Keelback’s Vincent Rajiv Louis on Sustainable Investing Trends
Asia Pacific Trend Watch with Rajiv Louis
November 18, 2021
Vincent Rajiv Louis has built a powerful network of relationships throughout the Asia Pacific region with investment groups, corporations and NGOs. Indeed, Rajiv’s particular strength throughout his career has been to support these relationships with strategic ideas around the world – a strength he continues to deliver to several family groups particularly in Indonesia.
This is the second part of our conversation with Rajiv Louis, in which we further delve into his views on philanthropy and sustainable investing in Asia Pacific. Read part one of the article here.
Rajiv Louis: Millennials are changing philanthropy and sustainable investing in Asia
We discussed how philanthropy is still quite new in Asia. What is happening now is factors have started to change in a really positive way. One is the way Millennials approach this entire spectrum even before we were beset by the COVID pandemic. You were already starting to see changes because Millennials as a cohort are not behaving the way traditional investors or any other group have behaved in the past – that is, just looking at the bottom line or doing the minimum necessary to get to the endpoint. It's very meaningful to Millennials how businesses operate, and they're forcing corporations to think about sustainability, climate change and conservation. It’s the Greta Thunberg moment, and it’s having a fantastic ripple effect.
Rajiv Louis: The impacts of COVID-19 are here to stay
If there was one good thing that came out of the pandemic, it would be that the world lens has been pointed at the horrific dangers of human and animal conflict and the zoonotic diseases that eventually and necessarily come with it. The critical issues of sustainable development, climate action and conservation are front and center in the public discourse. We see genuine growth in the ESG side (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) and the number of companies that are looking at their carbon footprints. Net Zero pledges have nearly doubled in less than a year from both local governments and corporations as many prioritize their commitment to mitigating climate change in a post-COVID-19 world. A report published by the Data-Driven EnviroLab and the NewClimate Institute highlights the massive increase in pledges with “a nine-fold increase for regions, with an additional 101 in 2020 from 11 recorded in 2019; an eight-fold increase for cities, with 823 more in 2020 from 100 recorded in 2019; and a three-fold increase for companies, with 1,541 in 2020 from around 500 recorded in 2019.”
Rajiv Louis: COP26 in Glasgow will drive the carbon conversation
At the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow starting in October, the world will be talking about carbon and how to force segments of the economy and corporations to be responsible for their carbon footprints and what that's going to cost. In addition, you have multiple countries talking about a carbon tax and voluntary carbon offsets starting first and foremost from the energy sector. Indonesia recently announced its carbon tax regime set to become effective in 2022. The benchmark tax is far too low in comparison to other countries, but the first step is always the hardest. Hopefully, increases to the base rate from this point forward will be more compassionate to the environment and give citizens something to cheer about. As the fossil fuel sector is forced into compliance, the focus is slowly but surely expected to shift to a raft of other emitting sectors, notably, airlines, shipping and cloud computing. Right now, Europe leads in both experience and price, followed by California’s cap trade system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI in the Northeast US, and China, Australia and New Zealand have their own compliance markets. All of these are domestic-focused, and it's only a matter of time that other Asian, African and Latin American countries follow.
Rajiv Louis: Innovation is starting in the voluntary carbon markets but it’s still early days
It's still very early to tell because, especially on the carbon side, the market is still embryonic. The reason you're not getting a huge amount of innovation is that the size of the voluntary carbon market is still subscale for major financial intermediaries to focus attention on. Everyone knows it's coming, but it's not here yet. The major trading houses Trafigura and Glencore have already established carbon trading desks, and the likes of Goldman Sachs and others are threatening to do so. Major fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP have had trading desks for several years already – perhaps the most telling sign of all that a carbon tax on emitters is here to stay and far too low at current levels. As the investment banks set up shop for carbon trading, innovation will definitely follow by way of futures and options and standard trading contracts. You've seen the first installments of innovation in terms of green bonds and blue carbon bonds, and I think it will continue as the contracts and the products that investors can trade become more standardized.
Perhaps in the near future, we’ll see a carbon coin – if we have a Dogecoin why not a carbon one? Someone please shout out to Elon Musk, we need a carbon coin tweet from him!
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Rajiv Louis applies the rigor of his background in investment banking to help organizations in Asia Pacific methodically build donor relationships and grow their donor networks by advising how to deliver tangible results at the conservation level.Rajiv Louis: NGOs need to match their agendas with the objectives of donors and investorsNeither donors nor investors want to fund projects that don't achieve their objectives. That means NGOs need to match their conservation agendas with donor and investor objectives. It’s horses for courses.Many NGOs do this by framing their work in economic terms, but this approach may raise questions about the motivation of the NGO and whether it is using proper science to achieve its goals or has an agenda that is not necessarily conservation-focused. The challenge for donors and investors, therefore, is to assess how much they trust the NGO to deliver on its promises.Rajiv Louis: How can NGOs build this trust?Conservation groups are increasingly looking for funding from both government donors and the private sector. Corporate philanthropy is growing in Asia Pacific too. To match their agendas with the objectives of their funders, conservation-focused NGOs should be clear on what they want to achieve, whether it's strengthening marine protected areas (MPAs) in Indonesia or protecting biodiversity and wildlife in the Philippines. It’s critical that NGOs have a thorough understanding of government policies in their host countries. Being able to show a track record of harmonized work in-country whilst achieving the NGOs overarching goals and objectives is priority number one to garnering donor trust.Regular and rigorous reporting standards is critical as it allows an NGO to objectively demonstrate progress and how its work relates to broader goals, such as reducing poverty or promoting economic growth or food security.Camera ready for friendships bonding with Rwanda kids Rajiv Louis: Making an impact and demonstrating resultsThe challenge of making an impact is even harder for conservation NGOs that are trying to protect ecosystems. These NGOs often work in countries with some of the most formidable environmental problems, where government action may be lacking. Again, they need to match their agendas with the objectives of donors and investors who want to see concrete results.NGOs must demonstrate results or risk losing funding. Donors are also more likely to give money when they believe it will be used efficiently. So, conservation NGOs have to find ways to meet their own goals by working within the parameters of donor requirements.Rajiv Louis: Building a donor networkA strong donor network is vital to the success of a conservation-focused non-profit organization in Asia Pacific. It can help them accomplish a larger scope of goals and objectives, while also building a more unified community of activists and volunteers. To build a strong network, NGOs need to have a clear idea of what they hope to accomplish with their donors, as well as what they hope to receive from the relationship.
Vincent Rajiv Louis on the Challenges of the Voluntary Carbon Markets and Conservation in Asia Pacific
Global investment executive Vincent Rajiv Louis has a lifelong passion for conservation. He currently holds positions with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), African Parks Network and the Pho3nix Foundation. We recently spoke with Rajiv Louis and about his views on philanthropy and sustainable investing in Asia Pacific. We continue our series learning more about his involvement and perspectives on environmental activism and conservation.Rajiv Louis: Regulation is important to the healthy development of the carbon markets globallyWhen it comes to the carbon markets and related offsets, there is a proclivity for players to think that it will be easy pickings in an embryonic market. Unfortunately, these behaviors cause a stain on the overall integrity of a burgeoning industry that is critically important to climate action and the protection of forests and biodiversity, particularly in the developing world. Thankfully, regulation, a raft of real players with genuine experience and talent, and a focus on quality and reputation are what can create positive changes for the long term. This is no different than the development of other markets and asset classes, not least of which the development of emerging markets themselves as an asset class in the 1980s and cryptocurrency today. Rajiv Louis: Many people tend to underestimate the challenges of conservation and the dedication required to forest protection in the developing world.As more attention focuses on the carbon markets, we've recently seen an increase in the number of players talking about the carbon market – people who previously had absolutely no prior interest in conservation or the environment. The proclivity in this cohort is to vastly underestimate how hard and how long it takes to protect forests and develop a carbon sequestration project in earnest. Serious people have been working to protect forests and promote biodiversity with the communities that work alongside them for a very long time. These are the projects that we are focused on and where we want to cooperate for capacity building in these indigenous communities.Working in the wild can be fun Rajiv Louis: Two organizations making a difference for the long termI'm extremely proud to be part of the Leadership Council at The Nature Conservancy and the Advisory Board in Asia Pacific for African Parks Network. These two organizations have been engaged in conservation for a long time but, more importantly, pursue this herculean work with the required scientific rigor. African Parks has been around for 20 years and The Nature Conservancy for far longer than that. They are two of the largest and most reputable organizations in their respective fields, and the models they employ have real substance, a dedicated team of professionals and the required care that goes into effecting change.Rajiv Louis: A long-term commitment is a mustIn the dash to participate in the voluntary carbon markets, there is sometimes a lack of understanding by participants in the required long-term dedication to the project. In Indonesia as an example, the concession model is well understood as natural resources and related businesses account for some 60% of Indonesia’s GDP where the concession licensing model is the norm. The burden of care in a carbon sequestration project over life of concession, however, is perhaps less appreciated and understood. In a coal mining concession, for example, the duty of care, free prior and informed consent (FPIC) of local communities and biodiversity conservation is a secondary or even tertiary objective (all too often forgotten or misplaced). In sharp contrast, such objectives are necessary and primary objectives in forest carbon projects. Pursuant to project design, registration and verification, which may take as long as two years or more, the obligations of care, monitoring and constantly improving on the work at the concession continues for life of concession. It's a huge undertaking and by some reckoning far more onerous than mining for ore bodies.Rajiv Louis: The objectives of the Carbon Growth FundWhat we seek with our current Carbon Growth Opportunities Fund (Australia) is high-quality carbon credits. Future funds will be focused on projects where we can have a deeper involvement in projects positioning us to share the collective experience of the team in conservation and our financial and philanthropic networks. Through this, we hope to help the indigenous people who rightly own and deserve this land and support biodiversity conservation. All the while, we hope that the fund’s activities will contribute to the integrity and maturity of the voluntary carbon markets and drive the value of carbon offsets to levels that are commiserate with the true opportunity cost of the damage we have imposed on climate and nature for a century.Bonds that bind