November 20, 2019

Harris, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Ensure U.S. Financial System is Prepared for Climate Change

Bill Requires Federal Reserve to Take Action to Identify and Manage Climate-Related Financial Risks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and 8 of their colleagues in introducing the Climate Change Financial Risk Act of 2019. The legislation will direct the Federal Reserve (“Fed”) to conduct stress tests on large financial institutions to measure their resilience to climate-related financial risks.

“There is no dispute we are facing a climate crisis and that it will impact every aspect of our society, from the quality of our air to the stability of our financial system,” said Senator Harris. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this important legislation that will hold financial institutions accountable for taking climate risks seriously. It is vital that we assess the financial risks of climate change so that we can protect the financial health of future generations.”

Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events like floods and wildfires. It is also changing long-term climate patterns in ways that will lower labor productivity, devalue and destroy fixed assets, stress agricultural yields, and ultimately affect every sector of our economy. These impacts will pose risks for financial institutions and the global financial system.

Financial institutions face the risk of direct losses from severe weather events and fundamental changes like drought and sea level rise—for example, lower property values from increased flooding—as well as changes in asset values as a result of government policies and consumer preferences for a low-carbon economy. Even though quantifying and managing these risks falls squarely within the Fed’s mandate, the Fed is not accounting for climate-related risks in its current stress tests or supervisory regime.

The Climate Change Financial Risk Act would require the Fed to establish an advisory group of climate scientists and climate economists to help develop climate change scenarios for the financial stress tests.

With the input from the advisory group, the Fed will create three stress test scenarios: a 1.5 degree Celsius warming scenario; a 2 degree scenario; and a “business as usual” scenario, which assumes a higher level of warming based on current climate policies. The Fed will conduct stress tests every two years on the same large financial institutions that are currently subject to Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) stress tests—i.e., firms with more than $250 billion in total consolidated assets.

The biennial tests will require each financial institution to create and update a qualitative plan that describes how the institution will evolve its capital planning practices to limit the financial impacts of future climate risks. Once the tests are complete, the Fed can object to an unreasonable or ineffective climate risk capital plan, and if the Fed objects, the institution will not be able to proceed with capital distributions until the objection is lifted.

U.S. financial regulators are lagging their international peers in attempting to quantify and manage the potentially systemic financial risks posed by climate change. For example, the Bank of England began stress testing the U.K. financial system against climate risks this year; the Dutch central bank recently conducted a stress test of climate risks to the Netherlands’ financial system; and Norway’s central bank said that climate risks “must be integrated in the risk assessment and hence in the overall assessment of the capitalization and funding of financial institutions.”

Citigroup predicts that world economies could lose at least $44 trillion in economic activity by 2060 with 2.5 degrees of warming, and as much as $72 trillion by 2060 in the event of climate inaction.

Along with Harris and Schatz, the legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

The Climate Change Financial Risk Act is supported by the Center for American Progress, Ceres, Public Citizen, the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), and the Franciscan Action Network.

###