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Brainard addresses financial institutions’ role in tackling climate change

Federal Issues Federal Reserve Climate-Related Financial Risks

Federal Issues

On February 18, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke before the 2021 Institute of International Finance U.S. Climate Finance Summit to discuss the role financial institutions play in addressing the challenges of climate change. Noting that both physical risks from climate shifts and transition risks resulting from a shift to a low-carbon economy “create both risks and opportunities for the financial sector,” Brainard stressed that “[f]inancial institutions that do not put in place frameworks to measure, monitor, and manage climate-related risks could face outsized losses on climate-sensitive assets caused by environmental shifts, by a disorderly transition to a low-carbon economy, or by a combination of both.” She emphasized that financial institutions should engage in robust risk management, scenario analyses, and forward planning to ensure they can withstand such climate-related risks and support the transition to a low-carbon economy.  

Brainard also emphasized that given the uncertainty in estimating climate risks, a scenario analysis that takes into account climate-related physical and transition risks and their potential effects on individual firms and the financial system as a whole “may be a helpful tool to assess the microprudential and macroprudential implications of climate-related risks under a wide range of assumptions.” However, Brainard clarified that a scenario analysis is distinct from a regulatory stress test, adding that “[i]t will be important to. . .consider how stress testing and scenario analysis may complement one another.” While acknowledging that a highly prescriptive approach to model development and scenario analysis may not be the most effective way to ensure financial institutions are prepared for the possible impacts of climate change and that “leverag[ing] a range of complementary approaches being developed in both the private and the public sectors” may produce more robust outcomes, Brainard noted that “we should strive for an appropriate balance that allows for innovation and learning across the public and private sectors, iterating in the most effective way possible.”

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