UAE banking sector prioritises sustainable financing to support economic and social development

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UAE Banks Federation (UBF), the sole representative and unified voice of banks in the UAE, revealed the remarkable success of the UAE banking and financial sector in developing sustainable banking solutions in line with the UAE’s strategy to reduce emissions and achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The Federation highlighted the proactive role of the banking sector in combating climate change through green financing commitments and climate initiatives and said that providing green finance and issuing green-oriented funds has emerged as a powerful mechanism to meet sustainability commitments of various organisations in the UAE in particular, and the region, in general. An active partner in UAE’s sustainable pursuits, UBF works in close collaboration with Central Bank of the UAE and all UBF members to support establishing the groundwork for the transformation to a sustainable economy.

According to publicly available data from UBF members, six major banks (FAB, ADCB, ENBD, DIB, Mashreq, and ADIB) have collectively dedicated over AED 190 billion (US$51.8 billion) in green financing for various projects in renewable energy, waste-to-energy, and green technology by the end of 2022. Other UBF members undoubtedly follow.

The tremendous growth in green funding by UBF members aligns with the guidelines of Central Bank of the UAE’s Sustainable Finance Working Group, and sector-wide sustainability objectives, all of which support the initiatives during the ‘Year of Sustainability’ and the UAE’s hosting of COP28.

United Nations has convened a Net-Zero Banking Alliance that brings together a global group of banks representing over 40% of global banking assets, who are committed to aligning their lending and investment portfolios with net zero emissions by 2050. Meanwhile, UBF has built a top-notch ESG steering committee comprising subject matter experts to drive the ESG and green finance sector to work under the guidance of Central Bank of the UAE’s policy, which will adopt sustainability principles in reserves management and monetary operation to work towards strengthening the principles and frameworks for green finance.

Commenting on the ongoing development of sustainable banking in the UAE, Mr. Jamal Saleh, Director General of UAE Banks Federation (UBF), said: “Sustainability is a top priority for us. While Central Bank of the UAE leads integrating it into the regulatory frameworks and advancing Islamic sustainable finance in the UAE, we at UBF are committed to supporting its goals in delivering necessary changes in our UAE finance sector. And, in line with National Climate Change Plan of the UAE 2050 and United Nations’ SDGs, our financial sector is playing a pivotal role in helping the UAE achieve net zero emissions.”

The UAE is a pioneer in introducing sustainability standards and principles in the banking and finance sector, having introduced the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Sustainable Finance Declarations in 2016 and 2019, respectively, as well as the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Financing in 2020 to promote the development of a green financial market, and the National Sustainable Finance Framework in 2021.

In addition, the UAE is one of the first countries to include sustainability reports among the mandatory disclosures of public companies listed on the stock exchange, reflecting the importance given by regulators to sustainability. The country’s banks and financial institutions have initiated the issuance of green sukuk and bonds, whose total market in the UAE has been around AED 62.4 billion (US$17 billion) in recent years, with the aim of accessing institutional sources of financing that contribute to reducing the negative impact on the climate and environment and strengthen the sector’s role in achieving an integrated system for sustainable development, as well as providing attractive returns for investors.

The Director General of UAE Banks Federation identified three major areas through which Federation members will drive the transformation of the financial sector. First, propelling green projects by providing funds and issuing green bonds. Second, by inculcating green practices among customers, SMEs, suppliers, and vendors by promoting eco-friendly operations and living. And, last, by measuring and efficiently managing every UBF member’s own carbon footprint and reporting the reductions achieved by the sector.

Mr. Jamal Saleh added, “Achieving net zero emissions requires the full participation of the financial sector to channel capital into environmentally sustainable and climate-resilient investments. In January 2020, the UAE published a set of guiding principles for sustainable finance to promote the development of a green financial market and ensure consistency across the sector. Together with our member banks, we are working under the direct supervision of Central Bank of the UAE to further advance sustainable finance in the region. Collaboratively defining a framework for accountability and best practices will encourage the transition to a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and resilient economy.”

Moreover, Mr. Saleh also commented about the partnership which UBF has entered into with UAE’s Securities & Commodities Authority (SCA), where SCA and UBF will join hands and make collective efforts to foster mutual cooperation in developing the financial sector, establishing the UAE as a major attraction for asset and wealth management in line with government’s aspirations for the next fifty years, ensuring the sustainable growth of the national economy, and cooperating with all authorities to create a flexible environment that attracts foreign businesses and further motivates banks and financial institutions to set up local asset management firms and help support and promote local investment fund industry, including green and sustainable funds, at regional as well as international levels.

Talking about the upcoming COP28 and how it will impact the banking sector in the UAE, Mr. Jamal Saleh said, “Our member banks and financial institutions will play a critical role in integrating environmental values into business and industrial progress. We believe the upcoming COP28 will provide a platform for global discussions and action on climate change. The UAE hosting the event will enable collaboration with international stakeholders, sharing best practices and building partnerships to accelerate the implementation of sustainable finance initiatives.”

About UAE Banks Federation (UBF):

Established in 1982, UAE Banks Federation (UBF) is the sole representative body comprising 59 members of banks and organisations operating in the UAE. UBF advocates the interests of all its members and enhances cooperation and coordination between them in order to elevate the UAE’s banking ecosystem for the benefit of members, customers, and the overall UAE economy.

UBF’s mission and objectives are focused on representing its members and defending their rights and interest. UBF provides a platform for cooperation and the exchange of ideas and expertise among its members and plays a significant role in raising public awareness about the contributions of the UAE banking sector to the economic and social development of the country.

UBF has a 22-member Advisory Council consisting of CEOs and General Managers from member banks and financial institutions, which oversees the implementation of UBF’s policies and activities. The CEOs Council also makes directional decisions through UBF’s General Secretariat for UBF’s 26 technical and 3 advisory committees, which in turn are tasked to discuss all issues relevant to the UAE banking and financial services ecosystem. UAE Banks Federation also includes a CEOs Consultative Council, which consists of chief executives of other member banks.

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