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The Reality of Climate Financial Risk

Those who argue that climate change has little to do with macroprudential risk management are offering a counsel of despair. If the 2008 global financial crisis revealed anything, it is that regulation matters, even if it isn't always politically popular or easily optimized.

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – In a recent commentary, John H. Cochrane, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, argues that “climate financial risk” is a fallacy. His eye-catching premise is that climate change doesn’t pose a threat to the global financial system, because it – and the phase-out of fossil fuels that is needed to address it – are developments that everyone already knows are underway. He sees climate-related financial regulation as a Trojan horse for an otherwise unpopular political agenda.

We disagree. For starters, one should acknowledge the context in which regulation emerges. With respect to climate policy, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has set the stage with its sixth assessment report, which concludes with a high degree of certainty that the Earth’s climate is changing, and that human activities are the cause. Ecologist William Ripple, the co-author of another recent study of planetary “vital signs,” goes further: “There is growing evidence we are getting close to or have already gone beyond tipping points associated with important parts of the Earth system.”

Unlike the 2008 global financial crisis – when banks that took excessive risks were bailed out, and global financial regulation was overhauled in light of our new understanding about interdependent financial markets – unmitigated climate change will lead to a crisis with irreversible outcomes.

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