The US Federal Reserve has joined a consortium of central bankers supporting the Paris climate goals as it becomes more outspoken on the risk climate change poses to the global economy.
The move came as the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), which includes 75 central banks, published a survey of its members’ plans for grappling with climate change. The Fed is one of eight new members to join the group this month and follows a pledge by US President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the Paris climate accord, which is a requirement.
“As we develop our understanding of how best to assess the impact of climate change on the financial system, we look forward to continuing and deepening our discussions with our NGFS colleagues from around the world,” Jay Powell, the Fed chair, said.
According to the survey, only a small minority of central banks have discussed implementing operational changes to tackle climate change, despite believing in the impact it will have on economies.
The question of whether central banks should use their vast bond-buying programmes to fight climate change by selling the bonds of the heaviest carbon emitters and buying more green bonds is one of the most contentious areas of monetary policy.
Only seven respondents to the NGFS survey said they were “not currently considering taking climate-related measures”. Most of those considering action said it was aimed at “mitigation of financial risks stemming from exposures to climate-related risks on their balance sheets”.
But when asked if they had considered implementing measures to protect themselves from climate risk or to proactively support the transition to a low-carbon economy, more than half said they had not. The main obstacle to potential action identified by most of the respondents was “the risk of creating financial distortions”.
Clemens Fuest, head of the Ifo Institute in Munich, said it would be “very bad economic policy to use this as the basis for steering capital flows in an economy” adding that it would be tantamount to “a centrally planned economy”.
Most of the central banks surveyed by the NGFS said there needed to be better disclosure of climate risks by commercial lenders and bond issuers as well as more international co-ordination before they could take action in this area.
“The vast majority of central banks participating in our survey see scope for adjusting their operational frameworks to reflect climate-related risks,” said Sabine Mauderer, a Bundesbank executive who oversaw the NGFS survey. “Though central banks are clearly sensitive to climate risks, the implementation of specific measures is still at an early stage.”
Christine Lagarde, the European Central Bank president, has promised to make tackling climate change a key part of its strategy review, which is due to be completed next year.
Environmental campaigners have accused the ECB of reinforcing the market’s bias in favour of heavy carbon-emitters such as oil and gas companies, utilities and airlines because these sectors issue more bonds than most others.
Ms Lagarde has said central bankers should “ask themselves” if they are taking “excessive risk” by trusting investors to price environmental issues. She said the ECB would consider ditching the “market neutrality” principle that means it always buys bonds in proportion to the overall market.
However, this was rejected by Jens Weidmann, head of Germany’s central bank and a member of the ECB governing council, who wrote in the Financial Times last month that “it is not up to us to correct market distortions and political actions or omissions”.
Mr Weidmann added that the ECB “should consider only purchasing securities or accepting them as collateral for monetary policy purposes if their issuers meet certain climate-related reporting obligations”, as well as only using credit ratings that incorporate climate risks.