Can you invest sustainably in government bonds?

Both our active and passive portfolios contain government bonds - but how are these sustainable investments? This article explains how we choose carefully to make sure that they are.

FacebooktwitterlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterlinkedinmail   by Louisiana Salge, 24th November 2020

Government bonds are a type of sovereign debt that retail investors can access. Standard government bonds raise proceeds that are spent at the respective country’s government’s discretion – meaning that the capital raised can contribute to anything from social welfare and infrastructure, to the military or foreign political intervention.

Therefore, taking the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a lens for positive impact, the actions of governments, despite democratically elected, can be seen as positively but also negatively impactful.

Active solutions

Our Positive Impact portfolios’ dual mandate is to maximise both positive impact and financial returns. In line with that, unscreened funds investing in standard government bonds, like the UK gilts, do not fit within our investment framework and are avoided. Instead of investing in standard government bonds, our sovereign debt exposure is through dedicated green or sustainability bonds, or the bonds of supranational development banks. The proceeds of these bonds are spent on a defined set of positive-impact projects linked positively to the UN Goals, like renewable energy or low carbon transport infrastructure.

We are eagerly awaiting the UK’s confirmation of the ‘green gilt’ launches that will help power the UK’s green recovery from the pandemic-induced economic slowdown. The first ones are expected in 2021, lagging a lot of other European countries in the use of these instruments.

Passive solutions

Meanwhile, our Future Leaders portfolios are built with a core focus on ‘ESG leaders’ – those companies that are the most responsible within their sector. Translating this ranking logic to governments is more complicated. An individual investor may find it easy to take a stand against certain government policies, but it is harder to justify for professional investors who represent a diverse set of political views. For Future Leaders we have built an ESG framework for government debt eligibility that considers ESG factors specific to sovereigns. This draws on guidance from the World Wide Governance Indicators project (led by the World bank) and research by Freedom House. It looks at issues including rule of law, corruption and independence of the electoral system to distinguish democratic, free governments from oppressive regimes.

In this way, Future Leaders excludes investment in government bonds from oppressive regimes (like China) but includes investments in democratically elected governments (such as UK gilts). In addition, we seek an overweight in specific green and sustainability government bonds by using Green Bond indices, as described above.

Contact Louisiana

    Louisiana Salge

    Louisiana is Head of Sustainability at EQ. She is responsible for innovating EQ’s approach to sustainable investing, oversees EQ’s ESG and impact integration strategy across all assets, EQ’s stewardship efforts and sustainability data reporting.

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