Civil society advocates told The Hill that in addition to sending a signal to Wall Street, the move by a top interagency oversight group to label climate change an existential threat to the financial system aids Democrats' efforts to use financial regulation as a tool in the fight to halt the climate crisis.
The report, issued by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), steered clear of specific prescriptions to financial regulators, for example, calling for mandatory stress tests, capital requirements, or caps on fossil fuel investments, The Hill reported on Thursday.
But by finding that a "disorderly transition" to a low carbon economy was a key threat to the economy, it has opened the potential floodgates for financial regulators to act against emissions in order to stabilize the market, explained Alex Martin of Americans for Financial Reform.
“Once you make that call, it’s obvious [that regulators] need to intervene, and the end result of that process will be lower emissions,” Martin elaborated.
“And that will happen because emissions threaten the financial system,” he stressed.
Advocates expressed that they were disappointed with the report’s lack of specific guidelines but agreed that beyond all the qualified clauses lies a clear warning to America's financial system.
“The phrasing of the recommendations is extremely weak, with most couched in several layers of caveats,” commented Yevgeny Shrago, a policy counsel with Public Citizen.
However, Shrago offered, “If you [take] what they say seriously about climate being a risk, then there’s no question that regulators need to take a bunch of these actions.” He added that failing to do so “would be a dereliction of their duty.”
The FSOC report is also one of the first major reports from a financial regulator to acknowledge that “communities of color are facing risk from climate first and worse, and they hold the bill most acutely if we go into a climate recession,” Becca Ellison of Evergreen Action pointed out.
The report included one unambiguous policy prescription: that regulators work to create a rigorous framework for banks and publicly traded companies to disclose their risks from both the energy transition and climate change.
Martin and the other advocates agreed that while more needs to be done, the labeling of climate change as an existential threat is a key step to forcing regulators to confront the magnitude of the economy’s exposure to climate risk.
Once they “look under the hood” at banks and public companies, the SEC and others will likely “see a lot of climate-related risk that is unexpected and has been easy to ignore,” Martin conceded.