Written by Enrique Lendo, Business Development Mexico Advisor.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) released its 2021 Global Risk Report last week. Climate and environmental risk were ranked at top in its tables in terms of likelihood and second, after Infectious diseases, in terms of impact. It is highly likely that a standard will be set for countries and companies where climate impacts will be perceived as riskier than economic, geopolitical and technological ones.
Climate change impacts capital markets through two types of risk. The first one is Physical Risk which results from damages to property, infrastructure and land. The other one is Transitional Risk which is associated with changes in regulations, technology and consumer/investor preferences towards low carbon economic growth. Risk exposure varies from one country to another depending on geographical, physical and economic conditions. Mexico is a highly vulnerable country, with a high physical risk profile, due to its geographical location between two oceans, complex topography and irregular human settlements.
In 2020, global greenhouse gas went down 7% due to mobility restrictions from the Pandemic. However, temperature records were broken once again with a cumulative increase of 1.25 °C with respect to industrial levels. To avoid catastrophic impacts, scientists recommend global temperature increase to stabilize at 1.5 °C by the end of the century, leaving a very limited space for maneuvering.
At higher temperatures, climate impacts and associated physical risks exacerbate. According to Swiss Re, 2020 was the fifth costliest year for insurance companies in 40 years, with $83 billion dollars in losses. Cyclone Amphan displaced 4.9 million people in India and costed $13 billion dollars in losses, while hurricanes in the United States and Central America displaced 200 thousand people and costed $40 billion dollars. For financial institutions, physical risk materializes through exposure to companies, buildings and countries which are impacted by climate change. Insurance companies face losses and increase their sure primes, banks face loan defaults and assets in impacted zones tend to depreciate.
Transition risk has been increasing because more countries have committed to “net zero” targets and more consumers and investors demand companies to act responsibly. In his first day in office, Joe Bide signed executive orders to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and revert Trump´s Administration initiatives that lowered standards on environment and climate change issues, while Janet Yellen promised to strengthen climate risk policies in the financial sector. Biden´s Administration will invest $2 trillion dollars to finance the transition towards low carbon growth and will sanction with trade tariffs polluting countries.
Climate risk is transforming capital markets. It is now riskier for banks and investment funds to finance oil and gas projects than clean energy ones, because the latter are more cost effective and better accepted by society. In 2021, global investment in clean energy will overtake investment in fossil fuels. Last week, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the largest asset management company in the world, sent its yearly letter to CEOs reaffirming its commitment with decarbonizing its assets. Other financial industries, central banks and regulators around the world are following through.
Mexico´s prime trade and investment partner is committing to a low carbon future while the financial industry is embracing and unprecedented transformation. Oil and gas companies are reinventing its strategies and citizens demand greater responsibility from governments and corporations. Mexico is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts.
What will its strategy be to manage risk and capitalize the transition?
Article originally published in Reforma news paper.