Climate-related Financial Policy in a World of Radical Uncertainty: Toward a Precautionary Approach

Climate- and environment-related financial risks, both transition and physical, are characterised by radical uncertainty. This means conventional backward-looking probabilistic financial risk modelling is not fit for purpose in dealing with this uncertainty. While scenario analysis and stress testing to some extent recognise the uncertainty problem, they remain based on assumptions that are subject to significant uncertainty and do not sufficiently justify action in the short term, despite widespread recognition of the risks posed by inaction.

To address this lack of certainty, we have proposed the adoption of a new policy framework, the Precautionary Financial Policy (PFP) approach, to deal with the financial stability risks. This framework draws on two well established concepts: first, the ‘precautionary principle’ commonly adopted in environmental management policies to avoid passing certain thresholds, and second, modern macroprudential policy. PFP justifies fully integrating climate- and environment-related financial risks into financial policy, including both prudential and monetary policy frameworks. This helps to justify preventative actions now in order to mitigate the potentially catastrophic financial and economic damages created by climate change, and shape financial markets in a clear direction toward a preferred net-zero carbon future.

In terms of implementation, we propose the comprehensive integration of climate risk into capital adequacy requirements, monetary policy operations (including asset purchases and collateral criteria), quantitative credit controls and credit guidance, and the enhancement of financial system resilience. Policymakers adopting a precautionary approach should be aware of the likely short-term trade-off between efficiency and resilience, and likely resistance from market actors with shorter-term time horizons. There is a need to ‘learn by doing’ in this new environment.