Finance, climate-change and radical uncertainty: Towards a precautionary approach to financial policy

Article Published in Ecolocial Econmics, Vol.183

Climate-related financial risks (CRFR) are now recognised by central banks and supervisors as material to their financial stability mandates. But while CRFR are considered to have some unique characteristics, the emerging policy framework for dealing with them has largely focused on market-based solutions that seek to reduce perceived information gaps that prevent the accurate pricing of CRFR. These include disclosure, transparency, scenario analysis and stress testing. We argue this approach will be limited in impact because CRFR are characterised by radical uncertainty and hence ‘efficient’ price discovery is not possible. In addition, this approach tends to bias financial policy towards concern around avoiding short-term market disruption at the expense of longer-term, potentially catastrophic and irreversible climate risks. Instead, an alternative ‘precautionary’ financial policy approach is proposed that offers an intellectual framework for legitimizing more ambitious financial policy interventions in the present to better deal with these long-term risks. This framework draws on two existing concepts — the ‘precautionary principle’ and modern macroprudential policy — and justifies the full integration of CRFR into financial policy, including prudential, macroprudential and monetary policy frameworks.