President Joe Biden is readying an executive order that would require companies to disclose the risks they face from climate change, special climate envoy John Kerry said this week.
Kerry didn’t elaborate on the details of the order or the timing, but the move would fulfill a promise Biden made on the campaign trail to require all public companies to report their emissions and climate-related risks.
Already, the Biden administration has taken a number of actions to bolster capacity at agencies such as the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Federal Reserve to address the risks climate change poses to the financial system. Last month, the SEC asked for input on establishing a regime for climate disclosures.
SEC TAKES FIRST STEP TOWARD REQUIRING COMPANIES TO DISCLOSE EMISSIONS AND CLIMATE RISKS
The early moves from Biden‘s team on climate finance have already drawn fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers, who say the administration’s efforts are a politically motivated attempt to choke off capital to fossil fuels.
Kerry, during remarks Wednesday at a virtual event hosted by the International Monetary Fund, said climate disclosure requirements will shift the allocation of capital.
“Suddenly, people are going to be making evaluations considering long-term risks to their investment based on the climate crisis,” Kerry said. “And that will encourage new investment, as well as laws in countries,” such as tax incentives to support clean energy technologies, he added.
Kerry’s remarks came following comments from IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva saying that overseeing and standardizing climate disclosures is an important role for global financial entities.
“We have to make the invisible visible — the transition risk that banks are carrying because they’re invested in high-carbon activities that, over time, are going to be phased out and the physical risks, investments in highly vulnerable coastal areas or in agriculture that could be affected by floods or droughts,” Georgieva said.
Understanding what risks banks and companies face is paramount, she said, and the IMF is aiming to stress test those levels of risk to determine how well the financial system could handle them. Georgieva said big investment firms are also demanding disclosures so they can understand their own potential risks.
Environmental advocates have broadly welcomed the Biden administration’s actions thus far on climate finance. They see disclosure requirements as a necessary component of the U.S. approach to curbing climate change.
“That alone will not get us to a net-zero future, but we will never, never get to a net-zero future without mandatory, across-the-board climate disclosure,” said Steven Rothstein, managing director of the Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets.
“We are anticipating the executive order and are hopeful that it will send a positive and strong signal across the marketplace,” he added.
The Obama administration in 2010 issued SEC guidance on climate disclosures, but such reporting wasn’t mandated, so whether and how much companies report their emissions and climate risks has been largely inconsistent.
Recently, however, many investors, including major asset managers such as BlackRock, have called on governments to require climate disclosures, especially as those investors work to align their own portfolios with the Paris climate agreement.
Ben Ratner, a senior director at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the Biden administration now has an opportunity to move away from “scattershot” climate disclosures.
“Raising the bar will help the market accurately price climate risk and further the competitiveness of American businesses on the evolving global stage,” Ratner said. “Sector-level reporting guidance, including companies’ climate lobbying, are important elements of a robust U.S. response.”
U.S. agencies are also increasingly engaging on the international stage on climate finance. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is co-chairing the G20’s sustainable finance group. The Federal Reserve joined the Network for Greening the Financial System, a global network of central banks working on climate change, late last year. The SEC is participating in efforts by the International Organization of Securities Commissions to improve the consistency of climate disclosures globally.
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Rothstein, though, said the Biden administration shouldn’t wait for a “world standard” for climate disclosure.
“Literally, parts of our country are on fire, other parts are seeing droughts, other people are seeing ice storms, so we need to act and act quickly,” he added. While it’s important to coordinate globally, he said, the United States can’t “wait for international consensus.”