FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The European Central Bank is warning that many of the financial institutions it oversees are moving too slowly to shield themselves and Europe's banking system from the impact of climate change, and it is setting new deadlines to meet those requirements.
The ECB said some progress had been made but that a review of 186 banks published Wednesday showed change was uneven and that “the glass remains half full,” top ECB official Frank Elderson said in a blog post on the central bank's website.
The Frankfurt, Germany-based central bank for the 19 countries that use the euro currency set deadlines for banks to meet climate requirements by the end of 2024.
The ECB, acting in its role as banking supervisor, is pushing banks to identify where they could face the risks of climate change and outline how they would take action. Banks are key to the European economy's functioning because most companies get the credit they need to operate from banks instead of from financial markets, the opposite of U.S. practice, for instance.
“Most banks have thus not yet answered the question of what they will do with clients who may no longer have sustainable revenue sources because of the green transition,” said Elderson, one of six members of the ECB's executive board and vice chairman of its supervisory board overseeing banks. “In other words, too many banks are still hoping for the best while not preparing for the worst.”
Both the ECB and the Bank of England have taken climate change into account more than the U.S. Federal Reserve, which has made modest steps to incorporate climate concerns into its regulatory framework. The U.S. central bank has faced criticism from congressional Republicans who say the issue is not within the Fed’s purview.
In Europe, banks' strategy documents are full of references to climate change, Elderson said, but actual shifts to customers in more climate-friendly kinds of business and thus to more environmentally sustainable sources of revenue remain rare.
Banks are not setting interim targets for reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or collecting detailed data at the level of individual loans and investments, Elderson wrote.
While many are phasing out specific activities, such as supporting coal power generation, it's not clear how these first steps will shield the banks' business models from the impact of climate change and environmental problems in coming years, he said.
The bank’s primary mandate is not the environment but controlling inflation, a task that it is trying to achieve by raising interest rates. However, it can pursue other goals — such as supporting the general economic policies of the EU, which include fighting climate change — if that doesn’t interfere with tackling inflation.
The European Union has committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050 under the 2015 Paris climate accords.
The ECB also said in September that it will give corporations climate scores before it buys their bonds and intends to prioritize those doing more to reveal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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