Guest essay by Eric Worrall
How will Joe Biden marshal the private savings of US citizens to address the climate crisis? The UN thinks half of the $75 trillion required to save the world from climate change must come from private investors. The South China Morning Post thinks China’s authoritarian control of private savings will give China an advantage of the West when it comes to green investments, though they believe Biden could catch up with China by appointing a financial system tsar.
As Joe Biden prepares to rejoin the global fight against climate change, who will foot the bill?
To garner the necessary funds to combat climate change, the US needs a financial system tsar who can push Wall Street to come up with products linked directly to long-term investment in individual UN Sustainable Development Goals
Published: 3:30am, 28 Dec, 2020
US President-elect Joe Biden has promised to go full tilt into action against climate change from the first day of his presidency on January 20. But, in fighting an impending climate crisis, he and other advanced-nation leaders may encounter an unexpected enemy – a crisis of market capitalism.
The two things are closely connected, but this fact does not appear to have dawned yet on policymakers, investors and others who are raring to go into battle against climate change and other existential threats. Saving the planet is going to cost money, and no one is sure where it will come from.
So, unless capital markets can come up with some radical new ideas on how to translate private savings into the colossal amounts needed to save the planet and its inhabitants, and do so quickly, state intervention to bypass markets will almost certainly become necessary.
State-dominated financial systems (among which China’s is by far the biggest) seem likely – by virtue of their ability to marshal savings behind mega social and economic projects – to leave market economies behind in the race to “go green” and contribute to saving life on Earth.
Attaining the goals, the UN said, was going to be very costly. The total bill could amount to US$5 trillion per year over the 15-year life of the SDG implementation period up to 2030, or around US$75 trillion in total – roughly equal to one year’s global gross domestic product.
It is customary for governments to finance public goods, but the UN suggested that governments would not be able to foot anything like the entire bill. The public sector would be unlikely to supply more than around a half, leaving savers and investors in capital markets to provide the rest.
Read more: https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3115215/joe-biden-prepares-rejoin-global-fight-against-climate-change-who
China has taken government control of the economy to a bit of an extreme recently. Although the South China Morning Post is not government owned to my knowledge, SCMP’s parent company Alibaba Group has run into a few regulatory difficulties lately, and has accepted a very recent requirement for placement of government employees into management oversight positions in major private tech companies. So I think it is fair to say the Chinese government likely has a lot more influence over the South China Morning Post than they used to.
It is not clear if SCMP is suggesting a similar regime for the USA, but there are precedents; for example its normal for US businesses to temporarily accept the presence of government officials on their premises, if oversight agencies suspect financial irregularities or other forms of non-compliance.
This regime of regulatory oversight could be extended to include a mandatory climate resilience requirement. Corporate consultants already provide climate stress testing services, to help companies understand how their assets and activities could be impacted by climate change, so the infrastructure is already in place should the Biden administration choose to make climate compliance as important as any other form of regulatory compliance.