The European Central Bank (ECB) plans to rejig its corporate bond portfolio to favour issuers that pollute less, marking its most significant shift yet to weave environmental considerations into monetary policy.
The ECB will reinvest “the sizeable redemptions expected over the coming years” in a way that penalises companies with a big carbon footprint, according to a statement yesterday. The new plan will affect some €30bn ($31.3bn) worth of reinvestments each year, or around 10% of the ECB’s corporate portfolio, Executive Board member Isabel Schnabel said.
“If you compare it to other central banks, this is a substantial amount, so this makes a difference,” she said.
The ECB is adjusting a cornerstone of its toolbox amid a growing sense of anxiety that time is running out to address the threat posed by global warming. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that the planet might be on track for temperature increases that could be twice the limit set out in the Paris climate accord.
Meanwhile, the ECB has faced repeated criticism from environmental activists, who point to its holdings of carbon-heavy companies, such as Shell Plc, Eni SpA, and TotalEnergies SE.
“With these decisions we are turning our commitment to fighting climate change into real action,” ECB President Christine Lagarde said in the statement. “Within our mandate, we are taking further concrete steps to incorporate climate change into our monetary policy operations. And, as part of our evolving climate agenda, there will be more steps to align our activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
At the same time, there’s a debate around the extent to which it’s appropriate for monetary policy to be redefined in order to join the fight against climate change. In its statement yesterday, the ECB said that the volume of corporate bond purchases will “continue to be determined solely by monetary policy considerations and their role in achieving the ECB’s inflation target.”
And policy makers were eager to show that the planned “tilt” in the ECB’s bond holdings will be a gradual process for the issuers affected.
“We want to give all those companies an incentive to become greener and therefore to make sure that over time they remain part of these portfolios,” Schnabel told reporters. She added that “climate change considerations cannot stand in the way of our monetary policy needs, so there is a clear hierarchy.”
The efforts mark the result of a year-long process of designing concrete steps for including climate-change considerations in the central bank’s monetary policy. Officials had pledged to start work on a detailed plan last July, when they announced the results of their sweeping strategy review, which also included an adjustment of the ECB’s inflation goal.
Separately, the ECB has also conducted a so-called climate stress test among commercial banks, which is set to reveal that lenders remain poorly equipped to judge how significantly global warming will hit their balance sheets. It’s due to publish results of the test on July 8, though it won’t break out how individual banks fared, Andrea Enria, who leads the ECB’s supervisory board, said last week.
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