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Ignorance is bliss

Tape measure tangle from Alamy 30Apr21 575x375

“What gets measured gets managed,” goes an old saw popular in sustainable finance circles. If companies, investors and banks, the argument says, collect better environmental and social data, this knowledge will naturally breed improvements in performance.

This was part of the case for the influential Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which recommends all financial players should forecast their climate-related losses and gains.

Four years after the TCFD’s launch, the finance sector appears to be using that slogan, not as a call to action, but as a disguise for sloth.

No bank or investor is unaware of climate change. Most are playing with financial instruments such as green bonds that explicitly relate to it.

Yet the vast majority have not even taken the most basic step to working out their climate risk — calculating the greenhouse gas emissions of their customers.

In 2020, for the first time, CDP, the platform through which companies report emissions, asked financial firms to disclose this. Of 332 firms with $109tr of assets, only 25% revealed a figure, and more than half of those were only partial.

For banks, investors and insurance companies, customer emissions is the climate metric that matters, before all others. If they are still chock-full of exposure to high carbon emitting companies and households, they are massively exposed to losses as the economy gets greener.

Claiming the data is missing won’t wash. Ten thousand companies and municipalities report emissions to CDP. For the rest, financial firms can estimate — or ask the customer to disclose.

The real reason for non-disclosure, one suspects, is that Big Finance wants to put off the painful next step — cutting finance to the causers of climate change.