Agency Actions Will Protect Retirement Plans, Homeowners, Consumers, Businesses and Supply Chains, Workers, and the Federal Government from Financial Risks of Climate Change
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration released a comprehensive, government-wide strategy to measure, disclose, manage and mitigate the systemic risks climate change poses to American families, businesses, and the economy – building on actions already taken by the Biden-Harris Administration including just this week: a redesigned National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate.gov site to better connect Americans to climate explainers, data dashboards, and classroom-ready teaching resources; the Department of Labor’s new proposed rule to safeguard life savings and pensions from climate risk; as well as the Federal Acquisition Council’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to consider greenhouse gas emissions when making procurement decisions.
This year alone, extreme weather has upended the U.S. economy and affected one in three Americans. Both international and domestic supply chains have been disrupted by climate change – whether it’s floods in China and Texas, or wildfires that have burned nearly six million acres of land, supply chains across critical industries including housing, construction, semiconductors, and agriculture have been affected, causing delays and shortages for both consumers and businesses. American families are paying the costs. Extreme weather has cost Americans an additional $600 billion in physical and economic damages over the past five years alone. Climate-related risks hidden in workers’ retirement plans have already cost American retirees billions in lost pension dollars. Climate change poses a systemic risk to our economy and our financial system, and we must take decisive action to mitigate its impacts.
By addressing the costs of the climate crisis head-on, the federal government will safeguard the life savings of workers and families, spur the creation of good-paying, union jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of U.S. economic prosperity. The roadmap makes clear that protecting the financial health of American households, deploying clean energy in United States, and building an economy from the bottom-up and the middle-out go hand-in-hand.
The Administration’s whole-of-government strategy includes six main pillars to achieve the goals of the President’s May 2021 Executive Order on Climate-Related Financial Risks, including several major announcements this week demonstrating concrete actions to protect American families, the federal government, and the economy from climate-related financial risk:
Promoting the resilience of the U.S.financial system to climate-related financial risks.
- A forthcoming report from the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) will kick off the first step in a robust process of U.S. financial regulators developing the capacity and analytical tools to mitigate climate-related financial risks.
- The Treasury Department’s Federal Insurance Office has launched a process to address climate-related risks in the insurance sector, with a focus on assessing the availability and affordability of insurance coverage in high-risk areas for traditionally underserved communities.
- Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) staff is developing recommendations to the Commission for a mandatory disclosure rule for public issuers that is intended to bring greater clarity to investors about the material risks and opportunities that climate change poses to their investments. This rule is expected to be proposed in the coming months.
Protecting life savings and pensions from climate-related financial risk.
- This week, the Department of Labor announced it is proposing a rule that protects workers’ hard-earned life savings by making clear that investment managers can consider climate change and other ESG factors in making investment decisions. The proposed rule – which, if finalized, would help safeguard the more than half of American workers who participate in a retirement plan through their job, representing over 140 million Americans and more than $12 trillion in retirement savings and pensions – would protect workers by making sure that retirement managers don’t turn a blind eye to climate risks and other important factors. It would also make clear that retirement managers can take important environmental, social, and governance factors into account when making investment decisions, so that workers can share in the gains that come from sustainable investments.
- The Department of Labor is also working to protect the nearly 6.5 million participants in the Thrift Savings Plan – the largest defined-benefit contribution plan in the world – by analyzing how to further factor in climate-related risks.
Using federal procurement to address climate-related financial risk.
- The federal government is the world’s single largest purchaser of goods and services, spending over $650 billion in contracts in fiscal year 2020 alone. This week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council will begin the process of exploring amendments to Federal procurement regulations to require agencies to consider a supplier’s greenhouse gas emissions when making procurement decisions and to give preference to bids from companies with lower greenhouse gas emissions. As part of this work, the FAR Council published this week an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to gather information to help major Federal agency procurements minimize the risk of climate change.
- The FAR Council is also actively exploring an amendment to federal procurement regulations that would improve the disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in federal contracting and set science-based GHG targets. By identifying and mitigating climate risks through procurement, the Federal government is leading by example, deploying public procurement policy as a tool to strategically shape markets and promote a more resilient economy.
Incorporating climate-related financial risk into federal financial management and budgeting.
- OMB, federal agencies, and the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board are taking steps to develop robust climate-related risk assessments and disclosure requirements for federal agencies.
- Next year, the Fiscal Year 2023 President’s Budget will include an assessment of the Federal Government’s climate risk exposure and impacts on the long-term budget outlook, along with additional assessments.
- In addition, agencies will further incorporate climate-related financial risk in both the Budget and agency financial reports to increase transparency and promote accountability.
Incorporating climate-related financial risk intofederal lending and underwriting.
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Treasury Department are each working to enhance their federal underwriting and lending program standards to better address the climate-related financial risks to their loan portfolios, while ensuring the safety and security of communities most impacted by climate change.
- HUD is working to meet the challenges that climate change poses to American homes, beginning by identifying options to incorporate climate-related considerations into the origination of single-family mortgages.
- The VA, which has nearly $913 billion in loan volume outstanding to U.S. Veterans, is conducting a review of climate-related impacts to its home loan benefit program.
- USDA is addressing climate risk in its own single-family guaranteed loan programs, with the goal of applying lessons learned across its entire range of loan programs.
Building resilient infrastructure and communities
- This week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began the process of updating its National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) standards to help communities align their construction and land use practices with the latest data on flood risk reduction. Through a new Request for Information, FEMA will gather stakeholder input to make communities more resilient and save lives, homes, and money through potential revisions to standards that have not been formally updated since 1976.
- In addition, agencies have come together to build resilience from other types of more severe and extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, storms, and wildfires.
- Also this week, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a suite of products to make the Federal government’s climate information more accessible to Americans. NOAA upgraded its website to make it easier for governments, communities, and businesses to access the data they need to prepare for and adapt to climate risks. And Federal agencies also delivered two reports that lay out a comprehensive plan to further increase open-access delivery of climate tools and services for the public.
- More than 20 agencies released climate adaptation and resilience plans to safeguard federal investments – and taxpayer dollars – from the costs of climate change. The plans reflect President Biden’s whole-of-government approach to confronting the climate crisis as agencies integrate climate-readiness across their missions and programs and strengthen the resilience of federal assets from the accelerating impacts of climate change.
These steps will help safeguard the life savings of workers and families, spur the creation of good-paying jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of U.S. economic prosperity in the decades to come. Together, they will help usher in a new era where climate-related financial risks are thoroughly understood – where they are measured, disclosed, managed, and mitigated across the economy to the benefit of American workers, families, and businesses.
China cuts reserve requirement ratio as economy slows – BNN
China cut the amount of cash most banks must hold in reserve, acting to counter the economic slowdown in a move that puts the central bank on a different policy path than many of its peers.
The People’s Bank of China will reduce the reserve requirement ratio by 0.5 percentage point for most banks on Dec. 15, releasing 1.2 trillion yuan (US$188 billion) of liquidity, according to a statement published Monday.
The reduction was signaled by Premier Li Keqiang last week when he said that authorities would cut the RRR at an appropriate time to help smaller companies, and is the second reduction this year. The decision comes after recent data showed the economy and industry stabilizing, although Beijing’s tightening curbs on the property market have led to a slump in construction and worsened a liquidity crisis at developer China Evergrande Group and other real-estate firms.
The cut is a “regular monetary policy action,” the PBOC said, pre-empting expectations that the decision was the start of of an easing cycle. “Prudent monetary policy direction has not changed,” it said, adding that the bank “will continue with a normal monetary policy, maintaining the stability, consistency and sustainability of policy, and won’t flood the economy with stimulus.”
However, with the U.S. Federal Reserve and other global central banks looking to tighten policy, the move to add stimulus by the PBOC makes the divergence between China and much of the rest of the world even clearer.
What Bloomberg’s Economists Say
“We think the reduction would help offset the headwinds facing the economy, particularly in the first quarter of 2022. We maintain our view that an additional 50-100 basis points of RRR cut would come next year.”
– David Qu, economist
Separately, the Communist Party’s Politburo said China will continue to implement a proactive fiscal policy in 2022, and prudent monetary policy will be flexible and appropriate, and maintain reasonably ample liquidity, the official Xinhua News Agency. The Monday meeting of the Politburo will be followed by the Central Economic Work Conference sometime this month, which will flesh out economic policy plans for the next year.
The cut will be applied to all banks except those that are already on the lowest level of 5 per cent, which are mostly small rural banks, according to the statement. The weighted average ratio for financial institutions will be 8.4 per cent after the cut, down from 8.9 per cent previously, the PBOC said in a separate statement.
Some of the money released by the RRR cut will be used by banks to repay maturing loans from the PBOC’s medium-term lending facility, and some of it will be used to replenish financial institutions’ long-term capital, the central bank said. There are almost 1 trillion yuan worth of the 1-year loans maturing on Dec. 15, the day the cut takes effect.
Even with the deepening housing market slump, authorities had been restrained in adding new support policies, holding monetary policy steady and maintaining a measured pace of fiscal spending. However, the PBOC signaled an easing bias in the latest monetary policy report last month, while the State Council urged local governments to speed up spending.
“The aim of the RRR cut is to strengthen cross-cyclical adjustment, enhance the capital structure of financial institutions, raise financial services capabilities to better support the real economy,” the PBOC said. The cut will effectively increase long-term capital for banks to serve the real economy, and the PBOC will guide banks to step up their support for small businesses, it said.
A cut in the reserve ratio doesn’t directly lower borrowing costs, but quickly frees up cheap funds for banks to lend. The reduction will lower the capital cost for financial institutions by about 15 billion yuan each year, which will lower the overall financing cost of the economy, the PBOC said.
China think-tank warns of economic slowdown – Aljazeera.com
Advisers to Beijing will recommend a 2022 growth target that’s lower than the target that had been set for 2021.
Ongoing stress in China’s property sector is likely to slow down the country’s economic growth next year, a government think-tank has warned.
The world’s second-largest economy is expected to have expanded by about 8 percent this year, according to the annual blue book on the economy from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a top government think-tank. It warned that the property downturn was likely to persist and weigh on the expenditures of local governments next year.
China’s economy is expected to grow about 5.3 percent in 2022, bringing the average annual growth rate forecast for 2020-2022 to 5.2 percent, CASS said on Monday.
Advisers to the government will recommend that authorities set a 2022 economic growth target lower than the target set for 2021 – or “above 6 percent” – Reuters reported, amid growing headwinds from a property downturn, weakening exports and strict COVID-19 curbs that have impeded consumption.
It urged the central government to proactively engineer a soft landing for the property sector, to avoid failed land auctions in big cities and to fend off risks of quickly falling property prices in smaller cities, the report said.
China’s move to wean property developers away from rampant borrowing has translated into loan losses for banks and pain in credit markets, as cash-strapped builders fall into distress, increasing risks across the economy.
Property behemoth China Evergrande is facing one of the country’s largest defaults, prompting the authorities to step in and oversee risk management at the company.
Canadian employers, facing labor shortage, accommodate the unvaccinated
Canada’s tight labor market is forcing many companies to offer regular COVID-19 testing over vaccine mandates, while others are reversing previously announced inoculation requirements even as Omicron variant cases rise.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government adopted one of the strictest inoculation policies in the world for civil servants and has already put more than 1,000 workers on unpaid leave, with thousands more at risk.
Airlines, police forces, school boards and even Canada’s Big Five banks https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-major-banks-require-employees-entering-premises-be-vaccinated-2021-08-20 have also pledged strict mandatory vaccine policies. But following through has proven less straightforward, especially as employers grapple with staffing shortages and workers demand exemptions.
Job vacancies in Canada have doubled so far this year, official data shows, and vaccine mandates can make filling those jobs harder, potentially putting upward pressure on wages. That could fuel inflation https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-annual-inflation-rate-hits-47-oct-highest-since-feb-2003-2021-11-17, already running at a near two-decade high.
“It’s already difficult to find staff, let alone putting in a vaccine mandate. You’d cut out potentially another 20%” of potential workers, said Dan Kelly, chief executive of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
There are pitfalls to employing the unvaccinated. Companies run a higher risk of COVID-19 outbreaks and many vaccinated employees are uncomfortable working with those who have not had the jab, said industry groups and marketing experts.
At Luda Foods, a Montreal-based soup and sauce maker, president Robert Eiser said he has 14 open jobs, no vaccine mandate and no plans to restrict new hires to the vaccinated.
“I don’t know that I want to reduce the (labor) pool, which is already quite low,” said Eiser. “We need to attract people to meet the demand. If we don’t, our competitors will.”
Data released on Friday underpinned Canada’s tight labor market, with a hefty 153,700 jobs https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/canada-posts-hefty-job-gains-outlook-clouded-by-omicron-variant-2021-12-03 added in November. It also showed a growing mismatch between available workers and unfilled jobs. And job postings are far above pre-pandemic levels. (Graphic: Canada job postings surge above pre-pandemic level Canada job postings surge above pre-pandemic level, https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CANADA2/klvyknzklvg/chart.png)
The province of Quebec backtracked on a vaccine mandates for healthcare workers last month, saying they could not afford to lose thousands of unvaccinated staff. Ontario, which was also eyeing a mandate, said it would not go ahead.
Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Montreal have both softened their vaccine policy to allow regular testing for workers who missed their Oct. 31 inoculation deadline.
In Canada, 86% of adults are fully inoculated, though that drops under 80% among 18-40 year olds. At least 15 cases of the new Omicron https://www.reuters.com/markets/rates-bonds/canada-has-reported-total-11-cases-omicron-variant-health-official-2021-12-03 variant in Canada have been reported in the past week.
John Cappelli, vice president of onsite managed services in Canada for global recruitment firm Adecco, said half of his clients are mandating vaccines with the other half allowing regular testing for the unvaccinated.
But he expects the Omicron variant will prompt more workplaces to get strict on vaccination, even as they grapple with the tightest job market he’s seen in his 25-year career.
“We are now starting to see our first workplace (COVID-19) cases in five months,” he said.
The number of Canadian job postings on search website Indeed mentioning vaccine requirements has quadrupled since August. (Graphic: Canada job postings and vaccine mandates, https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CANADA3/byvrjqrlmve/chart.png)
In the hard-hit manufacturing sector, where 77% of firms say their top concern is attracting and retaining workers, vaccine mandates are more rare.
Dennis Darby, CEO of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said most of Canada’s factories have operated safely throughout the pandemic. While CME encourages vaccination, “some companies are still using rapid testing if somebody doesn’t want to get vaccinated,” he added.
But companies risk a hit to their reputation if they are overt in efforts to tap into the unvaccinated as a labor pool, said Wojtek Dabrowski, managing partner at Provident Communications.
“If you go out and say, ‘We are intentionally seeking to hire unvaccinated people,’ many customers are equating that with you being anti-science and anti-safety,” said Dabrowski.
(Reporting by Julie Gordon and Steve Scherer in Ottawa, additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Nichola Saminather in Toronto; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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