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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Clouds gather but produce no rain as cracks are seen in the dried up municipal dam in drought-stricken Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

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By Mark John

LONDON (Reuters) – The world’s top central bankers agreed on Friday they had a clear role to play in tackling climate change and stepped up calls for banks, companies and others to be required to declare their exposure to the looming crisis.

A three-day “Green Swan” conference – its name a twist on the “black swan” theory on major systemic shocks – brought together heads of the world’s top central banks, policy-makers, academics and business. Here are some of the main takeaways.

GETTING MIGHTY CROWDED

All agreed that efforts had accelerated since former Bank of England governor Mark Carney dared to suggest in a now-famous 2015 speech that climate change could lead to financial crises, stranded assets and a crash in living standards.

The four-year-old Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) now has 91 members in territories covering 88% of the world economy and 85% of global emissions, NGFS chair Frank Elderson told the event.

There were some striking examples of like-minded approaches: People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang estimated its benchmark of what constitutes environmentally sustainable assets converged by about 80% to a separate taxonomy being produced by the European Union.

But overall the big risk was seen as a lack of coordination among all the channels set up to assess and deal with climate risks and study how central bank policy can be made greener.

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IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva estimated there were now no fewer than 200 separate frameworks for dealing with climate risk that could lead to a fragmented approach. “We have to go towards narrowing down,” she appealed.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?

Nobody was under the illusion that efforts so far to re-tool the financial system were anywhere near helping the world meet the Paris Agreement goal of capping temperature rises to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Bank of England chief Andrew Bailey said his bank – one of the more forward-leaning on the effort – was exploring ways to green its monetary policy portfolio after a disclosure report last year showed the carbon footprint of its asset holdings were consistent with a rise of as much as 3.5-4 degrees by 2100.

And economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated that even this year’s move by the Biden administration to base federal decision-making on a ramped-up cost of carbon at $51 a tonne would imply a similarly alarming rise in temperature.

“That has profound implications because it suggests a lack of credibility in policy,” he warned.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde recalled how a first review of eurozone banks’ efforts to account for their exposure to climate risks was “not entirely satisfactory” and that banks were now “on notice” to do better by a scheduled 2022 review.

DATA GAP: FROM VOLUNTARY TO MANDATORY

A major theme was the inadequacy of current data on the exposure of financial and corporate players to climate change risks and the need to enforce better reporting.

German Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann said his team had found only a minority of firms were taking it seriously.

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“Researchers concluded that firms cherry-picked to report primarily non-material climate risk information,” he said.

Lagarde warned that it was time to move away from the largely voluntary, private sector-led approach on disclosing climate risks that smacked of the same kind of light-touch regulation in place before the 2008/09 financial crisis.

“Look where that got us,” she said ruefully.

The call was backed up by Bank of France head Francois Villeroy de Galhau who noted that France had already gone down the path of mandatory disclosure of climate risks and urged the major economies to follow suit by the end of the year.

Thierry Philipponnat of the NGO Finance Watch warned, however, that the data gap should not become an excuse for non-action. “It is a convenient euphemism but a dangerous one because we don’t have the data and will never have it.”

NO TABOOS?

The NGFS’s Elderson welcomed the fact that there were now “no taboos” in the debate over what role central banks can play in tackling climate change. That said, there are still clearly roads down which some are highly reluctant to travel.

U.S. Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell reiterated his bank’s view that the battle had to be led by elected officials and as such, climate change was not currently something it directly considered in its monetary policy. “We are not, and we do not seek to be, climate policy-makers as such,” he added.

There were meanwhile signs of movement in the internal ECB debate on this. The Bundesbank’s Weidmann – until now reticent on the issue – opened the door to including green criteria in which bonds were purchased under ECB stimulus programmes.

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“If no adequate solution can be found here, the Eurosystem would have to adopt alternative measures … for example by limiting the maturities or the amount of corporate bonds of certain sectors and issuers in the Eurosystem’s monetary policy portfolio,” he said..

SO WHERE NOW?

Glasgow, via London and Italy. G7 finance ministers meeting this weekend in London are due to sign off on a call for a move to mandatory climate risk disclosure, according to a draft communique leaked to Reuters.

The Italian presidency of the G20 has scheduled July meetings in Venice and Naples and an Oct 30-31 summit in Rome as part of efforts to speed up the global effort on climate change at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow starting Nov. 1.





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