Banks and CSOs work to push sustainable finance into steady momentum

Banks and CSOs work to push sustainable finance into steady momentum

By: Elijah Macaspac

In light of the increasing risks posed by climate change and environmental degradation, the financial sector in the Philippines works to push sustainable finance forward with steady momentum.

Last August 17-18, 2023, representatives from Philippine commercial and rural banks and civil society organizations (CSOs) learned all about how the financial sector can play a bigger role in driving action and change in society by integrating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations in the operations of their organizations.

The “Sustainability and Sustainable Finance Training” program was organized and facilitated by the Asian Institute Management (AIM) Gov. Jose B. Fernandez Jr. Center for Sustainable Finance, headed by Dr. Felipe Calderon, Executive Director. Fair Finance Philippines supported the event as part of its partnership with AIM to advance sustainable finance in the country.

Representatives from CSOs and Philippine commercial and rural banks at the Sustainable Finance Training

Dr. Calderon underlined how much the country needs to put finance at the service of the people and the planet. For the banking industry, this might entail initiatives ranging from fair and inclusive financing programs to customer-focused products that encourage mindful consumption and enable and inspire climate action.

In April 2020, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) released the country’s first Sustainable Finance Framework (SFF), also known as Circular No. 1085. It provides the overarching principles for integrating sustainability practices and ESG considerations into banks’ corporate and risk governance frameworks, strategies, and operations.

However, during the training, bank representatives share their experiences as they navigate through the early stages of complying with the framework. Though enthusiastic about this progress, they draw attention to one aspect essential to the framework’s success — a methodical implementation led by government financial institutions and agencies. 

Banks now know how to integrate sustainability into their daily operations. What, however, can guarantee a financial sector that puts money into initiatives that advocate resource efficiency and healthy ecosystems while promoting a circular economy? Here are key takeaways from the training: 

  1. BSP needs to include comprehensive guidance on how to carry out the implementation

BSP set 2023 as the deadline for full implementation of the Sustainable Finance Framework, wherein companies must disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities in their sustainability reports. However, the Circular does not provide specific standards for implementing sustainable finance. Nikki Lizares, SAVP and Head of Sustainability at Security Bank Corporation, shared that there was some internal pushback due to the lack of guidance on how to compute climate risks. A specified template must be accessible to banks.

Similarly, implementing sustainable finance requires technical expertise and significant investment. The Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines (RBAP)’s survey study shows that it is too soon for rural banks to fully comply with the framework. Atty. Mary Ann Tupasi-Saddul, President, explained that they are still not equipped to measure the impact of sustainable finance, given their lack of resources and specialists. Concerted efforts to raise awareness must be made in the Philippine banking industry and corporate sector.

  1. Banks must engage with clients that help them advance sustainable finance

Dr. Maria Angela Zafra, Adjunct Faculty from Ateneo de Davao University, shared how banks can utilize sustainable procurement methods. This will help ensure that decision-making and procurement procedures adhere to client expectations while including ESG aspects of corporate responsibility. Through this, they can determine which ESG issues are specifically significant to their organization and lower the costs of operations. It can be an entry point for banks to help businesses build resilient supply or value chains.

Vice President of the Bank of the Philippine Islands Jo Ann Eala and corporate banker Ryan Larobis also shared Hazard Hunter, a tool that determines if a location is prone to seismic, volcanic, or hydrometeorological hazards. Both of them pointed out that banks have a responsibility to point out potential health and safety hazards to their clients. They must lead in generating hazard assessment reports with explanations and recommendations.

  1. Collaboration for financial inclusion in the Philippines

The country’s journey to sustainable finance is faced with challenges, such as a lack of resources and capacity. However, these can pave the way for partnerships and collaboration with stakeholders. Banks, especially rural banks, can look into bigger banks and CSOs to help them with their journey towards sustainability.

Furthermore, the financial sector plays a significant role in promoting sustainable policies and practices that ensure the financial system is resilient against the risks of climate change. The sector can create a collaborative space that shares knowledge and best practices that benefit all involved, especially the planet.

Fair Finance Philippines works towards promoting sustainable finance in the country. The coalition is made up of Philippines-based organizations, namely, Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS), Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC), Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), NGO Forum on ADB, WWF Philippines, and Oxfam Pilipinas.

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