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Regulators Look to Mitigate Climate-Related Financial Risk

Wisconsin bankers prepare for forthcoming legislation, guidance

By Hannah Flanders

An increasing number of Wisconsinites are growing concerned about climate change and its effects on the state’s key economic sectors — agriculture and forest product, fisheries, and outdoor tourism and recreation. Each year, these sectors continue to be negatively impacted as a result of increasing temperature, humidity, precipitation, and extreme weather events.

In an effort to preserve America’s unique, natural resources, promote public health and safety, and extend the positive growth in our economies, regulators across the country have turned their focus to understanding climate-related financial risks. In January 2021, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order relating to protecting public health and the environment. As a result, many key banking regulators and Wisconsin officials have announced advisories, statements, and proposals of their own to aid banks and other industries in mitigating the effects of climate change on the economy.

Ensuring Consistency

As sectors and jurisdictions in the financial system become increasingly more intertwined and supervisory and regulatory authorities continue to assess climate-related financial risks, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) has published draft recommendations in an effort to promote consistency throughout the financial system as well as to assist financial institutions in managing and mitigating climate-related risks. Final recommendations from the FSB are expected in the fourth quarter of 2022.

The Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), in addition to establishing the Climate-related Financial Risk Committee (CFRC) which assists in identifying, assessing, and mitigating climate-related risks to the financial system and developing common approaches and standards, the Council has recently released recommendations to FSOC members — including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Reserve Board (FRB), and the Federal Housing Financing Agency (FHFA) — regarding their action on climate change data, disclosure, and scenario analysis.

While several agencies, including SEC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), have already acted on risks related to climate change, Acting Director of the FHFA Sandra L. Thompson said in a statement released in December 2021 that FHLBanks are encouraged to designate climate change as a priority and actively consider its effects in their decision
making. The FHFA also created a new Conservatorship Scorecard which assesses Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Common Securitization Solutions on their ability to promote sustainable and equitable access to affordable housing while operating in a safe and sound matter.

Proposed Federal Legislation

Both the OCC and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) have issued draft principles that provide framework for the management of climate-related financial risks by banks with more than $100 billion in total consolidated assets.

Although either draft has yet to be finalized, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) issued a comment letter in June to members of the FDIC warning of the potential negative impact this draft may unintentionally have on smaller, community banks and the communities they serve.

In addition to commenting on the FDIC’s draft principles, WBA joined the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and several state banking associations from around the country in expressing concerns related to the FDIC’s proposed statement of principles highlighting the effects of large financial institutions being pressured or required to “de-risk” their loan portfolios. The ruling in its current state has the potential of excluding lawful but climate disfavored customers or industries from the financial system.

This year, the SEC has also proposed two climate-related disclosure rulings that Wisconsin bankers should consider for investment purposes. The first proposal — the Enhancement and Standardization of Climate- Related Disclosures for Investors — focuses specifically on requiring registrants to include certain climate-related disclosures in their registration statements and periodic reports.

While the approach to release climate-related disclosures through existing SEC requirements is appreciated, in its comments, WBA highlighted that Wisconsin’s financial institutions, publicly traded or not, have successfully managed credit-based risk for decades and that this proposal is primary built on supplying non-financial information that many businesses do not have the resources to provide.

In addition to recommending that SEC repeal said proposal in its own comments, the Association joined nearly 100 supporting groups in signing onto the House Small Business Committee’s Republican-led letter to SEC demanding the rescission of the proposed ruling.

The second — Enhanced Disclosures by Certain Investment Advisers and Investment Companies About Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Investment Practices — amended the ruling and forms under the Investment Advisors Act and the Investment Company Act. This would require certain advisers, investment companies, and business development companies to provide additional information regarding their ESG investment practices. Comments on this ruling were due August 2022.

Wisconsin-Specific Efforts

In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers has highlighted combatting climate change is a key priority for the administration. Earlier this year, the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change — a coalition of representatives from industries and communities across the state — recommended the creation of the Office of Environmental Justice within the Department of Administration (DOA).

The Office, supported by the first state-level chief resilience officer (CRO) in the Midwest — now serves as the state’s principal office in coordinating agency frameworks, strategies, and policymaking to ensure state action does not have an adverse or disparate environmental effect on under-resourced communities.

Additionally, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) has so far only released an ESG investing advisory which includes an overview of its effects and what investors should consider. However, as climate-related risk becomes an increasing concern for industries and communities across the state, Wisconsin bankers should expect that state-level advisories, guidance, or legislation may be forthcoming.

While no hard and fast ruling yet stands for banks related to climate-related risk disclosures either at the federal or state levels, WBA advises bankers to be aware of the potential for upcoming regulation on the topic.

View WBA’s recent comment letters by visiting wisbank.com/CommentLetters. For questions on legal developments or regulations related to climate change or other compliance matters, please reach out to WBA legal at wbalegal@wisbank.com or 608-441-1200.