Green Bonds, Empty Promises
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
We examine the legal terms in the market for green bonds, debt instruments in which proceeds are earmarked, directly or indirectly, for projects with a positive environmental impact. Utilizing a sample of nearly 1000 bonds over the entire history of the market and supplementing this data with interviews with over 50 market participants and policymakers, we find a concerning lack of enforce ability of green promises. Moreover, these promises have been getting weaker over time. Green bonds often make vague commitments, exclude failures to live up to those commitments from default events, and disclaim an obligation to perform in other parts of the document. These shortcomings are known to market participants. Yet, demand for these instruments has been growing. We ask why green bond promises are so weak, while the same investors demand strong promises from the same issuers in other settings.