The global financial sector is going to have to engineer a “massive reallocation of capital” in order to meet the challenges of climate change, and industries and companies that fail to adjust will die, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and François Villeroy de Galhau, Governor of the Bank of France, warn in an open letter.

The two central bankers released a report this week that called for greater government oversight over mounting climate-related risks that could threaten the stability of the financial system. The report was issued Wednesday by the Network for Greening the Financial System, a group of more than 30 central banks and financial regulators that includes the Bank of Canada, which endorsed the report on Thursday.

In the letter posted on the Bank of England and Bank of France websites, the two governors say the world is already experiencing “enormous human and financial costs” from climate change, and will be compelled to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically in the coming three decades.

“This requires a massive reallocation of capital,” they wrote. “If some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist.”

The Network for Greening the Financial System recommended that central banks and financial regulators take immediate steps to assess the broad risks to the financial sector from climate change, include the destruction of property from severe weather events and the impact on firms, their lenders and their investors from a transition to a lower-carbon economy.

The Bank of Canada announced last month that it joined the global network and will be undertaking research on the climate-related risks to the broader economy and the financial sector specifically. The Bank of Canada agrees with the recommendations in the network report, spokeswoman Louise Egan said Thursday. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said recently the bank is most concerned about exposure of banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions “to assets that may be negatively impacted by climate change trends.”

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) – which regulates banks and insurance companies – is anticipating a report from an international task force on climate-related financial disclosure and will work with the federal government to respond to its recommendations, spokeswoman Annik Faucher said. “Generally, as with all risks, OSFI expects financial institutions to review their climate risk exposures, and institutions can take steps in regard to climate change that are in line with their risk appetite and corporate culture,” Ms. Faucher said in an e-mail Thursday.

The warning from Mr. Carney and Mr. Villeroy de Galhau comes as Canadians face a pitched political battle between federal and provincial governments over climate change and the policies needed to meet the country’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Jason Kenney, Alberta’s premier-designate, plans to scrap that province’s carbon tax on consumers, ease the levy on large industrial emitters in the oil sands, and remove a cap on future oil sands emissions put in place by the former NDP government. In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has launched a multimillion-dollar campaign, including radio ads and a court challenge, to oppose the federal carbon tax, and rolled back more ambitious emissions-reduction targets of the province’s former Liberal government.

Jackie Forrest, vice-president at ARC Energy Institute, said as much as US$90-trillion in global capital is being put to work that takes into account environmental, social and governance factors. “It’s becoming a very significant amount of capital that is investing with ESG principles in mind,” she said.

Ms. Forrest said those companies that have already cut emissions are likely to extend those efforts regardless of government policies. “I generally think that, because of investor pressure, you’re going to continue to see companies want to reduce their carbon footprint,” she said.

Travis Wood, analyst at National Bank Financial in Calgary, said the industry has made progress in reducing the energy required to pump oil sands crude, lowering per-barrel emissions and compliance costs tied to provincial climate policies set by the previous NDP government.

“The bigger risk is what it looks like on these issues externally,” he said. Large institutional investors face pressure to stress-test holdings for climate risks. Some have divested from oil indiscriminately. The industry could face further pressure should Alberta substantially weaken regulations. “I think it might be a step backwards,” he said.

The Globe and Mail, April 18, 2019