ESBG responds to the Commission’s consultation on its Taxonomy Environmental Delegated Act

On 3 May, ESBG responded to the Commission’s consultation on its new set of EU taxonomy criteria for economic activities that contribute substantially to one or more of the following environmental objectives: sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources; transition to a circular economy; pollution prevention and control; protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems

As a background information, the EU Taxonomy is a classification system, establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities. It could play an important role helping the EU scale up sustainable investment and implement the European green deal. The EU taxonomy would provide companies, investors and policymakers with appropriate definitions for which economic activities can be considered environmentally sustainable.
It is part of the European Green Deal strategy.ESBG has always been supportive of a workable EU Taxonomy. While the technical screening criteria of the taxonomy must remain consistent and encourage capital reallocation towards a sustainable economy, they should be selected so that they may be applied to all relevant financing activities without creating an excessive administrative burden for some players.
In other words, all financial institutions should have the tools at hand to play a vital role in financing the transition to a more sustainable EU economy. Definitions should therefore be clear, and applicable indicators should ensure a sufficient degree of comparability.
Nonetheless, ESBG sees some shortcomings in the Commission’s draft.
Indeed, ESBG is not totally satisfied when it comes to the Green Asset Ratio (GAR). On top of that, ESBG believes that there is a disparity among annexes or criteria. Indeed, there is very little specificity or granularity in some objectives, especially regarding the biodiversity, whereas other annexes are very granular or specific.


ESBG revises its position paper on the CSDDD in accordance with the recent negotiations

Given the developments of the recent political negotiations, ESBG has decided to update its position paper on the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) with five main recommendations to be considered.

First of all, ESBG calls for reconsidering the scope(s) and supports lifting the employee threshold to 1000. Moreover, for competitiveness purposes, ESBG calls to narrow the gap between the suggested thresholds for EU and non-EU companies. ESBG has also concerns regarding the scope of the “adverse impact” listed in the annexes and ask to narrow it. Finally, ESBG strongly opposes the inclusion of the financial entities in the list of high-risk-sectors.
ESBG insists on limiting the value chain to the direct customers receiving loans or credits only, not to their subsidiaries or business partners. Also, loans or credits provided to SMEs, natural persons and households should not be covered by the value chain.

ESBG is in favour of the implementation of a risk-based approach when conducting the due diligence for financial undertakings. ESBG proposes including a differentiation between simplified and enhanced due diligence rules depending on the risk profile of a customer. For instance, it could make sense to prioritize identification of entities established in countries/regions more likely to generate “high adverse impacts”.

Regarding the specific role of financial undertakings, ESBG strongly urges to keep the identification obligation limited to before providing loans or credits. Finally, ESBG stresses the need to consider the specific structure of mutualist banking groups.

A coherent frame that makes the rules work will also be welcomed. Overall, ESBG encourages the legislators to coordinate their progress with other current projects, such as the EU taxonomy, corporate sustainability reporting directive, deforestation regulation and conflict minerals regulation.

Finally, ensuring legal certainty is key. Therefore, ESBG discommends the inclusion of specific provisions related to civil liability under the proposed CSDDD, notably because it could lead to a permanent litigation risk as well as the directors’ duty of care. In this regard, ESBG also recommends that the substantiation of concerns is eliminated.


ESBG responded to the ESMA consultation about the use of ESG terms in funds’ names

On 17 February, ESBG submitted its response to the ESMA consultation about the use of ESG terms in funds’ names. ESBG’s answer is built on the following three key points:

  • ESBG underlines the need to establish, first and foremost, a clear and uniform methodology for “sustainable investments”.
  • ESBG does not believe that introducing ESMA’s suggested quantitative thresholds to assess funds’ names would be the best solution.
  • Instead of introducing the suggested thresholds, ESBG would like to call for a better implementation of the already existing requirements.

ESBG welcomes ESMA’s objective to tackle greenwashing when it comes to funds’ names. As a prerequisite to any action, there must be a clear and scientifically comprehensible uniform legal definition of “sustainability” to be able to present sustainability features in investment products. EU sustainability-related initiatives, such as the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) and the EU Taxonomy Regulation, are already aiming at creating a harmonised cross-border framework for offering sustainable products in the EU. Hence, it is too early to set thresholds until a harmonized methodology for “sustainable investments” is provided.

More specifically, ESBG believes that the proposed threshold of 80% for investments with sustainable and social objectives is too high. There is notably a surprising gap between this threshold and the ones already existing in other EU countries such as Germany or Luxembourg. ESBG is also not in favour of the inclusion of an additional threshold of at least 50% of minimum proportion of sustainable investments for the use of the word “sustainable” in funds’ names for now. This last threshold should be firstly reviewed and tested for its market suitability before being implemented.

Finally, ESBG believes that sustainable finance regulations should rather incentivise asset manager and product manufacturers to increase the taxonomy level of ESG financial instruments since this has not been sufficiently the case so far.

Read executive summary


Read the full position



Advocating on the EU deforestation regulation

Sustainable Finance

February 3, 2023

What lessons can be learnt from a French diplomat from the XIX century?

By Adrien Boudet

As Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, a French diplomat from the XVIII and XIX centuries who was notably the French negotiator during the Congress of Vienna in 1815 used to say, “Beware of your first impressions, they are often the right ones (1)”. This maxim finds a particular echo regarding the deforestation regulation.

Before going any further, let us come back to the regulation itself. It was initiated when the European Commission adopted a proposal on 17 November 2021. It aims to curb deforestation and forest degradation that is provoked by EU consumption and production. It also lays down rules regarding the placing and making available on the European Union market, as well as the export from the Union market, of cattle, cocoa, coffee, oil palm, soya and wood (‘relevant commodities’) and products.

Nonetheless, at a very late stage of the negotiations, several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) tabled amendments that included financial institutions in the scope of the regulation considering that their services could contribute to the activities linked directly or indirectly to deforestation and forest degradation. According to the MEPs’ proposal, the regulation should have established obligations for financial institutions operating in the Union that provide financial services to entities or corporate groups doing business in the commodities and products covered by the regulation. In particular, financial institutions would have been prohibited from providing financial services to customers if there was a risk (more than negligible) that the services in question may provide support directly or indirectly to activities leading to deforestation and forest degradation.

After several months of advocacy and negotiations in the “trilogues (2) ”, EU negotiators finally agreed not to include financial institutions in the scope of the regulations in December 2022. Even if the text has not yet been formally adopted since amendments can be tabled in the European Parliament until 21 April, it will be surprising to have a different outcome when it comes to the exclusion of financial institutions (3) . So, “fin de l’histoire?” Well, it seems that one must “beware of his first impressions”. Why so? Several points come to one’s mind.

On the one hand, regarding the procedure, it is quite worrying that this dossier could set up a precedent. Indeed, tabling a last-minute amendment to include financial institutions in the scope of the regulation whereas such a possibility was neither assessed by any proper impact assessment nor suggested by any other key stakeholder, does not seem to be the best way to proceed. In terms of legal certainty as well as implementation feasibility, this method could be quite dangerous and troublesome if it was to become the norm.

On the other hand, regarding the substance of the text, one must be careful as well. As the compromise draft stands, even though financial institutions are not included in the scope, this might not be the case in the medium-term. Indeed, the text mentions that a review clause must be conducted by the Commission two years after the adoption of the text at the latest: “The assessment… shall also evaluate the role of financial institutions in preventing financial flows contributing directly or indirectly to deforestation and forest degradation and assess the need to provide for any specific obligations for financial institutions in EU legislation in that regard, taking into account any relevant existing horizontal and sectoral legislation.” In other words, financial institutions should, from now on, be prepared to comply with the regulation’s requirements and to reflect on some key messages to push forward. If they do not, they will run the risk of being ineffective when addressing again the EU policymakers in two years. Advocating for the non-inclusion in the scope will be repetitive. Instead, they must be proactive and come up with concrete and implementable solutions to efficiently tackle the financing of deforestation. Especially so since addressing this issue is a fair request.

Overall, this dossier also reveals the current trend among EU policymakers to implement new requirements for financial institutions. Whether banks should contribute to sustainability is beyond question. Nevertheless, they already have to comply with several EU legislations’ requirements in this regard, such as the EU Taxonomy, the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR), the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and probably as well the currently discussed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), to name a few. All these regulations imply different requirements and are not necessarily always coordinated between one another. Hence, the number of rules financial institutions must comply with regarding sustainability is increasing continuously and may lead eventually to difficulties. In other words, financial institutions will struggle (and already are struggling to some extent) to understand what is exactly expected from them. As stated by “le diable boiteux” Talleyrand, “Anything excessive is insignificant (4)”.

When all arguments have been heard, financial institutions shall contribute to sustainability in every way that they can. Now, they must begin to think on how they could effectively fight the financing of deforestation. If they do not, they might end up being obliged to comply with complex and burdensome requirements. In the meantime, EU policymakers should make sure that rules are clear and that a consistent framework is being implemented. “If it goes without saying, it goes better when it is said (5)”.

Adrien Boudet is WSBI-ESBG advisor with expertise on sustainable finance

Meet the Advocacy Team

  1. « Défiez-vous de vos premières impressions, ce sont souvent les bonnes. »
  2. Informal negotiations between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament.
  3. In order to be formally adopted, the text must be voted by the European Parliament in plenary session and formally approved by the Council.
  4. « Tout ce qui est excessif est insignifiant. »
  5. « Si cela va sans dire, cela va mieux en le disant. »


ESBG responds to the ESAs call for evidence on greenwashing

The European Supervisory Authorities (ESMA, EBA, EIOPA) received a request for input from the Commission relating to greenwashing risks and supervision of sustainable finance policies. Therefore, they asked for input on potential greenwashing practices in the EU financial sector. On 10 January 2023, ESBG provided the ESAs with its contribution.

ESBG welcomes this call for evidence since greenwashing is an issue which must be tackled at the EU-level and would like to recall that banks and savings banks are intensively dedicated to the traceability, transparency and credibility of the sustainability features they have to consider in investment advice and financial portfolio management. The EU Taxonomy, the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) and the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) already aims at tackling greenwashing.

Nonetheless, ESBG regrets that these different regulations are currently based on a different understanding of greenwashing. The existence of a large amount of complex ESG information and data that needs to be provided to investors and clients can also create a perverse effect through an information overload which can facilitate greenwashing.

Therefore, in the interest of customers, banks, saving banks and issuers of financial products, ESBG assesses that there is an urgent need for a harmonization of the understanding of greenwashing within the framework of European legislations and supervisory practices. ESBG believes that it could be achieved through the following steps:

  • First, there is a need to strengthen transparency through a consistent enforcement of existing EU regulations’ requirements.
  • Then, a clear and scientifically comprehensible, as well as uniform legal definitions of both sustainability and greenwashing for financial instruments must be implemented, keeping in mind the need for practicality and feasibility for banks and saving banks when implementing these requirements.


Joint letter to Commissioner McGuinness on the EFRAG consultation regarding its first set of draft ESRSs

Sustainable Finance

October 5, 2022

On 27 September, the ESBG, together with the European Banking Federation (EBF), the European Association of Co-operative Banks (EACB), Insurance Europe, Accountancy Europe, Business Europe and European Issuers, has submitted a joint industry letter to Commissioner Mairead McGuinness regarding the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG) public consultation on its first set of draft European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS).

In the letter, ESBG strongly emphasized the necessity to phase-in the submission of the disclosure requirements from EFRAG to the Commission. In this respect, it is considered that EFRAG should deliver a limited set of crucial ESRS by November 2022. After this, EFRAG and the Commission should agree on a detailed plan to deliver the rest of the first set of standards and all the other deliverables required by the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). All these will constitute the minimum requirements to be delivered within the pre-set deadlines by the Commission.

Download the Joint Letter



ESBG response to the EFRAG consultation on its first set of draft ESRSs calls to ensure levelled global playing field

ESBG submitted its response to the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG) public consultation on the first set of Draft EU Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRSs) on 4 August. The consultation comes in response the European Commission’s proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) which envisages the adoption of EU Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRSs). As part of this, the Commission mandated EFRAG to provide technical advice in the form of draft sustainability reporting standards.

In its response, ESBG highlighted the need for consistency between the International Sustainability Standards (ISSB) sustainability disclosures and the EFRAG ESRSs in order to ensure a levelled global playing field. Moreover, ESBG emphasises the lack of proportionality with respect to disclosure requirements, specifically for smaller/unlisted companies and proposes the provision of certain reporting requirements being made optional.

With respect to implementation challenges, ESBG considers that the data availability issue is the most critical challenge for financial institutions. Taking into consideration the above, ESBG proposed two phase-in solutions that are mutually complementary: i) first year reporting on own operations and gradual reporting on information from the value chain and ii) prioritisation of climate topics and gradual consideration of other environmental, social and governance topics.

Furthermore, we believe that there is not enough guidance in the exposure drafts with respect to the application of the double materiality principle (the requirements for companies to disclose not only the risks that affect, but also their impacts on society and on the environment). In this sense, this concept needs to be clarified and more guidance is needed in relation to specific sectors in due time.

ESBG stresses the limitation on disclosing value chain information for companies. We consider it is difficult to obtain information from companies that are not under the control of the institution (e.g. associate companies). We propose that a phase-in period of 2 years must be granted to financial undertakings to allow them to adapt their processes to collect the necessary information from their value chain.

As a next step, ESBG will evaluate if there is interest from members in submitting input into the up-coming EFRAG consultations on SME specific standards as well as on sector specific standards (EFRAG consultations are expected to be published in 2023).


EU Taxonomy minimum safeguards: Criteria for the application of external checks should be further defined

ESBG submitted its final response to the Platform for Sustainable Finance (PSF) consultation on its draft report on minimum safeguards (MS) on 6 September. In its response, ESBG highlights that assessing whether a company complies with the due diligence processes should, other than relying on external checks as only possibility, be demonstrated by: i) proving that the applicable national legislation provides for sufficient guarantees concerning the specific topic; ii) self-declarations made by the client concerning the specific topic.

ESBG submitted its final response to the Platform for Sustainable Finance (PSF) consultation on its draft report on minimum safeguards (MS) on 6 September.

The report is intended to provide advice on the application of the minimum safeguards which bring a social and governance component to the EU Taxonomy. The report looks at human rights including workers’ rights and consumers´ rights, bribery/corruption, taxation and fair competition as core substantive topics for which compliance with minimum safeguards has to be defined. The draft report proposes a two-pronged approach for identifying non-compliance with MS, namely one related to adequate due diligence processes implemented in companies (internal checks) and the other related to the actual outcome of these processes or the company’s performance (external checks).

In its response, ESBG highlights that assessing whether a company complies with the due diligence processes should, other than relying on external checks as only possibility, be demonstrated by: i) proving that the applicable national legislation provides for sufficient guarantees concerning the specific topic; ii) self-declarations made by the client concerning the specific topic.

Moreover, ESBG emphasises that gravity thresholds for non-compliance should be defined, so that not every minor violation (e.g. of taxation or work laws) leads to the establishment of an external check.

Furthermore, when assessing compliance with MS, the report recommends that the focus should be on assessing the human rights due diligence processes of a company, rather than on controversy checks e.g. media coverage (currently employed by ESG ratings agencies), as it is considered that the latter is based on value judgement and is sometimes difficult to justify. ESBG believes that the administrative cost derived from direct analysis of due diligence processes would be too burdensome for institutions and emphasizes that they should rely on ESG ratings agencies in order to not impair financial activity.

Finally, ESBG calls for further clarifications on the level of application of MS in particular cases, e.g. an exposure to a company active in sectors that by definition do not fulfil the minimum safeguards to be taxonomy-eligible or -aligned, even if the specific transaction finances activities that fulfil all requirements.

As a next step, the Platform will analyse the feedback received and prepare the final report. ESBG will continue to monitor this very important topic, with the possibility to get involved at a later stage.


International Sustainability Standards Board consultation on Sustainability Disclosures

The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) has been established at COP26 with the purpose of developing a comprehensive global baseline of sustainability disclosures for the capital markets. The purpose of the consultation is to develop a comprehensive global baseline of sustainability disclosures designed to meet the information needs of investors in assessing enterprise value.

To this end, the consultation includes proposed standards on general sustainability-related disclosure requirements as well as on climate-related disclosure requirements |Position – Executive summary | August 2022 |

WSBI-ESBG believe that it is crucial to achieve consistency of sustainability reporting at global level and especially a full alignment of reporting requirements between ISSB standards and EFRAG European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRSs) to ensure a global playing field in terms of sustainability reporting. This convergence between both standards will address the risk of additional disclosures.

WSBI-ESBG highlight that the IFRS sustainability standards are based on an ‘enterprise value creation’ or financial materiality approach, in which sustainability impacts are measured in terms of impacts on the financial position and prospects of the company itself. On the other hand, the EFRAG ESRSs are being developed based on the ‘double materiality’ principle, where disclosure is required both from the point of view of financial impact on the company and on the impact of the company on society and the environment.

WSBI-ESBG notes that the EFRAG ESRSs make a clearer reference to alignment with limiting global warming to 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement. On the other hand, IFRS sustainability standards allow the entity to choose its own target. By way of consequence, WSBI – ESBG requests that the ISSB takes into consideration including a clear reference to the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement in order to ensure comparability between the two standards.

Although, WSBI – ESBG considers it essential that sustainability reporting should capture the entire value chain, we ask for clearer and more defined boundaries as it is considered difficult and complicated to obtain information from companies that are not under the control of a financial institution, especially regarding scope 3 GHG emissions.



World savings and retail banks call for harmonised taxonomies on sustainable finance

WSBI Chairman, Isidro Fainé, says banks face the future with hope and optimism, despite the short-term turbulent context.


Read the full WSBI Paris Declaration

Paris, 8 July 2022 – The World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI), a global network representing over 7,000 savings and retail banks, called today on policymakers for the harmonisation of taxonomies on sustainable finance. This as a necessary step for banks to play an effective cross-regional role providing the investment needed to achieve the ambitions of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

At the end of the WSBI World Congress, the association’s members approved the Paris Declaration which detailed the call to policy makers to develop a set of principles for designing taxonomies that are centred on pragmatic and science-based targets.

“As WSBI members are present in remote areas, close to the people, and focus on SMEs and private households, they are aware of the necessity of having ambitious, yet pragmatic, progressive and proportional, targets”, states the document.

The Declaration called for taxonomy design principles that encourage interoperability and mutual recognition to promote cross-border sustainable finance and to reduce compliance costs. It points out the need for a common language to ease comparability while preventing duplication of efforts and points to the EU-China Common Ground Taxonomy (CGT) as a promising first step in the right direction.

The WSBI Chairman, Isidro Fainé, closed the World Congress with a message of optimism despite the short-term turbulent context the world is living.

“The WSBI community of banks is facing the future with hope and optimism. An optimism that translates into specific actions for social progress. This is evidenced by our impeccable track record in the way we do banking, where financial inclusion is our flag and with our philanthropic actions, where our priority is to help those most in need through a wide range of social and educational programmes”, said Isidro Fainé.

The Chairman also emphasised that “the determination of our community to contribute to a better world, as our DNA dictates. Our WSBI members on five continents believe that a better world is possible”.

Founded in 1924, the WSBI members share a business model that has social responsibility at its core and is focused on serving local communities, households and SMEs. WSBI has 65 members in 88 countries. They serve over 1.7 billion customers, have total assets of over 15 trillion dollars, and employ 2.2 million workers.

The 26th World Congress was held in Paris on 7-8 July.