In 2015, the global leaders gathered in Paris acknowledged that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet, and agreed to work together to limit global warming well below 2°C. Achieving this goal requires global investment to shift away from fossil fuel extraction and power generation towards developing low-carbon energy sources and increasing energy efficiency in the coming years. Retail investors could play a big part in this process if more ‘green’ financial products are marketed on online investment platforms that make it easy for people to understand, assess and compare the climate-related risks in alternative products.
Yuliya Baranova, Carsten Jung and Joseph Noss.
There has been a recent increase in awareness of investors that limiting emissions to prevent climate change might leave a substantial proportion of the world’s carbon reserves unusable, and that this could lead to revaluations across a range of financial assets. If risks are left unaddressed, this could result in large losses for some investors. But is this adjustment in financial market prices likely to be abrupt? And – even if it is – is it likely to pose risks to financial stability? We argue that the answer to both these questions could be yes: financial valuations can move sharply even if the transition to sustainable energy were smooth. And exposures are sufficiently large to warrant attention from both investors and policymakers.
An abrupt transition to a lower-carbon economy might cause disruption in financial markets as the value of energy companies is rapidly reassessed. Last year there was a sea change in attitudes as several funds divested their fossil fuel related assets, equity analysts and rating agencies began to issue warnings about carbon-intensive firms and the Paris Climate Change agreement was hailed as a breakthrough as it made the concept of a carbon budget that would limit future fossil fuel use mainstream. However, analysis of climate related ‘events’ suggests that although energy firms’ equity prices move in the expected direction this movement isn’t statistically significant. This doesn’t mean as global citizens we can relax, either about financial stability or for the future of the planet.