We Need Much More Urgent Action on Climate Change: Financial Institutions Can Help

It is in the self-interest of the financial industry to address new risks brought about by climate change and to scale up the necessary investments to make our societies more resilient.
By: and | September 23, 2019

That the world is warming is increasingly undeniable, and by all observations and credible scientific projections, the consequences of this warming will grow more far-reaching and disruptive to our society and economy.

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Impacts from the changing climate are already manifesting in human and financial losses around the globe.

The almost total destruction of the island of Abaco in the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian underscores the urgent imperative to adapt to climate change by making neighborhoods, businesses, and infrastructure more resilient.

This is true not only for places facing super-charged hurricanes, but it is also true for those in floodplains which have experienced numerous 1-in-500-year rain events in the span of a few short years.

Even the world’s wealth and power centers are vulnerable: Look no further than Manhattan, where business and political leaders will gather later this month for the UN General Assembly and Climate Week NYC.

Almost seven years after Hurricane Sandy, much of New York City still confronts acute risk of storm surge flooding as well as urban heat island effects, increased ground level ozone, and other climate-related threats.

Stacy Swan, CEO, Climate Finance Advisors

In the face of dire warnings and fearsome extreme events, the push to invest in climate solutions may sound to many in the private sector like a plea for charity or a call for regulation.

But the financial sector must recognize that investing in adaptation now is imperative from the perspective of risk management, and it is also perhaps the biggest investment opportunity of this generation.

As we highlighted in our July 2019 report, “Driving Finance Today for the Climate Resilient Society of Tomorrow,” commissioned by the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) to inform its 2019 flagship report, the financial system, among other things, is woefully unprepared for climate change.

Our report unpacks why, and it highlights how grappling with the implications of climate change will both minimize potential costs and create enormous opportunities for profitable investment by all types of investors.

The recently-released GCA report, “ADAPT NOW: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience,” notes that investing $1.8 trillion globally from 2020 to 2030 in adaptation projects could generate as much as $7.1 trillion in net benefits.

These adaptation investments include projects such as implementing drought-tolerant agriculture, expanding access to climate-informed digital advisory services, and increasing flood protections in major cities.

Related: Here’s How Cities Can Reduce Climate Change Risk

Investors, asset managers and lenders are slowly waking up to just how profoundly climate change will alter traditional assumptions about risk and return.

One of the central recommendations of our paper is that financial institutions need to dramatically step up climate risk management practices, including the assessment, quantification and management of climate-related financia

Alan Miller, senior advisor, Climate Finance Advisors

l risks in their investments, whether they are investing in real estate, water treatment plants, or transportation.

In so doing, investment opportunities are also emerging.

For example, the threat of increased water stress bolsters the prospects and financial returns of advanced water treatment and drip irrigation technologies as well as drought-resistant crop varieties.

The issue of climate preparedness is central to the agenda during United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week NYC. Financial sectors will gather to talk about the challenging issues that climate change presents.

In fact, addressing climate risk has become so fundamental to financial stability that the proposed next chair of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, recently underscored climate change as not only a pressing global challenge but also critical to the mission of the European Central Bank.

Further, the Bank of England, the G20 Financial Stability Board, and the European Union have led the charge to address climate risk as a matter of financial oversight (with the United States conspicuous in its neglect of the issue).

These efforts have focused on the development of practical policy approaches that support better risk management of climate-related issues through guidelines, metrics and, in some cases, stress testing and disclosure requirements.

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But central banks and financial regulators can’t solve this alone, nor should they.

It is in the self-interest of the financial industry to address new risks brought about by climate change and to scale up the necessary investments to make our societies more resilient.

Both will require good financial policies that take into account the goal of societal resilience and economic growth as well as the proactive engagement of the financial community to tackle the risks and opportunities.

The good news is that managing risks is already in the core DNA of all financial actors, whether they seek high returns, stable growth or preservation of capital.

Once they integrate climate change into their risk-return analyses, they’ll not only build more climate-resilient portfolios, but become the engines for climate change adaptation that scientists and policymakers have long been calling for. &

Stacy Swann is the CEO of Climate Finance Advisors, a boutique consulting firm working to accelerate sustainable, climate-smart investments and to integrate climate considerations into financial products, services, and policies. Alan Miller is a Senior Advisor at Climate Finance Advisors and an internationally recognized authority on climate finance and policy.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]