The reality of climate change grows ever more inescapable. A new report by the Asian Development Bank highlights the impact of climate change on the Asia-Pacific region, noting that it will be among those hardest hit by rising temperatures and the more extreme weather patterns they will create.
While governments finally appear to be taking that threat seriously, as was evident in the renewed commitment to the Paris climate accord at this month’s Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, there are quicker moving and more powerful ways to induce changes in behavior to combat this phenomenon. The simplest and most effective are market forces. And indeed, the financial community is waking up to its role in this process.
Recently, 11 of the world’s largest banks, managers of more than $7 trillion in assets, pledged to uncover their exposure to climate change-induced risks. The move is part of a pilot project that will implement recommendations of the Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures, which reported to the G-20 meeting in Hamburg. The G-20 leaders — all save U.S. President Donald Trump — endorsed the findings in their Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth.
The project commits lenders — the initial 11 include ANZ, Barclays, Bradesco, Citi, Itau, National Australia Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Santander, Standard Chartered, TD Bank Group and UBS — to break down their loans by type of energy producer — fossil fuels or sustainable sources — as well as energy consumer, such as transportation or agriculture companies. This information will help banks and regulators to identify lending patterns and redirect funds to more environmentally sustainable and responsible recipients. Remarkably, that data is not currently available, but will be — once final details are worked out — as part of the banks’ climate risk assessments.
Unfortunately, many of those banks are facilitating climate change by financing “extreme fossil fuels,” such as extreme oil (tar sands, Arctic and ultradeep water oil), coal mining, coal power and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. According to the Banking on Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2017, which was compiled by 32 international environmental nonprofit organizations, 37 international banks financed $290 billion in extreme fossil fuel activities by 158 companies over the last three years. Trends are moving in the right direction, however. After jumping about 25 percent in 2015 to $111 billion, such lending fell to $87 billion in 2016, a 22 percent drop. But there are two problems with that finding. First, despite the drop, 12 of the 37 banks identified increased financing to the top extreme fossil fuel companies from 2015 to 2016. Second, and more alarming, this sum represents substantial investments in new projects, which ultimately undercuts efforts to arrest climate change as laid out in the Paris accord, which was signed before the deals were made.
Asian banks and governments have every reason to join the crusade. The ADB report, created in collaboration with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, notes rainfall is forecast to climb by half in many land areas of the Asia-Pacific region, creating new flooding risks. That, in combination with rising sea levels, will threaten cities around the world. The report reckons that 13 of the top 20 cities worldwide that will suffer the most as a result of flooding between 2005 and 2050 are located in Asia: five in China, three in India and one in Japan (Nagoya).
Eastern Japan will be especially hard hit by typhoons, which could lead to an overall productivity loss that reduces GDP by 6 percent to 13 percent. Experts fear supply chain disruptions that will ripple throughout the entire regional economy, as well as new disease vectors and extreme temperatures that could kill tens of thousands of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, including the very young and the elderly.
In addition, there is the prospect of rice yields that are forecast to fall by as much as 50 percent in some Southeast Asian countries, along with the bleaching of coral reefs that would devastate fisheries and tourism. Food supply routes will be transformed.
The ADB has since 2013 examined its investments for climate change implications, in particular exploring whether infrastructure projects can cope with anticipated change. It too, however, must think harder about the wisdom of investing in projects that perpetuate or reward practices that are not environmentally sustainable. Bankers insist that they respond to the most elemental of forces — that of the market. Now, a more powerful motivator is at work: naked self interest as Asian nations are battered by climate change.