Carbon Pricing Is Essential for Effective Climate-Related Financial Disclosure

The Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures published its final report on June 29, 2017, leaving many companies and market participants considering how best to implement its important recommendations.

The recommendations are groundbreaking because they recognize climate change as a systemic risk to the financial stability of the global economy and present actions that all participants in the investment value chain should take—from asset owners to companies—to mitigate the risks and capitalize on the opportunities.

One of its key recommendations is that organizations should consider the scenario analysis of potential business, the strategic and financial implications of climate change and disclose them in their annual financial filings.  Organizations should assess a range of scenarios that cover reasonable future outcomes, favorable and unfavorable, including the transitional risks associated with commitments made by nearly 200 countries under the Paris Agreement to limit the increase in the global average temperature to 2°C.

One of the main transitional risks is increasing carbon regulation through carbon taxes, emissions trading schemes, or fossil fuel taxes.  Carbon prices have already been implemented in 40 countries and 20 cities and regions.  These regulations could drive up the cost of fossil-fuel-based energy and carbon-intensive raw materials, increasing operating costs and reducing profit margins.  Revenue growth may be constrained for companies that sell energy-intensive products when competitors have low-energy alternatives.  Asset owners and banks are exposed to these risks through their investments and loans to companies in carbon-intensive sectors.

However, organizations face uncertainty over the pace at which carbon regulation will be implemented in different regions—particularly those with global operations.  The solution is to conduct scenario analysis using a range of potential carbon prices.  Exhibit 1 illustrates this at a global level, with forecasts from a threefold increase in regulated carbon prices based on full implementation of the existing Paris Agreement commitments (light blue line) to a sevenfold increase, assuming policies needed to achieve the 2°C goal are implemented (navy line).  A range of other possibilities exists between these extremes, as represented by the yellow lines.

Tools exist to help organizations calculate carbon prices, such as Trucost’s Eboard carbon price calculator, which market participants can use to calculate the at-risk revenue of companies in their investment portfolios and create investment strategies to minimize their exposure to that risk.  Trucost also works with companies to calculate internal carbon prices to quantify the financial implications of carbon regulation on cash flow, operating margins, and profits in different regions, highlighting those most at risk.

The Financial Stability Board says that all organizations should strive to conduct scenario analysis that is robust, comparable, consistent, and transparent.  Carbon pricing helps organizations meet these objectives by providing a powerful diagnostic tool to understand climate-related risks and opportunities in financial terms and explain to market participants how they are preparing for business in a low-carbon world.

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