Last year, green bond issuances in the Asia-Pacific region hit record levels, raising $18.89 billion. Of that Mainland China’s green bond market accounted for $8.13 billion, according to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX). So, when HKEX recently announced that it would be launching its Sustainable and Green Exchange (STAGE) platform, it sent a message that Hong Kong plans to cement its position as a green finance hub. STAGE, which is described as the first of its kind, will be a centralised source for Asia-focused sustainable and green finance information. But while hopes are high, the platform is still in its early days.
PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, HOW WILL STAGE FUNCTION?
In its current form, STAGE is an online information platform with sustainable and green finance Asia data and information links catering towards issuers and investors. But all eyes are on later this year, when HKEX plans to launch its repository of detailed data.
“I think there are hopes and dreams concerning how this might evolve, and how sustainable finance may develop generally, globally and in particular within Asia,” Mark Uhrynuk, a corporate partner at Mayer Brown, tells Asian Legal Business.
“The initial phase of STAGE will be a website that acts as a source of Data and information relating to green and social bonds, and on the ESG related products that may be traded on the stock exchange,” Uhrynuk says, adding that this will later information on bonds and other ESG-related products traded on the Hong Kong Exchange.
HKEX has also discussed STAGE becoming a place to host information that will help investors understand the basics, as well as flagging potential issues or challenges to look out for.
“One of the things that STAGE will do — it’s not there yet — will be to help investors with respect to due diligence, and on selecting investments,” Uhrynuk says, but adds that at present there’s little information available about this aspect of the platform or when it will be rolled out. However, he believes that “there’s a lot more to come.”
WHAT OPPORTUNITIES IS STAGE LIKELY TO CREATE FOR LAWYERS?
As awareness and interest in green products gains traction, and best practices grow more standardised and guidelines are published, STAGE will provide lawyers in Asia with geograph-ically relevant information and updates — as well as a resource to direct their clients towards.
“There could be opportunities for lawyers to advise clients on whether their bonds comply, or how their bonds can comply, with the applicable international standard used in a certain green bond issuance (which is a requirement to be displayed on STAGE),” says Uhrynuk.
But as STAGE develops, there is also the possibility lawyers will be able to use the platform for due-diligence purposes, as well as to provide data.
“As this platform evolves, it could go beyond just listing what bonds are available, but also provide data and tools for other industry participants — private equity asset managers, investors, as they look to adopt best practices on making investment decisions that are supportive of broader ESG initiatives,” says Uhrynuk.
WHAT DOES THE PLATFORM MEAN FOR INVESTORS IN HONG KONG?
Recently in Hong Kong, growing interest in green and sustain-able finance has led to proactive shows of commitment by financial oversight bodies within the market. In May, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority along with the Securities and Futures Commission released a joint statement on its newly established Green and Sustainable Finance Cross-Agency Steering Group. Among its various focuses, the group aims to examine policy and regulatory issues around green and sustain-able finance.
But there are likely more developments on the horizon for Hong Kong as regulations and resources ease the investment process.
“Green bond issuance in the region has been active. There’s no doubt there’s been an uptick in activity over the past few years,” says Uhrynuk about the latest developments.
But beyond this, STAGE also sends a message about how the finance hub plans to position itself. “STAGE represents a clear indication that Hong Kong is really trying to take a leader-ship role in devoting the time and resources, to lead the Asia region on these issues,” he adds.
To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com.