05.21.2021

Biden signs order directing studies of climate-related financial risks

BY SYLVAN LANE – 05/20/21 

President Biden on Thursday signed an executive order directing several federal departments and agencies to analyze the risks climate change poses to the U.S. financial system and federal government, the White House announced.

The order from Biden mandates a range of studies meant to expose the ways climate change, the severe weather it spurs, and the measures taken to fight it could threaten the financial stability of both the U.S. and the federal government. 

“We know that the climate crisis, whether through rising seas or extreme weather, already presents increasing risks to infrastructure, investments, and businesses. Yet, these risks are often hidden,” the White House said Thursday.

“With so much at stake, this Executive Order ensures that the right rules are in place to properly analyze and mitigate these risks. That includes disclosing these risks to the public, and empowering the American people to make informed financial decisions.”

Gauging and managing the financial risks and economic impacts of climate change has been a pillar of the Biden administration’s environmental policy. Under Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the department has begun developing a “whole-of-economy” strategy meant to clear a financially stable and economically productive path to carbon neutrality.

Biden’s order calls on Yellen to work with the leaders of financial regulatory agencies to assess climate-related financial risks and potentially develop recommendations to “improve climate-related disclosures and other sources of data, and to incorporate climate-related financial risk into regulatory and supervisory practices.”

As chair of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, Yellen sets the agenda for the powerful group of financial regulators and in March used her first meeting leading the panel to stress the need for action on climate risks. The Federal Reserve and Securities and Exchange Commission have also taken steps to ramp up their oversight of climate-related risks.

The order also directs the Labor Department to consider scrapping any rules imposed by the Trump administration that would limit the ability of investment firms to consider environmental, social or governance risks to pension funds they manage. The department was also asked to report on ways to protect savings and pensions from climate-related financial risks. 

Biden’s order additionally calls on the White House national climate adviser and director of the National Economic Council to develop “a comprehensive government-wide climate-risk strategy to identify and disclose climate-related financial risk to government programs, assets, and liabilities,” and for other studies into climate-related threats to federal finances.

The order won praise from Democratic lawmakers and groups that have long called for closer federal attention to the financial risks of climate change and a transition toward green energy. 

“This Executive Order is an unprecedented step towards integrating climate into our economic policymaking,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“I hope our financial regulators take the order to heart, and work with Secretary Yellen to fully incorporate climate into their financial stability, supervisory, and monetary policy mandates. Our regulators’ job is to ensure a stable and efficient financial system, and that means managing the risk of a climate-driven financial crisis.”

While the order does little more than lay the groundwork for eventual policy changes, it is likely to provoke more backlash from Republicans lawmakers skeptical of efforts to monitor climate risk.

Critics of Biden’s approach argue that private businesses should be left to assess their own unique threats, federal laws already mandate the disclosure of major risks to companies, and that measures of tracking climate risk are too rudimentary.

They’ve also expressed fears that financial regulators will use their power to steer banks and investors away from the the fossil fuel industry, something no agency has said it will do.

This article originally appeared at the news site The Hill

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