Welcome back to Publyon’s monthly Sustainability Newsletter. In this edition, we look at the September’s spotlight as the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presents her State of the Union speech with key insight for the Union’s climate momentum. We also delve briefly into the recently published EU Taxonomy delegated acts with an exclusive interview from PGGM, one of the largest investment managers in the Netherlands to discuss the EU Taxonomy that serves as a business tool to guide investment. Last but not least, we are delighted to share some recommended readings, events, and opportunities to connect with our team at Brussels events.
Many words…many actions?
These were weeks of many words in the European Commission. President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen held her yearly State of the Union speech on 13 September 2023, during which she addressed the state of the European mandate to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. As she speeched her way through green industrial policy, the energy transition, and launching an investigation on the Chinese electric vehicle market, she concluded her sustainability tour with an announcement on a new strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture in the EU.
Not even one week later, von der Leyen was defending the European climate agenda again in front of the United Nations, at the opening of the New York Climate Week, during the 2023 Sustainable Development Goals Summit. She further held speeches at two additional summits at the Climate Week: the Climate Ambition Summit on 20 September and at the Global Citizen NOW climate session on 21 September. The message was clear across these three speaking opportunities: Europe and the world must bridge the green investment gap, to achieve their climate targets.
The deed is all
All these statements provide key insights on the direction of the European Union’s sustainability efforts. They underline the continuous commitment of the European Union to achieve its grand net-zero objective. However, these speeches also hide growing tension both within the European Union and outside of its borders. Green legislation has recently come under fire from the European political right. In fact, European Member States along with the European People’s Party, Von der Leyen’s own political group, have been criticising several European legislative initiatives such as the Nature Restoration Law, claiming that such initiatives would hurt European agriculture.
True climate action might be impeded by such tensions, which translate at the global level. The UN Climate Week underlined the complexity of translating promises into concrete actions. In the absence of two key polluters, China and the U.S., and the lack of pushback against the fossil fuel industry, many are left worried.
Is the climate momentum drifting away?
A recent conversation with Renew’s Alexander Kolk left us wondering whether the political climate momentum is passed, as the window to act is getting narrower. However, there is hope that the European elections and the Commission will continue to support the future of the climate agenda. However, before campaigning kicks off, let us look up once again to the global stage, where von der Leyen might well be holding yet another climate speech at the COP28, taking place from 30 November to 12 December in Dubai.
On 27 June 2023, the European Commission therefore adopted a Taxonomy Environmental Delegated Act, including a new set of EU taxonomy criteria for economic activities making a substantial contribution to one or more of the non-climate environmental objectives, namely:
- sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources,
- transition to a circular economy,
- pollution prevention and control, and,
- protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.
The Commission has also adopted amendments to other delegated acts that have already been adopted next to the Taxonomy Regulation. The newly set criteria originate to a very large extent from the recommendations of the Platform on Sustainable Finance, published in March and November 2022.
The adopted texts have been transmitted to the co-legislators (the European Parliament and the Council of the EU) for their scrutiny. They have 4 months to review it and, if not objected, will be in force starting from 1 January 2024.
For context, the EU taxonomy is a classification system that defines criteria for economic activities that are aligned with the EU’s environmental objectives. It is a cornerstone of the EU’s sustainable finance framework and an important market transparency tool.
It is designed to assist companies and investors to identify environmentally sustainable economic activities for informed investment decisions. It sets clear criteria for what qualifies as environmentally sustainable.
The EU taxonomy is important for businesses and investors because it:
- Provides a common language and definition of sustainable activities, making it easier for businesses to market their products and services as sustainable and for investors to identify and invest in sustainable opportunities.
- Reduces the risk of greenwashing, as businesses will need to meet specific criteria to claim that their activities are sustainable.
- Helps businesses to become more climate-friendly and reduce their environmental impact.
- Facilitates access to sustainable finance, as banks and other financial institutions are increasingly using the EU taxonomy to guide their investment decisions.
What’s new with the EU taxonomy?
The Taxonomy Regulation entered into force on 12 July 2020. It establishes the basis for the EU taxonomy by setting out the overarching conditions that an economic activity must meet to qualify as environmentally sustainable. Under the Taxonomy Regulation, the Commission had to come up with the actual list of environmentally sustainable activities by defining technical screening criteria for each environmental objective through delegated and implementing acts.
How will the EU Taxonomy delegated acts impact your business?
The delegated acts aims to ensure that markets are incentivized to inject investments into companies willing to accelerate their transition to sustainability.
More specifically, the package proposes new rules for Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) rating providers, new sectors and activities to be covered by the framework.
Publyon is preparing a comprehensive blog post in the next weeks on the concrete impact the new EU Taxonomy delegated acts will have on businesses and how it relates to sustainability reporting obligations.
In this edition, Publyon discussed with Brenda Kramer and Maurits Heldring, Responsible Investment Experts for PGGM, the role of the EU Taxonomy for investment managers. PGGM is the second largest cooperative pension investor in the Netherlands. PGGM supports pension funds through several complementary services: fiduciary management and asset management and pension management.
Could you provide a brief overview of your company and its core operations?
PGGM is the investment manager for PFZW, the pension fund for the healthcare and welfare sectors and the second largest pension fund in the Netherlands. We provide pension administration and policy advice to the fund. As pension investor, our core operations are investments across all asset classes.
To what extent do the EU taxonomy provisions help PGGM in identifying sustainable investment opportunities?
At this point in time we are mainly using the taxonomy for reporting purposes. We have also used the EU taxonomy to enrich our internal definition of Sustainable Development Investments. This definition includes environmental and social investments. PGGM’s client PFZW has also set a target on climate solutions of 8% for 2030 using the EU Taxonomy as a reference.
Which specific sectors and industries outlined in the EU Taxonomy Regulation are most important for PGGM’s sustainable investment portfolio?
We estimate that the following sectors/activities contribute most to the overall Taxonomy alignment/eligibility of our portfolio (in this order):
• Insurance of climate related perils
• Real estate
• Renewable energy
How does PGGM evaluate whether the companies and projects it invests in align with the environmental goals of the Taxonomy Regulation?
The EU taxonomy mainly helps us in the sustainable/green lending space. We see increasingly that issuers of green bonds use the taxonomy to indicate the greenness of the loan. The EU Green Bond Standard and its link to the EU taxonomy has proven really helpful to that end. We have recently published a blog on this matter describing the case of an international cement producer CEMEX and power of regulation.
Do you think the EU Taxonomy has the potential to support investors in orienting their capital towards environmentally responsible investments?
We see a that taxonomy is helpful in bond markets. For equity investments taxonomy is often too detailed and the data are not available on a large scale yet. It does, however, provide a good tool for engagement with investment companies in terms of transition pathways and goals.
Do you think that asset managers who are aware of the EU Taxonomy and are implementing it into their daily practice are more prone to ensure that their investments are futureproof?
We do not see the EU Taxonomy as a tool to mitigate climate risk or other sustainability risks. However, the EU Taxonomy helps in aligning our portfolios with aligned pathways and transitions.
Where can you run into our team?
- Have a talk with our consultant Hazal at the “Fly to a Sustainable future with Turkish Airlines” event on 25 October at Brussels Airport
- Join Arnaud, our sustainable energy expert, at the Euractiv conference “Making better use of biofuels: How can the EU ensure policy consistency?” on 23 October
- Arnaud will also be at the European Energy Efficiency Day 2023 on 12 October. Come say hi!
Hi, my name is Eliza and I am curating this newsletter to bring Brussels’ main sustainability insights to your inbox, every month. Do not hesitate to reach out should you need more information on the newsletter’s content or if you have suggestions for our next editions.Contact