By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission could lower capital requirements for environmentally-friendly investments by banks in a bid to boost the green economy and counter climate change, the EU executive's vice president said on Tuesday.
The move could be part of a broader set of measures the EU plans to present in March to meet the target of cutting carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, for which it estimates around 180 billion euros (£159 billion) in additional low-carbon investments are needed per year.
The Commission, which is in charge of proposing laws at EU level, is "looking positively" at plans to reduce capital requirements for banks' green investments, Valdis Dombrovskis said at the "One Planet" summit on climate change financing in Paris.
"This could be done at first stage by lowering capital requirements for certain climate-friendly investments, such as energy-efficient mortgages or electric cars," Dombrovskis said in a speech at the conference held on the second anniversary of the Paris climate accord.
He added that the reduced charges could be modelled on "existing discounts for investments in small and medium-sized enterprises or high-quality infrastructure projects".
Currently, the EU grants capital reductions of 23.81 percent for banks' exposures to small firms for investments below 1.5 million euros (1.3 million pounds), and is considering a 15 percent reduction for the share of investment above that threshold.
The size of the possible capital reduction is under consideration and could take into account the lower climate risk banks face when they invest in green projects.
The move would represent a shift in the EU strategy to boost climate financing, which so far has focussed on new requirements rather than incentives.
The commission has proposed tighter bank supervision to promote sustainability and EU finance ministers have even discussed stress-testing financial firms against their exposure to climate risks, like extreme weather or volatile energy prices.
Brussels also plans to introduce a legal obligation for asset managers to consider environmental risks when they invest money for their clients.
The addition of a dose of carrot-and-stick approach on climate financing follows banks' pressure to lower capital charges on green investments. On Monday the French bank federation FBF repeated its call for a "green supporting factor".
Dombrovskis also said that in a bid to spur the market for green financial products, the commission is working on an EU "classification system for what is considered sustainable".
Common labels for green bonds could significantly expand investment in these instruments which so far attract much less attention than traditional products, although it is growing.
Green funds had around 145 billion euros of assets under management in 2016, against 3.1 trillion invested in European bonds and 3.4 trillion in equity funds, according to a report of an EU expert group on sustainable finance.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio)