The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region generated $24.55 billion in green and sustainable finance for 2021, a 532% year-on-year escalation, which points to a strong ESG momentum across the region, says a report by Arthur D Little.

In the UAE alone, ESG reporting multiplied between 2019-2022 across major public and private institutions such as Dubai Financial Market, and more, says the report titled “ESG Data Governance Viewpoint”.

Between 2019 and 2022, the UAE recorded increasing ESG reporting across major public and private institutions such as Dubai Financial Market, Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and publicly listed companies in SCA. Led by First Abu Dhabi Bank, Majid Al Futtaim’s fundraiser gathered $1.25 billion in 2022 as the credit facility linked to the company’s ESG goals. Further, Dubai Islamic Bank is currently in progress of concluding its own reporting, spanning ethics and integrity, thriving workplace, positive community impact, environmental stewardship, and sustainable finance and investments.

UAE in the lead

Having witnessed a 32% YoY growth in its 2022 green and sustainable finance issuing, the UAE continues to build on its ESG momentum Mena wide.

Andreas Buelow, Partner, Arthur D. Little, said: “ESG has become the new normal for financial institutions. Perhaps the most significant sign of this remains in the products and services being offered by banks, which reflect their sustainable ambitions. Green issuances from countries in the Middle East and North Africa are not standing still but are in fact outpacing global growth.

“With new reporting requirements taking effect, banks are facing an urgent need to kick-start their strategies and execute concepts throughout their organisations. In implementing their ESG strategies, banks are finding that the complexity of ESG data has not been entirely captured and addressed by current data governance frameworks, leaving these banks to resort to ad hoc solutions for collecting, managing, and governing ESG data.”

ESG strategies

Nael Amin, Senior Manager, Financial Services Practice, Arthur D. Little, added: “Many financial institutions in the Middle East have designed comprehensive ESG strategies that open the door to new pathways to top-line growth, business opportunities, cost reductions, regulatory compliance, and employee satisfaction.

“This growing trend demonstrates the momentum that ESG is gathering in financial institutions, as the world’s banks increasingly emphasise ESG and infuse it into their business models. Banks in the Middle East have embraced the importance of a well-defined ESG strategy. During the next step, implementation, frameworks such as data governance are vitally necessary. The shift from strategy to implementation is complex and detail oriented. Different use cases of ESG have different data requirements and multiple stakeholders who add to the complexity. Thus, there is no standard “one size fits all” in regard to ESG data.”

Putting ESG strategies into action

The latest ADL Viewpoint calls for a two-part scalable solution to resolve the difficulties of complex data and enable banks to properly and efficiently manage ESG information. During the first step, an ESG data catalog is created to ensure transparency through a nondisruptive and easy-to-incorporate layer. Setting up a governance framework to ensure quality control in a scalable, structured approach is the second step.

As such, banks encounter unique challenges as they put their ESG strategies into action. A comprehensive ESG strategy covers a range of external and internal applications and can help financial institutions move toward the sustainable future they seek. Because data governance is central to a fully developed strategy, we propose a framework built around an ESG data catalog with the following three features:

*Emphasis on data transparency and quality that does not disrupt existing data landscape.

*Anticipation of future ESG-related needs.

*Support for handling complex data requirements in an ever-evolving regulatory environment.

So far, financial institutions in the UAE are continuing to embrace ESG, which is gaining momentum and wide-reaching acceptance. A well-developed, thoughtful approach that considers the framework outlined in ADL’s latest Viewpoint can create the conditions for future success.

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