In a globalised context, insufficient disclosure of climate risks may diminish a bank’s attractiveness to international investors.

The ‘Draft Disclosure Framework on Climate Related Financial Risks’ released by the RBI in February enjoins financial institutions (FIs), such as banks, to provide the public detailed information on how they are addressing risks to their investments arising from the climate crisis. Big-ticket investments by FIs in sectors like infrastructure and energy face direct physical risks from environmental changes like rise in temperatures and sea levels besides extreme weather events. In addition, they face transition risks as global efforts shift towards low-carbon technologies, prodding the FIs to limit financing to carbon emitting activities and redirect them towards renewables.

The framework asks FIs to put in place climate related risk management mechanisms at the directorial level, devise strategy and processes and report them to the public from 2025. Further, the framework prompts FIs to report regularly on greenhouse gas emissions of activities financed by them and set targets for reduction.

In a globalised context, insufficient disclosure of climate risks may diminish a bank’s attractiveness to international investors. Public reporting on risk management frameworks and emissions is essential, but falls short of addressing climate, environmental and social risks posed by FI investments.

Impact risk perspective

Investments by FIs produce ‘risk’ in a double sense. One part of the story is the financial risk that arises from borrower projects’ exposure to climate change, market factors, poor asset management etc. At the same time, these investments may pose grave socio-economic, ecological and climate risks to the geographies and communities they inhabit.

For instance, Indian banks have heavily invested in projects such as the NTPC-run Tapovan-Vishnugad hydro power project in Uttarakhand, which locals and independent experts believe to be majorly responsible for the sinking of the religious town of Joshimath. The land subsidence in the mountain city has led to widespread displacement and collapse of houses and roads. Should not the financiers of such projects ascertain their share of responsibility?

Address polycrisis

Impacts of infrastructure and energy are not limited to carbon emissions. The framework does not address the risks engendered by projects funded by FIs on health, livelihoods, land, environment and climate. The point is to address the polycrisis that comprises climate emergency, environmental harms and socio-economic distress in insidious interdependence.

Integrating an impact risk perspective benefits affected communities, the environment and climate by aiding FIs in avoiding investments that may face opposition due to adverse outcomes. This approach, alongside assessing transition and climate-related financial risks, enhances accountability to the public, investors and depositors, potentially averting detrimental investments and fostering greater responsibility.

Enhance scope of disclosures

RBI’s disclosure framework for Regulated Entities (REs), that is banks and non-banking finance companies, focuses on greenhouse gas emissions but lacks project-specific transparency. Local communities and environmentalists often raise concerns about specific projects. That is where questions of accountability are most often relevant and raised effectively. Yet, for FIs it is not mandatory to disclose where their financing is deployed. To ensure accountability and comprehensive impact assessment, FIs should disclose the names of the projects and activities they finance.

 Additionally, clear investment standards, goals and mechanisms are crucial. These could be modelled after international institutions like the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards, covering environmental, social and labour aspects. Mechanisms for disclosure and safeguards ensure compliance. Evolving India-specific standards is vital, given the impacts of climate change and social dynamics.

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express and can be read here.

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