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The market-based approach to climate risk

  • The G20 meets in Germany in July and climate change will be a key topic.
  • World leaders will receive advice on setting guidelines for firms disclosing risk related to climate change.
  • Companies can — and should —explore the risks associated with their businesses vis a vis climate change
  • The disclosures provide companies and investors an important roadmap to financing the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Scott Stringer
Getty Images
Scott Stringer

At the upcoming G20 summit, world leaders will have their work cut out for them. But one topic is particularly primed for action: climate change.

With President Trump withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, it is more important than ever that the G20 take action to fight climate change. Because at the end of the day, this is a global crisis — and it demands a global solution.

If the White House won't lead on the climate it's going to be up to the rest of the world to do just that. The G20 has an important role to play — from continuing to support and implement the Paris Agreement, to driving investment in the low-carbon economy, to improving corporate disclosure of climate change related risks.

That last step — climate change risk disclosure — may not sound Earth-shattering, but it can play a crucial role in the fight against global warming.

Here's how it works. Corporations can and should explore the risks associated with their businesses vis a vis climate change. These disclosures provide companies and investors alike with a roadmap to financing the transition to a low-carbon economy — and that's good for all of us.

"When it comes to transparency about climate change, the G20 meeting in Hamburg could be the dawn of a new era."

Right now, however, most companies have stayed silent and refused to take that step. But as anyone in the business world knows, when there's more information, markets work better. And ultimately, outcomes improve.

That means transparency yields stronger investments and helps us create a greener planet.

It's not a market standard today — but the G20 could change that soon.

This week, the Financial Stability Board's Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures — formed in 2015 at the request of the G20 to study this issue — will release its recommendations, which will be presented to the full G20 in July.

The recommendations will cover everything from board oversight of climate issues — which we at the New York City Pension Funds have focused on for years — to standardizing the metrics used to manage climate issues.

Perhaps most important, the task force will encourage every company to disclose how their businesses, strategies, and financial planning would fare in world where warming is limited to 2-degrees Celsius or less. This process — known as "scenario analysis" — is a key step to understanding how transitioning to a low-carbon world would impact a company's long-term financial health.

In other words, when it comes to transparency about climate change, the G20 meeting in Hamburg could be the dawn of a new era.

For decades, institutional investors have pushed companies to recalibrate their strategies and prepare for a low-carbon world. The New York City Pension Funds have worked with groups like the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability — a coalition of 130 members who collectively manage over $17 trillion in assets — to make a difference.

And this year marked a historic shift. Resolutions calling on ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum to analyze what a low-carbon future means for them received unprecedented majority investor support. I'm proud that the New York City Pension Funds co-filed these resolutions — and also supported a similar resolution which passed at electric utility PPL Corporation.

Across the business world, leaders are coalescing around these climate change disclosures. Consulting firms McKinsey and Deloitte — along with credit ratings company Moody's — have publicly endorsed them. Large asset managers like BlackRock are on board. And CEOs of dozens of companies have urged G20 governments to formally accept the task force's recommendations.

These are all steps in the right direction — but given the link between task force's recommendations and avoiding the dangers of climate change, we must do more.

With the release of the recommendations and the G20 meeting approaching, there's a chance for scenario analysis and climate change disclosure to take a leap toward becoming a market standard.

That means more corporate and investor voices are needed.

With more than 2,000 companies, investors, universities, states and cities that have pledged to continue to support climate action, now we all need to stand up for corporate transparency, forward-thinking planning, and a greener planet.

When it comes to climate change disclosure, we need to stand together and be visionaries.

This isn't disclosure for disclosure's sake. It's about protecting our investments — and our planet — for generations to come.

Commentary by Scott Stringer, the Comptroller of New York City. He serves as investment advisor to — and custodian of — the $175 billion New York City Pension Funds. Follow him on Twitter @NYCComptroller.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

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