The Swiss market of green bonds: breaking down the barriers to scale
Green bonds can foster financial flows towards environmental projects and are subject to a growing interest in Switzerland. Green bonds are used to finance projects with a positive environmental impact. While they are the predominant sustainable debt instrument worldwide, they still represent a small portion of total debt volumes. The interest of Swiss issuers towards green bonds has increased in recent years, with more and more issuances, including the one of the Swiss green Confederation bonds. However, little is known about the current state of the Swiss green-bond market and what could limit its growth. This analysis aims at filling this gap.
This Market Outlook displays the current state of the green-bond market and barriers to scale in Switzerland. In particular, it describes the current requirements for issuing a green bond, discusses the trends observed on the Swiss green-bond market, and analyses barriers to scale brought forward by market actors with market information and data.
From a regulatory perspective, Switzerland follows a market-based approach for green-bond issuance and reporting. In Switzerland, green-bond issuers are subject to the same legal requirements at issuance as when issuing standard bonds and no legal definition of green bonds exists. However, to be flagged as “green” on the SIX Swiss Exchange, bonds have to be (1) aligned with the Green Bond Principles of the International Capital Market Association and (2) listed on the Green Bond Da-tabase of the Climate Bonds Initiative.
While the Swiss green-bond market is growing, its size remains small. The annual volume of CHF-denominated green bonds issued on the Swiss exchange has regained traction in 2023, with 105 bonds outstanding. However, the share of green bonds in the Swiss market per amount issued (4.2%) is relatively smaller than its European counterparts (12.6%).
Green-bond issuers are mostly banks, real estate, and energy firms. The main issuers of Swiss green bonds are usually larger, and better performing than their peers, and often in need of financing. These firms use the proceeds from green bonds to invest in projects across a wide array of sectors, with the largest shares in sustainable buildings and sustainable energy.
Four main market barriers prevent the Swiss green-bond market from reaching scale. Interviews with market stakeholders in a workshop setup helped identify four main barriers to scale. These barriers include high costs of issuance, which are a problem in the context of low demand that has characterised the Swiss green-bond market in the past. Other barriers are a lack of incentives to bear lower returns, uniform post-issuance reporting and the low climate impact of underlying projects.
Market actors, policy makers and academia can take action to help the market reach its potential. Discussions with these stakeholders brought forward three avenues of action, namely developing an open-source, centralised database with information on green bonds issued in Switzerland, testing decentralised finance solutions for reducing issuance costs, and creating a stakeholder-policymaker platform, or supporting the existing ones, to promote a policy and legislative agenda.