Allegations that the Indian conglomerate Adani Group committed “accounting fraud, stock manipulation, and money laundering” rattled markets and political observers when activist investor group Hindenburg Research made them last week. Indian stocks tumbled and analysts questioned how the affair would affect the political prospects of the current Indian government.
The crisis made me think of my time in India in December. Given the country’s rapidly growing population, economy, and emissions, I had traveled there to learn about how the country is managing the energy transition. And what I heard over and over again from government and industry leaders is that the country is hoping that an infusion of private investment will make its transition possible. The argument was simple: private financiers could support the country’s efforts to decarbonize while making money.
The Adani crisis is bound to affect how foreign investors see the country and, by extension, how willing they are to provide capital for the transition. On the one hand, if the allegations are found to be true, or if the Indian government doesn’t investigate them, investors might become skeptical about putting money into India’s energy transition. On the other, a thorough investigation or debunking of the claims would likely engender confidence.
Understanding what the Adani crisis could mean for green-energy investment in India is less about grappling with Adani’s environmental track record than it is about considering the current global climate finance picture. The International Energy Agency estimates that emerging and developing countries will need more than $1 trillion of annual investment in clean energy by the end of this decade to align with global climate goals. India alone will need $1.4 trillion by 2040. Governments will provide some of that money. Indeed, the Indian government announced on Wednesday more than $4 billion in green spending as part of its annual budget. But climate finance experts say the private sector will be needed to get from billions to trillions of dollars.
One of the biggest challenges for countries like India is the perceived risk that investments may not generate the promised return—both because of an entrenched bureaucracy that can make it challenging to do business and also because of potential corruption and mismanagement issues. For example, until recently, it was a common practice for states to renege on their commitments to pay power companies. Because of these risks, financiers expect a higher return on investments in India than they might in other parts of the world. A 2021 report from the International Energy Agency found that the average cost of capital—a finance term for the necessary return to make a project worth investing in—to be more than twice as high for solar projects in India than in the U.S and Europe.
The Adani crisis will only elevate these concerns for investors in hubs like New York and London. In the wake of the announcement, the Wall Street Journal reported that the “Adani Group Saga Is Credibility Test for India’s Markets, Institutions” while the Financial Times said the “Adani affair is a test for India Inc.” Indeed, the NIFTY 50 index of Indian stocks declined to its lowest level since October in the wake of the crisis—defying positive investor sentiment over the same time period in other countries.
To keep the fear from spreading, investors are calling for a robust government investigation of Adani to signal that potential fraud and mismanagement is being taken seriously. That will help maintain investor confidence in India—and also help the global efforts to tackle climate change.
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