© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board Governor Christopher Waller poses before a speech at the San Francisco Fed, in San Francisco, California, U.S., March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Ann Saphir
By Howard Schneider
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Climate change does not pose such “significantly unique or material” financial stability risks that the Federal Reserve should treat it separately in its supervision of the financial system, Fed Governor Christopher Waller said on Thursday in a detailed rebuttal of demands for climate initiatives by the U.S. central bank.
“Climate change is real, but I do not believe it poses a serious risk to the safety and soundness of large banks or the financial stability of the United States,” Waller told an economic conference in Spain. “Risks are risks … My job is to make sure that the financial system is resilient to a range of risks. And I believe risks posed by climate change are not sufficiently unique or material to merit special treatment.”
The aim of Fed oversight and stress tests of bank balance sheets, he said, was “general resiliency, recognizing that we can’t predict, prioritize, and tailor specific policy around each and every shock that could occur.”
“In March we watched a bank run on Silicon Valley Bank” that heightened attention to the levels of uninsured deposits at some institutions, Waller said. “Those are the kinds of things I am staring at right now. I am not as worried about climate as I am about things like banks failing because of bank runs.”
The Fed has in general taken a more conservative attitude towards its responsibility for climate issues than its counterparts in Europe, with Fed Chair Jerome Powell saying the U.S. central bank was not a climate policymaker and would not steer capital or investment away from the fossil fuel industry, for example.
The Fed is considering development of a set of “proposed principles” for large banking organizations to manage climate-related financial risks, an idea Waller opposed late last year.
In his remarks on Thursday, Waller said science had “rigorously established” the climate is changing. But in assessing financial stability, U.S. central bankers needed to ask only if those changes would have a “near-term” impact, with potential losses large enough to affect the macroeconomy, he said.
Waller argued they won’t, noting that banks are already adept at hedging against weather-related losses, while more slow-moving changes – to coastal residential patterns as sea levels rise, for example – were analogous to population losses seen over the decades in cities like Detroit, locally important, but not systematically so.
So-called “transition risks” to a lower-carbon economy, meanwhile, “are generally neither near-term nor likely to be material given their slow-moving nature and the ability of economic agents to price transition costs … There seems to be a consensus that orderly transitions will not pose a risk to financial stability,” he said.