Former SEC Chair: Fossil-Fuel Interests Should Disclose Financial Risks of Climate Change

Companies with investments in oil, gas and coal need to do a better job disclosing the financial risk of climate change to their investors, a former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and an Obama administration official said Monday.

The physical risks of hurricanes, floods and wildfires aren’t much of a mystery, but the financial risks aren’t disclosed very well when it comes to the prospect of moving away from fossil-fuel assets as a result of policy or economic changes, said Mary Schapiro, a former chair of the SEC, at an Atlantic Council event.

Schapiro is a member of the G20 Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, led by Michael Bloomberg, which will release a report on the topic in late November. The group is focused on the financial risks of transitioning away from fossil fuels. Now that the Paris climate agreement is set to go into effect on Nov. 4, that prospect could be more immediate than some investors might think, Schapiro said.

“You could have policy or regulatory or legislative decrees in some countries that would cause an abrupt re-pricing, potentially, of fossil-fuel assets,” Schapiro said.

Schapiro’s task force is developing voluntary guidelines for companies to be more transparent about how climate change, and an eventual worldwide shift in energy sources, affects their assets. It’s not a requirement for the companies, but she said the framework could make a difference by providing consistency in how companies choose to release this data.

Ali Zaidi, associate director for Natural Resources, Energy, & Science, at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, said the Obama administration is focused on the risks of climate change from all angles, including how business affects the climate and vice versa. He said that over the past decade, climate change has cost the federal government about $360 billion.

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