Making Finance Sustainable: Ten Years Equator Principles – Success or Letdown?

In 2003, a number of banks adopted the Equator Principles (EPs), a voluntary Code of Conduct based on the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) performance standards, to ensure the ecological and social sustainability of project finance. These so called Equator Principles Financial Institutions (EPFI) commit to requiring their borrowers to adopt sustainable management plans of environmental and social risks associated with their projects. The Principles apply to the project finance business segment of the banks and cover projects with a total cost of US $10 million or more. While for long developing countries relied on World Bank and other public assistance to finance infrastructure projects there has occurred a shift in recent years to private funding. The NGOs have been frustrated by this shift of project finance as they had spent their resources to exercise pressure on the public financial institutions to incorporate environmental and social standards in their project finance activities. However, after a shift of NGO pressure to private financial institutions the latter adopted the EPs for fear of reputational risks. NGOs had laid down their own more ambitious ideas about sustainable finance in the Collevecchio Declaration on Financial Institutions and Sustainability. Legally speaking, the EPs are a self-regulatory soft law instrument. However, it has a hard law dimension as the Equator Banks require their borrowers to comply with the EPs through covenants in the loan contracts that may trigger a default in a case of violation ...

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