Banks are crucial to our economy – they manage peoples’ deposits and savings, with them also allocating money in the form of credit to those willing to take a mortgage, a personal loan or to fund a business.
Credit risk – the risk that clients default on their loans – is the major risk banks need to deal with in their lending business in order to remain solvent. As companies in Europe rely mostly on bank financing as their main source of funding, how a bank manages credit risk is vital to the health of the economy and society, with the Global Financial Crisis being testament to this.
Yet today, we see the repetition of the subprimes scenario coming – numerous reports show banks are continuing to provide financing to the ever riskier fossil fuel industry, which is to become redundant, as our economies transition to become more sustainable and the consumption of fossil fuels reduces dramatically. The assets in this industry will become stranded and the investments will be lost, i.e. lose their value: some of the largest corporations in the world are heading towards unprecedented value write-downs and will struggle to repay their loans and service other debt obligations with huge impacts on banks’ financial health. As the major fossil financiers remain “too big to fail”, this may well turn into a new massive bailout at taxpayers’ expense.
Despite supervisors recently moving forward with some “soft regulatory measures” (read here, here and here why they are not sufficient), financial institutions across Europe and the world are continuing to lend to the fossil fuel industry, completely disregarding the climate-related risks of such investments. This means larger volume and higher probability of asset stranding, on the one hand, and ever increasing systemic risk of major climate-related extreme weather events, on the other.
Yet, there is a simple solution to this problem – increasing capital requirements for fossil fuel-related financing would price-in climate-related risks, and make banks build up capital buffers for better resilience against those risks. Nothing new in this approach: the set up of capital requirements against financial risks is precisely what the “prudential framework” is made for. And the good news is that in the context of the review of the Capital Requirement Regulation, the European parliament is considering to adopt this measure.
The European Banking Federation (EBF), however, strongly disagrees. In a debate with Finance Watch in May 2022, they outlined a range of reasons why capital requirements are not an appropriate measure to manage the risk stemming from stranded assets for their member banks.
Quite frankly, their claims don’t stand up. We at Finance Watch have explored their talking points one by one, and bust the many myths which are usually propagated by the bank lobby to block a significant progress on the integration of climate-related risk in banking rules.