. For households in Sweden and abroad, this translates into higher gasoline and diesel prices at the pump as well as increased electricity and heating costs. The increase in energy-related costs began in 2021, as the world economy struggled with supply chain issues, and intensified as Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February this year. In response, the Swedish government announced on March 14th this year that the tax rate on transport fuels would be temporarily reduced by 1.80 SEK per liter (€0.17) and that every car owner would receive a one-off lump-sum transfer of 1000 SEK in compensation (1500 SEK for car owners in rural areas). This reduction in transport fuel tax rates in Sweden is unprecedented. Since 1960, the nominal tax rate on gasoline has only been reduced three times – and then only by very small amounts, ranging from 0.04 to 0.22 SEK per liter. In this policy brief, we put the current gasoline price in Sweden into a historical context and answer two related questions: are Swedish households paying more today for gasoline than ever before? And should policymakers respond by reducing gasoline taxes?
The Price of Gasoline in Sweden
Sweden has a long history of using excise taxes on transport fuel as a means to raise revenue for the government and to correct for environmental externalities. As early as 1924, Sweden introduced an energy tax on the price of gasoline. Later in 1991, this tax was complemented by a carbon tax levied on the carbon content of transport fuels. On top of this, Sweden extended the coverage of its value-added tax (VAT) to include transport fuels in 1990. The VAT rate of 25 percent is applied to all components of the consumer price of gasoline: the production cost, producer margin, and excise taxes (energy and carbon taxes). Before the announced tax cut this year, the combined rate of the energy and carbon tax was 6.82 SEK per liter of gasoline. Adding the VAT that is applied on these taxes, amounting to 1.71 SEK, yields a total excise tax component of 8.53 SEK. This amount is fixed in the short run and does not vary with changes in the oil price.
Figure 1. Gasoline pump price: 2000-2022
Figure 1 shows the monthly average real price of gasoline in Sweden from 2000 to March of 2022. The price has increased over the last 20 years and is today historically high. Going back even further, the price is higher today than at any point since 1960. Swedish households are thus paying more for one liter of gasoline than ever before.
Figure 2. Gasoline expenditure per 100 km
However, a narrow focus on the price at the pump does not take into consideration other factors that affect the cost of personal transportation for households. First, the average fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet has improved over time. New vehicles sold today in Sweden can drive 50 percent further on a liter of gasoline compared to new vehicles sold in 2000. Arguably, what consumers care about most is not the cost of one liter of gasoline per se but the cost of driving a certain distance – the utility we derive from a car is the distance we can travel. Accounting for the improvement over time in the fuel efficiency of new vehicles (Figure 2), we find that even though it is still comparatively expensive to drive today, the current price level no longer constitutes a historical peak. In fact, the cost of driving 100 km was as high, or higher, in the period from 2000-2008.
Second, any sensible discussion of the cost of personal transportation for households should also factor in changes in household income over time. The average real hourly wage has increased by close to 40 percent between 2000 and 2022. As such, the cost of driving 100 km, measured as a share of household income, has steadily gone down over time. Even more, this pattern is similar across the income distribution; for instance, the cost trajectory of the bottom decile group is similar to that of all employees. This is illustrated in Figure 3. In 1991, when the carbon tax was implemented, an average household had to spend around two-thirds of an hour’s wage to be able to drive a distance of 100 km. By 2020, that same household only had to spend one-third of an hour’s wage to drive the same distance. There is an increase in the cost of driving over the last two years but it is still cheaper today to drive a certain distance, in relation to income, compared to any year before 2012.
Taken all of this together, we have seen that over time, vehicles use fuel more efficiently on the expenditure side, and households earn higher wages on the income side. Based on this, we can conclude that the cost of travelling a certain distance by car is not historically high today. On the contrary, when measured as a share of income, it was 50 percent more expensive for most of the 21st century.
Figure 3. Cost of driving as a share of income
Response From Policymakers
It is, however, of little comfort for households to know that it was more expensive to drive their car – as a share of income – 10 or 20 years ago. We argue that what ultimately matters for the household is the short run change in cost – and the speed of this change. If the cost rises too fast, households cannot adjust their expenditure pattern quickly enough and thus feel that the price increase is unaffordable. And the change in the gasoline price at the pump has been unusually rapid over the last 12 months. From the beginning of 2021 until March of 2022, the pump price has risen by around 50 percent.
So, should policymakers respond by lowering gasoline taxes? The possibly surprising answer is that lowering existing gasoline tax rates would be counter-productive in the medium and long run. Since excise taxes are fixed and do not vary with the oil price, they reduce the volatility of the pump price by cushioning fluctuations in the market price of crude oil. The total excise tax component including VAT constitutes more than half of the pump price in Sweden, a level that is similar across most European countries. This stands in stark contrast with the US, where excise taxes only make up around 15 percent of the consumer price of gasoline. As a consequence, a doubling of the price of crude oil only increases the consumer price of gasoline in Sweden by around 35 percent, but in the US by around 80 percent. Furthermore, households across Sweden, Europe, and the US have adapted to the different levels of gasoline tax rates by purchasing vehicles with different levels of fuel efficiency. New light-duty vehicles sold in Europe are on average 45 percent more fuel-efficient compared to the same vehicle category sold in the US (IEA 2021). As such, US households do not necessarily benefit from lower gasoline taxation in terms of household expenditure on transport fuel and are even more vulnerable to rapid increases in the price of crude oil. Having high gasoline tax rates thus reduces – and not increases – the short run welfare impact on households. Hence, policymakers should resist the temptation to lower gasoline tax rates even during the current energy crisis. In the medium and long run, households would buy vehicles with higher fuel consumption and would be more exposed to price surges in the future, again compelling policymakers to adjust tax rates and creating a downward spiral. Instead, alternative measures should be considered to alleviate the effects of heavy price pressure on low-income households – for instance, revenue recycling of the carbon tax revenue and increased subsidies for public transport.
To reach environmental and climate goals, Sweden urgently needs to phase out the use of fossil fuels in the transport sector, which is Sweden’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. This is exactly what a gradual increase of the tax rate on gasoline and diesel would achieve. At the same time, it would benefit consumers by shielding them from the adverse effects of future oil price volatility.
The most common response from policymakers goes in the opposite direction. In Sweden, the Social Democrats – the governing party – have announced a tax cut on gasoline and diesel of 1.80 SEK per liter but the political parties in opposition have promised even larger tax cuts. Some proposals would even effectively abolish the entire energy and carbon tax on gasoline. Similar tax cuts have been announced for example in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Therefore, this time is indeed different – but in terms of the exceptional reactions from policymakers rather than in terms of the cost of gasoline that households face.
- IEA. (2021). “Fuel Consumption of Cars and Vans” Tracking Report, International Energy Agency, November 2021.
- SPBI. (2022). “Svenska Petroleum och Biodrivmedel Institutet: Data Set” SPBI. drivkraftsverige.se/statistik/priser/bensin/
- Statistics Sweden. (2022). “Average hourly wage statistics”. Available: http://www.statistikdatabasen.scb.se
- Trafikverket. (2022). “Vägtrafikens utsläpp 2021” Tech. rep., Swedish Transport Administration, February 7th 2022.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The need for urgent climate action and energy transformation away from fossil fuels is widely acknowledged. Yet, current country plans for emission reductions do not reach the requirements to contain global warming under 2°C. What is worse, there is even reasonable doubt about the commitment to said plans given recent history and existing future investment plans into fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure development. This policy brief shortly summarizes the presentations and discussions at the SITE Development Day Conference, held on December 8, 2021, focusing on climate change policies and the challenge of a green energy transition in Eastern Europe.
Climate Policy in Russia
The first section of the conference was devoted to environmental policy in Russia. As Russia is one of the largest exporters of fossil fuel in the world, its policies carry particular importance in the context of global warming.
The head of climate and green energy at the Center for Strategic Research in Moscow, Irina Pominova, gave an account of Russia’s current situation and trends. Similar to all former Soviet Union countries, as seen in Figure 1, Russia had a sharp decrease in greenhouse gas emissions (hereinafter referred to as GHG emissions) during the early 90s due to the dramatic drop in production following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, the level has stabilized, and today Russia contributes to about 5% of the total GHG emissions globally. The primary source of GHG emissions in Russia comes from the energy sector, mainly natural gas but also oil and coal. The abundance of fossil fuels has also hampered investments in renewable resources, constituting only about 3% of the energy balance, compared to the global average of 10%
Figure 1. Annual greenhouse gas emissions per capita
Pominova noted that it is a massive challenge for the country to reach global energy transformation targets since the energy sector accounts for over 20% of national GDP and 28% of the federal budget. Yet, on a positive note, the number of enacted climate policies has accelerated since Russia signed the Paris Agreement in 2019. One notable example is the federal law on the limitation of GHG emissions. This law will be enforced from the end of 2021 and will impose reporting requirements for the country’s largest emitters. The country’s current national climate target for 2030 is to decrease GHG emissions by 30% compared to the 1990 level. As shown in Figure 1, this would imply roughly a 10 percent reduction from today’s levels given the substantial drop in emissions in the 1990’s.
Natalya Volchkova, Policy Director at CEFIR in Moscow, discussed energy intensity and the vital role it fills in Russia’s environmental transition. Energy intensity measures an economy’s energy efficiency and is defined as units of energy per unit of GDP produced. Volchkova emphasized that to facilitate growth in an environmentally sustainable way it is key to invest in technology that improves energy efficiency. Several regulatory policy tools are in place to promote such improvements like bottom-line energy efficiency requirements, sectoral regulation, and bans on energy-inefficient technologies. Yet, more is needed, and a system for codification and certification of the most environmentally friendly technologies is among further reforms under consideration.
As a Senior Program Manager at SIDA, Jan Johansson provided insights on this issue from an international perspective. Johansson gave an overview of SIDA’s cooperation with Russia in supporting and promoting environmental and climate policies in the country. The main financial vehicle of Swedish support to Russia with respect to environmental policy has been a multilateral trust fund established in 2002 under the European Union (EU) Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP). One of the primary objectives of the cooperation has been to improve the environment in the Baltic and Barents Seas Region of the Northern Dimension Area. Over 30 NDEP projects in Russia and Belarus have been approved for financing so far. Seventeen of those have been completed, and the vast majority have focused on improving the wastewater treatment sector.
Johansson also shed light on the differences that can exist between governments in their approach to environmental policy. For example, in the area of solid waste management, Russia prefers large-scale solutions such as landfills and ample sorting facilities. In Sweden and Western Europe, governments have a more holistic view founded on spreading awareness in the population, recycling, corporate responsibility, and sorting at the source.
Environmental Transition in Eastern Europe
In the second part of the conference environmental policies and energy transformation in several other countries in the region were discussed.
Norberto Pignatti, Associate Professor and Centre Director at ISET Policy Institute, talked about the potential for a sustainable energy sector and current environmental challenges in Georgia. The country is endowed with an abundance of rivers and sun exposure, making it a well-suited environment for establishing the production of renewable energy such as wind, solar, and hydro. As much as 95 % of domestic energy production comes from renewable sources. Yet, domestic energy production only accounts for 21% of the country’s total consumption, and 58% of imported energy comes from natural gas and 33% from coal. Furthermore, the capacity of renewable energy sources has declined over the last ten years, and particularly so for biofuel due to the mismanagement of forests. A notable obstacle Georgia faces in its environmental transition is attracting investors. Low transparency and inclusiveness from the government in discussions about environmental policy, along with inaccurate information from the media, has led to a low public willingness to pay for such projects. Apart from measures to overcome the challenges mentioned, the government is currently working on a plan to impose emission targets on specific sectors, invest in energy efficiency and infrastructure, and support the development of the renewable energy sector.
Like Georgia, Poland is a country where energy consumption is heavily reliant on imports and where coal, oil, and gas stand for most of the energy supply. On top of that, Poland faces significant challenges with air quality and smog and a carbon-intensive energy sector. On the positive end, Poland established a government-industry collaboration in September 2021, that recognizes offshore wind as the primary strategic direction of the energy transition in Poland. Pawel Wróbel, Founder and Managing Director of BalticWind.EU, explained that the impact of the partnership will be huge in terms of not only energy security but also job creation and smog mitigation. The plan implies the installation of 5.9 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 and 11GW by 2040. Wróbel also talked about the EU’s European Green Deal and its instrumental role in accelerating the energy transition in Poland. By combining EU-wide instruments with tailor-made approaches for each of the member states, the Deal targets a 55% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 through decarbonization, energy efficiency, and expanding renewable energy generation. Michal Myck, Director of CenEA, highlighted the role of social acceptance in accelerating the much-needed energy transition in Poland. In particular, to build political support, there is a crucial need for designing carbon taxes in a way that ensures the protection of vulnerable households from high energy prices.
Adapting to the European Green Deal will also create challenges for countries outside of the EU, especially if a European Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms (CBAM) is put in place in 2026 as suggested. Two participants touched on this topic in the context of Belarus and Ukraine respectively. Yauheniya Shershunovic, researcher at BEROC, talked about her research on the economic implications of CBAM in Belarus. It is estimated that the introduction of CBAM can be equivalent to an additional import duty on Belarusian goods equal to 3.4-3.8% for inorganic chemicals and fertilizers, 6.7-13.7% for metals, and 6.5-6.6% for mineral products. Maxim Fedoseenko, Head of Strategic Projects at KSE, shared similar estimations for Ukraine, suggesting that the implementation of CBAM will lead to an annual loss of €396 million for Ukrainian businesses and a decrease in national GDP of 0.08% per year.
An example of Swedish support to strengthen environmental policies in Eastern Europe was presented by Bernardas Padegimas, Team Leader at the Environmental Policy and Strategy Team at the Stockholm Environment Institute. The BiH ESAP 2030+ project is supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina in preparing their environmental strategy. This task is made more challenging by the country’s unique political structure with two to some extent politically autonomous entities (and a district jointly administered by the two), and elites from the three different major ethnic groups having guaranteed a share of power. The project therefore aims to include a broad range of stakeholders in the process, organized into seven different working groups with 659 members on topics ranging from waste management to air quality, climate change and energy. The project also builds capacity in targeted government authorities, raises public awareness of environmental problems, and goes beyond just environmental objectives: mainstreaming gender equality, social equity and poverty reduction. The project is 80 percent finished and will produce a strategy and action plan for the different levels of governance in the country’s political system. There is also a hope that this process can serve as a model for consensus building around important but at times contentious policy issues more generally in the country.
Public Opinion and Energy Security
Finally, Elena Paltseva, Associate Professor at SITE, and Chloé le Coq, Professor at the University of Paris II Panthéon-Asses (CRED), shared two joint studies relating to the green transition in Europe.
Recent research shows that individual behavioral change has a vital role to play in the fight against climate change, both directly and indirectly through changes in societal attitudes and policies motivated by role models. A precondition for this to happen is a broad public recognition of anthropogenic climate change and its consequences for the environment. The first presentation by Paltseva and Le Coq focused on public perceptions about climate change in Europe (see this FREE policy brief for a detailed account). Using survey data the study explores variation in climate risk perceptions between Western Europe, the non-EU part of Eastern Europe, and Eastern European countries that are EU members. The results show that those living in non-EU Eastern European countries are on average less concerned about climate change. The regional difference can partly be explained by low salience and informativeness of environmental issues in the public discourse in these countries. To support this explanation, they study the impact of extreme weather events on opinions on climate change with the rationale that people who are more aware of climate change risks are less likely to adjust their opinion after experiencing an extreme weather event. They find that the effect of extreme weather events is higher in countries with less independent media and fewer climate-related legislative efforts, suggesting that the political salience of the environment and the credibility of public messages affects individuals’ perceptions of climate change risks.
The second presentation concerned energy security in the EU, and the impact of the environmental transition. It was argued that natural gas will play an important role in Europe’s green transition for two reasons. First, since the transition implies a higher reliance on intermittent renewable energy sources, there will be an increased need for use of gas-fired power plants to strengthen the supply reliability. Second, the electrification of the economy along with the phasing out of coal, oil, and nuclear generation plants will increase the energy demand. Today, about 20% of EU’s electricity comes from natural gas and 90% of that gas comes from outside EU, with 43% coming from Russia. To emphasize what issues can arise when the EU relies heavily on external suppliers, the presentation discussed a Risky External Energy Supply Index (Le Coq and Paltseva, 2009) that considers the short-term impact of energy supply disruptions. This index assesses not only the importance of the energy type used by a country but also access to different energy suppliers (risk diversification). The index illustrates that natural gas is riskier than oil or coal since natural gas importers in the EU depend to a greater extent on a single or few suppliers. Another crucial component of the security of gas supplies arises from the fact that 77% of EU’s net gas imports arrive through pipelines, which creates an additional risk of transit. Here, the introduction of new gas transit routes (from already existing suppliers) may increase diversification and decrease risks to the countries having direct access to the new route. At the same time, countries that share other pipelines with countries that now have direct access may lose bargaining power vis-à-vis the gas supplier in question, as demand through those pipelines could fall. Le Coq illustrated this point applying the Transit Risk Index developed in Le Coq and Paltseva (2012) to the introduction of the North Stream 1 pipeline. She concluded that the green transition and associated increase in demand for natural gas is likely to be associated with higher reliance on large gas producers, such as Russia, and resulting in energy security risks and imbalance in the EU. One way to counteract this effect is to exercise EU’s buyer power vis-a-vis Russia within the EU common energy policy. While long discussed, this policy has not been fully implemented so far.
This year’s SITE Development Day conference gave us an opportunity to highlight yet another key issue, not only for Eastern Europe, but for the whole world: global warming and energy transformation. Experts from across the region, and policymakers and scholars based in Sweden, offered their perspectives on the challenges that lie ahead, but also highlighted initiatives and investments hopefully leading the way towards a brighter future.
List of Participants
- Chloé Le Coq, Professor of Economics at the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas (CRED). Paris, France. Research Fellow at SITE.
- Maxim Fedoseenko, Head of Strategic Projects at KSE Institute. Kyiv, Ukraine.
- Jan Johansson, Senior Program Manager, SIDA. Stockholm, Sweden.
- Michal Myck, Director of CenEA. Szczecin, Poland.
- Bernardas Padegimas, Team Leader: Environmental Policy and Strategy, Stockholm Environmental Institute. Stockholm, Sweden.
- Elena Paltseva, Associate Professor, SITE/SSE/NES. Stockholm, Sweden
- Norberto Pignatti, Associate Professor of Policy at ISET-PI, and Head of the Energy and Environmental Policy Institute at ISET-PI. Tbisili, Georgia.
- Irina Pominova, Head of Climatwe and Green Energy at the Center for Strategic Research. Moscow, Russia.
- Yauheniya Shershunovic, Researcher at BEROC, Minsk, Belarus. PhD Candidate at the Center for Development Research (ZEF). Uni Bonn.
- Natalya Volchkova, Policy Director at CEFIR, Assistant Professor at the New Economic School (NES). Moscow, Russia.
- Pawel Wróbel, Founder and Managing Director of BalticWind.EU. Poland.
- Julius Andersson, Researcher at SITE. Stockholm, Sweden.
- Anders Olofsgård, Associate Professor and Deputy Director at SITE. Stockholm, Sweden.
Climate change and environmental protection are challenging both policymakers and society. People are getting increasingly concerned about the careful consumption of water and energy, use of biodegradable products, and biodiversity. In these conditions, more and more companies and industries adopt “green” and “sustainable” standards in their work. The financial sector is also involved in this process. For banks and other financial institutions, green activities require adopting new approaches, strategies, and instruments. This brief discusses green banking with a special focus on the development and challenges of this industry in Belarus. It concludes by providing policy recommendations for green banking development in the country.
Sustainable development is one of the main global challenges, and an important role in facilitating and funding it belongs to green financing. The UN Environment Program defines green financing as “to increase the level of financial flows (from banking, micro-credit, insurance, and investment) from the public, private and non-profit sectors to sustainable development priorities”. Such financing can be provided by banks, financial institutions, nonfinancial private companies, governments, and individuals. The instruments of green financing range from climate, blue, and sustainability bonds to green credits and mortgages. One of the leading roles in the field is played by banks, which will be the focus of the current brief. This brief first offers a general overview of green banking. Then it and a discusses the existing green banking practices and challenges in Belarus. It concludes by providing policy recommendations for the development of the Belarussian green banking sector.
Green Banking: An Overview
The Indian Bank’s Association defines a green bank as “a normal bank which considers all the social and environmental/ecological factors, with an aim to protect the environment and conserve natural resources”. Moreover, the Finance Initiative of the UN Environment Program states that all green banks’ operations and activities should be consistent with sustainable development goals (Tara, K., Singh S., Kumar, R., 2015).
Considering the importance of green and sustainable development, it is natural to expect increasingly more financial companies and banks to implement eco-friendly instruments and policies. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that market players consider green aspects in their deals. For example, while the European “green” financial market is growing rapidly, the Green Assets Ratio (GAR, the share of green loans, bonds to total bank’s assets) was only at 7,9% for the EU banking sector in March 2021 (Huw Jones, May 21, 2021).
A necessary component to speed up banks’ uptake of green practices is an appropriate regulatory and supervisory framework. Indeed, as green aspects become part of the traditional banking activities – e.g., international financing, work in foreign markets, participation in financial programs and projects -, there is a need to develop common rules of work, principles, and standards in the green financing sphere. Today, several international initiatives and platforms provide such rules. For example, the Energy efficient Mortgages Initiative supports green mortgage development in Europe (Energy Efficient Mortgages Initiative, n.d.). The International Capital Markets Association acts as a (self-) regulatory organization that forms, implements, and manages principles and standards of green social, or sustainable bonds. One of the famous standards in green finance is the Equator Principles, a set of guidelines for project financing evaluation that incorporates social and environmental risks management (Equator Principles, n.d.). The Climate Bonds Initiative supports the mobilization of the bond market to meet the challenges of climate change (Climate Bonds Initiative, n.d.).
At the same time, most national monetary regulators work on legislation and rules of green banking development. The financial sector in general and the banking sector in particular are highly regulated. Financial institutions distribute owned and borrowed funds by providing short- and long-term credits and investing in numerous financial instruments with different levels of risk in national and foreign currencies. Monetary regulators need to control the their activity in order to minimize banks’ risks (credit, liquidity, and currency risk, etc.). For this reason, it is essential to have clear guidelines for dealing with new instruments (climate, social, blue, sustainability bonds, green mortgages, etc.), as their characteristics are likely to differ from the traditional ones. For instance, green bonds may have distinct characteristics of issuing and circulation. Green mortgages can be considered less risky than traditional credits due to more liquid collateral (energy-efficient buildings). There are specific measures that could make green instruments more attractive for banks, for instance by introducing green capital requirements or regulation against greenwashing.
Apart from guidelines, recommendations, and rules, central banks can create additional incentives for developing the green financial market. For example, the Bank of Bangladesh established a preferential lending Fund for projects in spheres such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative energy, and green industry (Ulrich Volz, March 2018). Also, the Central Bank of Hungary introduced preferential capital requirements for energy-efficient housing loans (Liam Jones July 13, 2021).
Another important aspect of regulation and incentives created by monetary regulators is environmental and climate change risks management. Climate change and the green transition increase the environment-associated financial risks for banks. Banks’ financial losses can result from not only storms floods, tsunamis, and temperature increases, but also financial problems of borrowers due to stricter environmental legislation and changes in social and environmental norms and standards. According to the ECB survey, many banks develop sustainable development strategies, but very few include environment-associated financial risks in their risk management. Therefore, the ECB works on creating incentives and regulations for banks in green risks-management. It is expected that bank stress-testing will start in 2022 (Harrison C., Muething L., 2021). At the same time, the Bank of Bangladesh, with IFC support, has developed guidelines on social and environmental risk management for the banking sector (Ulrich Volz, 2018).
Based on the above mentioned, there is still much to be done to ensure that market players consider green aspects in their deals. Green banking is still a new thing, but its implementation takes place in many countries, and green finance is an essential element of sustainable economic development.
Green Banking in Belarus
In this section, we overview the current state and perspectives of green banking development in Belarus. The country takes its first steps in green finance market development. Socio-economic development program of the Republic of Belarus for 2016-2020 has incorporated green projects in spheres such as transport and agriculture, recycling, eco-labelling and eco-certification development, as well as a study of the implementation of green bonds and green investment bank creation (Ukaz № 466, December 15 2016). In 2016, the National Plan of Activities on Green Economy Development in the Republic of Belarus till 2020 was adopted. The plan included the development of areas such as organic agriculture, eco-tourism, energy-efficient construction, and smart cities (CMRB Decree, № 1061, December 21, 2016). However, none of these projects were introduced with links to green financing and green banking. The National Plan of the Activities of Green Economy Development in the Republic of Belarus till 2025 pays more attention to green finance. In this plan, there is a description of implemented projects in recent years and a list of instruments (green bonds, credits, insurance products), tools (indexes, ratings, databases, etc.), entities and elements of the green finance ecosystem (MNREPRB, 2021). Still, there is no plan or detailed strategy of special regulation, rules, or framework of green banking development.
In the absence of precise plans from the government, green banking in Belarus began to emerge at the micro-level. Banks started to provide green products for their clients, participate in sustainable initiatives, and implement green management in their work. One of the main incentives to transition towards more sustainable banking practices comes from the investors’ side. In the case of joint investment and lending programs implementation, many foreign partners require that the bank applies modern green standards.
Another incentive to this transition builds on reputational risks and competition. Today, there is a public demand for eco-products, energy-efficient construction, and environmental protection. Banks that consider these issues have a competitive advantage and gain a positive reputation among their clients. Moreover, some commercial banks with foreign capital have to introduce green standards and green management at the request of their parent companies.
A few green initiatives by Belarusian banks are worth mentioning here. The Belinvestbank can be distinguished as one of the brightest examples of green banking in Belarus. The financial institution started transforming into EcoBank – it began to hold green financing transactions in the framework of the Global Trade Financial program (a program by the International Finance Corporation), adopted a new ecological and social strategy, issued a charity-bonus payment card made from recycled plastic, and held activities in ecological spheres (Belinvestbank, 2020). The bank plans to issue green bonds, establish green projects accelerator, continue green financing, and build new communications approaches with its clients (Belinvestbank, 2019a). Green financing is one of the main lending spheres of the EBRD, which planned to purchase a share of Belinvestbank.
Priorbank is another case of a green banking initiative in Belarus. The bank presented a new type of lending that allows consumers to buy only energy-, water- and heat-efficient products (Priorbank, 2021).
The Development Bank of Belarus launched a program of ecological projects financing for small and medium businesses and individual entrepreneurs for preferential interest rates (DBRB, n.d.).
As part of the Belarus Sustainable Energy Finance Program (BelSEFF) framework, funding was provided by banks such as MTBank, BelVeb Bank, BPS-Sberbank, and Belgazprombank with EBRD support (Tarasevich. V., 2014). Agreement about energy-efficient projects financing between MTBank and Nordic Environment Finance Corporation can be highlighted as one more example of a green initiative (Aleinikov & Partners, n.d.). The last but not least example of green activities is the joint project of BNB-Bank and North Ecological Financial Corporation in which they offered loans to private individuals and legal entities for the purchase of hybrid and e-vehicles, as well as for building infrastructure for e-vehicles. (BNB-Bank, n.d.).
Some Belarusian banks implement standards of environmental management into practice. For example, the Sustainable Development Report of Raiffeisen Bank International mentions that the Raiffeisen Group plans by 2025 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 35% (Raiffeisen Bank International, 2019). They also present plans on water savings, reduction of paper document flow and energy consumption. Priorbank is involved in this process as part of the Raiffeisen Group. Similar goals can be found in the Sustainable Development Report of Bank BelVeb. The environmental priories of the bank are to reduce pollution, restore biodiversity, and increase the efficiency of water, energy, and other resources consumption (BelVeb, 2019). In the Social Report of Belarusbank it is mentioned that the bank tries to consider negative environmental effects and ecological factors in their lending-decisions (Belarusbank, 2020).
Based on the information above, the conclusion is that Belarusian financial institutions gradually introduce principles of green banking. Most green projects in Belarus are implemented with the support of international financial organizations, parent institutions, or by request from foreign bank partners. Today, Belarusian banks carry out two types of green banking activities. First, they incorporate an environmental perspective in their everyday activities, not directly related to green finance: for example, by reducing water and electricity consumption and waste, switching to electronic document management, providing green incentives to their employees, etc.. Second, banks integrate an environmental perspective into their financial activities using green instruments, for instance by providing loans to the population and corporate sector based on sustainable finance principles.
At the same time, Belarusian banks do not work with climate-related and environmental risks management. This is not surprising, as, normally, regulators would initiate and incentivize this process, but in Belarus, neither the National Bank nor any other regulator deals with environmental risk management rules for banks. Another challenge is that Belarusian banks do not take part in international green financing initiatives, such as the Equator Principals or the Climate Bond Initiative. Finally, the narrowness of the Belarusian financial market and absence of clear rules and definitions restrict green bond markets and green mortgage development.
Investment in green projects imposes positive externalities on society that are not necessarily internalized by the market. As reflected in the international practices discussed earlier, support from the government and financial authorities might be necessary both in monetary and regulatory terms. Even if developing countries like Belarus may not have a green transformation on top of their agenda, they will soon be faced with the necessity to adapt to the European Green Deal, at least with respect to their trade with the EU. Hence, they will also need policies that promote and support green finance development.
Based on international experience and national issues of green banking, the following recommendations can be highlighted (Luzgina A., 2021):
- The adoption of supportive regulation/rules of work with green instruments, including green, sustainable and/or sustainability-linked bonds, green mortgages, and green project financing. This regulation can include criteria for identifying green projects and construction, principles of green projects evaluation, rules of green bonds issuing, tax benefits, and/or preferential credit eligibilities. The ResponsAbility Investments Survey confirms the necessity to implement special rules on green lending development in emerging economies. According to the survey, 40% of respondents believe that an affordable regulatory environment is a key element of green loan market development (ResponsAbility Investments AG, 2017).
- The implementation of economic and social incentives for green banking activity popularization. Such incentives can include lower interest rates on green loans, providing tax exemptions for companies and people involved in green projects realization, subsidizing the process of green bonds verification, and holding study activities on green economy and finance. According to ResponsAbility Investments Survey, 60% of respondents agree that special green credit lines of public financial institutions have played an important role in green finance development. At the same time, governments subsidize the process of bonds verification issued by SMEs in Russia (at the stage of adoption), Singapore, and Japan (Vinogradov E. April 2, 2020).
- The creation of an additional section in the Belarusian currency and stock exchange for green corporate and state bonds circulation. Green or sustainable bonds have special characteristics in terms of issuing purposes and listing features that require highlighting them in a separate section.
- Guiding the development of climate-related and environmental risks management as well as green management rules implementation for all banks. Based on the international experience, this area of green banking requires incentives from the Government and Central Bank, as it is poorly studied and associated with additional costs for banks. Financial institutions are not sufficiently motivated to implement green risks management principles on their own.
- Extending the international collaboration in the field of green finance. This activity may include participating in not only international programs on green financing or foreign investments attraction but also international initiatives such as Principles for Responsible Banking, Climate bonds Initiative, Equator Principles, etc..
- The development of a green banking methodology and (or) strategy/ concept by responsible bodies. The introduction of green banking requires the development of new approaches, definitions, and rules that are within the competence of not only the Central Bank but also the Ministry of Economy (in terms of SMEs support), Ministry of Finance (in terms of funding), Ministry of Agriculture (in terms of the development of bioproducts standards), Ministry of Architecture and Construction (in terms of energy-efficient building definition and indicators), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, etc. An institutional body could coordinate this work by developing a methodology of green banking in discussion with the National Bank, ministries, and other interested parties (NGOs, banks). The association of Belarusian Banks can perform this function as it knows the specifics of banking legislation, can identify the existing obstacles of green banking and other challenges in the field, and is interested in developing the Belarusian banking system in line with current trends.
Green finance as a whole and green banking in particular will continue to develop. Monetary regulators are working on green rules and risk management implementation for banks. Financial institutions from different countries are participating in international green initiatives and developing sustainable strategies.
Green banking development is an international process which Belarus cannot ignore. Today, the majority of green activities at the national level are based on the initiative of banks. Contracts with international financial institutions and requirements of parent companies and investors motivate Belarusian banks to implement green instruments and approaches. Traditionally, the banking system works under restricted and highly regulated conditions. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce clear rules of green banking by the government as well as to increase the attractiveness of green financing, including economic and social incentives development.
Otherwise, the existing policy gap in green banking will widen and the opportunities for collaboration between Belarusian banks and foreign financial institutions will diminish. Finally, the absence of green regulation will deteriorate the quality of risk management in the Belarusian banking system compared to the world level.
- Aleinikov & Partners, MTBank and Nordic Environment Finance Corporation. Available at: https://argument.by/en/projects/detail.php?ID=297.
- Belarusbank policy in the field of corporative social responsibility. Protocol of the supervisory board meeting #7.4, 15.05.2020. (Rus. Политика ОАО «АСБ Беларусбанк» в области корпоративной социальной ответственности), 26 pp.
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- Belinvestbank, Apr. 2019a (in Russian). Available at: https://belinvestbank.by/about-bank/press-service/news/
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- Climate Bonds Initiative. Available at: https://www.climatebonds.net/about.
- Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus, Decree, № 1061, December 21. 2016, National plan of activities on green economy (in Russian). Available at: https://www.economy.gov.by/ru/nac_plan-ru/
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- Equator principles. Available at: https://equator-principles.com/about/
- Green financing, UNEP. https://www.unep.org/regions/asia-and-pacific/regional-initiatives/supporting-resource-efficiency/green-financing – :~:text=Green financing is to increase,sectors to sustainable development prioritieSalman
- Harrison C., Muething L., April 2021, Sustainable debt. Global state of the market 2020, Climate Bonds Initiative, 30 pp.
- Huw Jones, May 21, 2021 , EU watchdog signals long journey for banks to become “green”, ed. by Kristen Donovan, Available at: https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/eu-watchdog-signals-long-journey-banks-become-green-2021-05-21/.
- IDB Invest, Five things to know about blue bonds. Available at: https://www.idbinvest.org/en/blog/development-impact/five-things-know-about-blue-bonds.
- IFC, Global Trade Financial Program (GTFP). Available at: https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/industry_ext_content/ifc_external_corporate_site/financial+institutions/priorities/global+trade/gtfp.
- Liam Jones, July 13, 2021, EU action sets new baseline: EC & ECB promise systemic change to Europe’s finance sector: Landmark commitments on climate change and transition strategy. Available at: https://www.climatebonds.net/2021/07/eu-action-sets-new-baseline-ec-ecb-promise-systemic-change-europes-finance-sector-landmark.
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