How climate change will impact the stock market

Whether you agree with it or not, the sentiment around ESG has dramatically shifted and talk of an impending ‘Carbon Correction’ is going to create havoc in the markets. Company valuations are about to be judged by different metrics which will create huge opportunities for investors. With insights from politicians, financiers,0 environmental consultants and tech experts, this investigative documentary will get you ahead of the curve so you can understand what’s coming.

Transcript

00:02
right morning everyone morning oh yeah
00:07
that’s what keys look it’s great
00:20
[Music]
00:29
I’m Jamie McDonald and I was a fund
00:32
manager in London in New York for 10
00:34
years in that time
00:36
ESG investing was certainly something we
00:37
talked about but it wasn’t something
00:39
that really mattered and it didn’t
00:41
matter because it couldn’t be valued and
00:43
therefore it didn’t really affect Morken
00:45
sentiment but now now I’ve got a feeling
00:49
that’s gonna change wore off to Davos
00:55
the World Economic Forum melting pot of
00:58
business politics and finance and we’re
01:00
going to get underneath the skin of the
01:02
key question this year which is what is
01:04
the future of capitalism and how can we
01:07
sustain our economic system for future
01:09
generations
01:17
so I’m here I’ve made it to Davos and
01:19
through the tunnels on through the
01:20
numerous security checks and I’ve got
01:22
one to hear on to the high street now
01:24
I’m really getting a sense of the kind
01:26
of chaotic atmosphere that’s going on
01:28
there’s people in ski suits and business
01:29
suits there’s expensive cars as cable
01:31
cars it’s sort of mayhem really I know
01:34
already I’m gonna have to grab people in
01:35
between their meetings as they come out
01:37
of interviews very much on the fly
01:39
[Music]
01:47
Marcus hey how are you I’m really good
01:49
thank you so much for taking our with
01:51
pleasure
01:51
I’m going around Davos and I’m speaking
01:53
to people about this shift that’s
01:54
happening in terms of environment and
01:56
investing yes and it’s taught that 2020
01:58
might be a tipping point now I really do
02:00
value your opinion on this is that
02:02
something you agree with you know I
02:04
started to feel this was happening in
02:06
couple of years ago I think 2019 was the
02:08
transition here millions of people start
02:10
to understand that the environment was
02:12
much more than something given to us you
02:14
we have to actually have a return on
02:15
this and I think business understanding
02:17
this if you’re invest in sustainability
02:19
you’re improving the quality of business
02:21
sophistication of consumer more more
02:23
consumer they want to know where the
02:24
things are coming from
02:25
I think 2020 is really at the beginning
02:27
of maybe the 21st century finally this
02:30
is the echo chamber that will push it
02:32
and propel us to the future
02:33
[Music]
02:43
I’m now heading across town for meeting
02:45
with David Craig he’s the CEO of
02:47
affinity they are a data company right
02:51
at the heart of this issue on ESG
02:52
because they’re at the forefront of
02:53
helping companies and governments both
02:56
monitor the issue and measure it so
02:58
really interesting it feels like 2020 is
03:02
going to be the year for green investing
03:06
but why now why 2020 the reason that
03:08
it’s cool is that people are realizing
03:11
the price of the harm that we’re doing
03:14
to the environment be it carbon
03:16
emissions or carbon equivalents or
03:18
illegal logging that price isn’t
03:20
factored in it’s gonna mean a reprice of
03:23
many assets and funds and debt and
03:26
liabilities and when you talk in those
03:27
terms when central bank’s say they’re
03:29
going to ask companies to look at this
03:31
you know that actually a substantial
03:33
shift is coming so this shift is going
03:36
to lead to a reshaping of the world of
03:38
finance
03:39
yes finance is going to be reshaped I
03:42
think there’s no doubt in our mind that
03:43
this is going to happen and people have
03:45
talked about this for many years but now
03:48
I think everything’s coming together to
03:50
say the shift is coming the question
03:52
people are asking is not if it’s coming
03:53
it’s how quickly is this a cliff event
03:55
or is a a gradual shift over several
03:58
years David what is going to be the role
04:00
of data within all of this and how can
04:02
we use that data well the data is
04:04
incredibly important because if you want
04:06
to understand the the environmental
04:08
footprint the emissions for example or
04:10
the water usage of the investments in
04:12
making you need data you need to
04:13
understand and what those are and you
04:16
need to compare between companies to
04:18
make those investment decisions even
04:19
quoted as saying that financial markets
04:21
need to prepare themselves for this
04:23
impending carbon correction what do you
04:25
mean by the companies and funds and
04:29
banks are going to revalue instruments
04:32
based on the true forward-looking likely
04:35
price of carbon and that they would move
04:37
that estimate so that they had
04:39
incorporate an overall revaluation of
04:41
those assets and the overall impact
04:45
could be significant a but of course it
04:46
won’t be uniform it would be different
04:48
from high carbon intense
04:50
and carbon equivalent emissions
04:51
industries too low so that was daily
04:55
prayed from repetitive and what I took
04:57
away from that was the debate previously
05:00
may have been is climate change
05:02
happening or not but that’s not the
05:04
debate anymore because companies and
05:06
governments are making that shift debate
05:08
now from vestiges this shift is
05:10
happening how am I going to be able to
05:12
profit from that and clearly at the
05:14
center of this is data because it’s data
05:17
that makes people accountable and I
05:19
think it’s data that’s gonna be the
05:20
catalyst for the shift
05:22
[Music]
05:27
one thing I’ve noticed is that the shops
05:30
and stores are then if you can see
05:31
they’ve been taken over by some of the
05:33
larger corporates around the world and
05:35
they’ve turned them into their
05:36
headquarters for the next few days why
05:38
it presumably they talk about their
05:40
agenda for the next twelve months now
05:42
Shannon I know you’ve just come out of a
05:44
private web session here at Davos as
05:46
much as you can can you tell us who is
05:49
there
05:49
what you talked about and what your
05:51
conclusions were this session which was
05:53
banking on sustainability so it’s the
05:55
financial services industry banks
05:58
there were CEOs of some pretty important
06:00
banks in the room nope I cannot but
06:04
we’re all passionate about the subject
06:06
of obviously the topic which is the
06:08
climate crisis and the financial
06:09
services role in the climate crisis and
06:12
it was fascinating because I think that
06:13
there were two really key threads or or
06:17
themes of this which was to
06:19
differentiate between climate risk and
06:21
climate transition climate risk is
06:24
evaluating how much risk you are exposed
06:26
to with the carbon that you have in your
06:28
portfolios and are you financing the
06:29
climate risk and what was interesting is
06:31
the voices around this for and we’re all
06:33
in favor of a carbon tax and really
06:35
really you know to the point of we’re
06:38
ready for it and we would like this tax
06:39
to be proportional to the damage it’s
06:41
doing to the climate now what about
06:42
those companies that are using carbon
06:44
now I mean they can’t just switch
06:45
overnight there’s got to be some sort of
06:47
transition phase did they talk about
06:48
that yeah absolutely so that was the
06:50
second part of the topic which was the
06:51
climate transition and there was this
06:53
notion of it’s not a binary thing
06:55
between what they started calling green
06:57
assets and brown assets right so green
06:59
obviously being carbon you know limited
07:02
or neutral and brown assets being those
07:03
dirty ones that are quite carbon heavy
07:05
so we can’t just divest from the brown
07:08
ones is the the notion but that the
07:11
financial services industry and banks in
07:12
general really need to invest and
07:14
finance the transition so keep investing
07:17
in let’s call the brown assets but do so
07:20
with conditions in place that makes it
07:22
apparent that the funding is going
07:24
towards the transition to renewable
07:26
energy sources well Shannon thank you so
07:28
much you’ve literally give us insight
07:30
into what’s going on behind closed doors
07:31
so thank you for your time absolutely no
07:33
problem
07:38
exactly my sink another slap you only
07:42
like the name planet’ the name is my
07:44
living together on the bow and at the
07:47
company so when we arrived this morning
07:50
it was certainly a few protesters around
07:52
I’m talking like tens of protesters why
07:54
are we marching up and down the street
07:56
you can tell there’s a sense of protest
07:58
but here we are you know six or seven
08:00
hours into the day and now we’re talking
08:01
hundreds of protesters all singing
08:03
chanting behind me
08:12
[Music]
08:23
we’re very lucky indeed to have grabbed
08:26
here former Prime Minister Helen Clark
08:27
who’s literally dashing in between
08:29
meetings in interviews so we’ve got this
08:32
opportunity to ask her a few questions
08:33
which if you don’t mind I’m just going
08:34
to dive straight into so when it seems
08:37
like this financial shift is happening
08:39
in markets and more credit being given
08:42
to those companies who are behaving
08:43
should we say more responsibly do you
08:45
think that’s going to come from
08:46
shareholders or do you think it’s going
08:47
to come from governments and policy
08:49
makers no I think it’s going to come
08:51
from the public I think it’s going to
08:52
come from the consumer if you’re a
08:54
company who’s not taking ESG and the
08:56
data around ESG seriously are those
08:59
going to be companies who fall behind
09:00
I think they’ll suffer financially as
09:03
consumers increasingly make their
09:04
choices wanting to know what the whole
09:06
value chain was how was this made what
09:09
were the ethics behind it was that
09:10
sustainably produced was the labor
09:12
exploited people asking these questions
09:14
and they’re asking these questions more
09:16
and more as we go to more and more and
09:17
the companies that don’t measure up are
09:20
going to suffer financially in my
09:21
opinion
09:24
good
09:27
[Music]
09:31
so it’s very clear that this shift in
09:34
financial markets is happening and
09:36
that’s going to produce winners and
09:37
losers so we want to know is who are
09:40
going to be the winners and losers and
09:42
when are we going to see that divergence
09:44
starting to happen at Davos for many
09:47
years the whole conversation about ESG
09:49
has been sort of present but this year
09:53
there’s a real palpable shift from a
09:55
rhetoric to an urgent call for action
09:59
there is a real top-down push from
10:02
responsible governments and then there
10:05
is a huge groundswell and a surge of
10:09
emphasis particularly from the
10:11
Millennials and I think the companies
10:14
that win are going to be the companies
10:16
that have real strong proof points that
10:18
they’re not just focused on a financial
10:20
bottom line they’re actually focused on
10:23
sustainable performance that is good for
10:26
shareholders but it’s good for employees
10:28
it’s good for customers and it’s good
10:30
for the planet I think the the
10:32
corporations that do that convincingly
10:36
and with integrity they will attract
10:39
more customers they’ll attract a
stronger talent base because Millennials
all want to work for companies that have
a real commitment to sustainability and

those companies through changes that are
taking place sweeping changes that are
taking place in financial services are
going to have much greater access to
capital and much greater access to
financial services they’ll be the
winners and conversely the companies
that fail to make that leap you know
they’ll lose on every one of those
dimensions
do you think investors going
11:12
forward are going to get much more
11:14
they’re going to require a lot more
11:16
transparency into the ESG comply ability
11:21
of the companies they invested in the
11:22
funds that they invest in and will there
11:23
be a shift of money away from general
11:26
funds more towards these greener funds
11:28
yeah absolutely financial services firms
11:30
are really looking for the data proof
11:33
points of companies and the data proof
11:36
points of their funds investors are
11:39
seeking them out most corporations today
11:42
that
11:43
going on let’s say a roadshow listing to
11:47
go public the number one question that
11:49
they are asked is what is the ESG score
11:53
investors are going to be putting
11:54
pressure on corporations to make sure
11:56
that they understand the ESG scores of
11:59
the companies that are in their supply
12:01
chain as well so the knock-on effect of
12:03
this is going to be extremely pervasive
12:06
companies that have very very very
advanced and proactive practices around
diversity and inclusion are actually the
highest performing financial companies
out of the 7,000 companies in our
database
that was really interesting as
12:24
there was alluding to its those
12:25
companies that are paying attention to
12:27
issues around ESG that are outperforming
12:29
so ESG is now at the forefront of
12:32
investors decisions because it’s
12:33
becoming a deciding factor
12:35
who knows that win and those that lose
12:37
there are some people out there some
12:39
cynical people who don’t believe in
12:41
climate change what would you say to
12:42
those kind of investors we don’t even
12:43
necessarily have to have the
12:45
conversation about whether you believe
12:47
in climate change or not let’s have the
12:49
conversation about what are you
12:51
concerned about in terms of risks and
12:52
opportunities for your portfolio
we’re
12:54
seeing increasing evidence that weather
12:56
patterns waters or h3 Georgia’s energy
12:58
shortages material shortages that all
13:01
these things are increasingly realities
13:03
when you have a consuming growing
13:05
population and a finite planet so if you
13:07
isn’t a business person or investor care
13:09
at all about any of those inputs of
13:11
costs or risks to your business then you
13:14
need to care about this whole other
13:15
suite this whole suite of issues
many of
13:18
those things happen to be involved in or
13:21
affected by sort of the mega issue of
13:23
climate change I mean think about it
13:25
another way if I said to you would you
13:27
like me to invest your money in a way
13:29
that ignores a number of factors that
13:31
could affect your business whether
13:33
that’s weather or water or pollution or
13:36
do you want me to take into account
13:37
those things that could be risks
13:38
opportunity to your business
I don’t
13:39
know many investors who say please
13:40
ignore all those macro megatrend effects
13:43
now you’re talking about the change
13:44
happening and I want to talk about the
13:46
pace of that chat because in 2020
13:48
I’m walking around Davos and I feel like
13:50
a lot of people are talking more about
13:52
this topic do you feel that 2020 is a
13:54
real tipping point for the
13:55
I think now that it sort of bubbled up
13:57
to the level where you’re hearing pretty
13:58
much every CEO here at Davao is talking
14:01
about how do we do this how do we
14:02
integrate this into our sustainability
14:03
strategy that it’s really we’re at this
14:06
tipping point well I think there’s been
14:07
a psychological and sociological shift
14:09
to understanding that there’s been more
14:11
and more data supporting that you can
14:13
actually do both and in fact good
14:15
business good asset management run you
14:18
know running a company well all involves
14:20
thinking about the environment and how
14:22
your business affects that when all
14:23
these things come together I think we’re
14:25
really just gonna see you know a real
14:27
sea change so the shifter seems to be
14:28
coming from so many different angles
14:30
it’s coming and all the stars are
14:31
aligning so investors stop thinking
14:33
whether climate change is real or not
14:34
right a fact is the future for those
14:36
companies who are not being here XI
14:38
compliant it’s going to be more
14:39
difficult exactly I mean look look at
14:40
the reality of all these factors that
14:41
are coming together and again I don’t
14:43
know any investor who will ignore
14:44
regulatory issues you know ignore
14:47
governmental changes ignore commodities
14:49
prices you know ignore new markets that
14:52
are emerging and you know other works
14:54
that are becoming more risky
14:56
[Music]
15:02
this has got a message saying that from
15:04
quick about two minutes with Jimmy Wales
15:07
so I’m off to try and grab him Jimmy
15:10
thank you so much for taking the time so
15:12
we’ve got really one fundamental
15:14
question want to ask which is is 2020 a
15:17
tipping point for the world of ESG I do
15:21
think so I think there been a lot of
15:23
important developments I think the sense
15:26
of urgency around climate change is
15:28
stronger than ever I think companies are
15:29
now beginning to realize that their
15:31
customers are demanding it their
15:33
employees are demanding it and that
15:35
there’s actually opportunities in it I
15:36
think there is a moment here where
15:38
caring about some of these issues is no
15:41
longer just like a do-gooder thing but
15:43
it’s actually profitable and if that’s
15:44
true then we’re gonna make some progress

15:47
and how do you think this area is going
15:49
to affect the valuation of companies
15:50
well you know obviously consumers care
15:52
about these issues more than ever before
15:54
governments care about these issues when
15:55
they’re before this means there’s
15:56
pressure on companies ultimately I think
15:58
companies need to answer to their
16:00
shareholders but I think shareholders
16:02
are beginning to realize that these
16:03
things actually do have an positive
16:05
impact on the bottom line doing the
16:06
right things consumers as their tastes
16:08
change then it’s gonna have a negative
16:11
impact on companies that don’t wake up
16:13
and actually get ahead of the trend and
16:14
have an image with consumers like yeah
16:16
you actually care now follow up
16:19
questions that is investors have
16:20
previously to some extent ignored ESG as
16:23
a topic because it hasn’t typically made
16:25
you money to be a green investor should
16:27
we say but now would you say that
16:29
investors have to wake up and pay
16:30
attention to ESG because those are the
16:32
companies that are going to basically
16:33
outshine I mean yeah if you’re an
16:36
investor is it’s just like every single
16:38
sort of fundamental shift in society if
16:41
you’re ahead of that trend and you
16:43
recognize that trend there are
16:45
opportunities to make money and so being
16:47
a green investor that’s simply trying to
16:49
sort of do good might not have had
16:53
superior returns but if you’re entering
16:55
into an era where we’re fundamentally
16:56
transforming the infrastructure society
16:58
hey you better be ahead of that and
17:00
there’s going to be returns to be
17:03
[Music]
17:08
I’m getting towards the end of the day
17:10
here in Davos and of course been quite a
17:12
long day
17:12
to be honest I’ve met with politicians
17:14
finance ears tech experts data experts
17:17
ESG experts obviously and I’ve had so
17:20
many conversations that what I want to
17:22
do now is just go away and have a real
17:23
think about everything I’ve talked about
17:26
today and then in the car come up with
17:28
some conclusions and finally work out is
17:32
2020 the year when we see this real
17:35
shift and ESG is at the forefront of
17:37
investors Minds
17:41
[Music]
17:45
as I look back on my time at Davos
17:48
it’s clear to me that whatever your
17:50
views on ESG investing and I was
17:53
definitely a cynic we’re now at a
17:55
tipping point seismic changes are coming
17:58
and that’s going to create massive
18:00
opportunities for investors the huge
18:03
increase in ESG data led by companies
18:06
like ref init ‘iv is the catalyst
18:07
because it means that after years of
18:10
false promises in greenwash companies
18:12
are suddenly going to be accountable and
18:14
this will surely be reflected in their
18:17
valuations David Craig called this the
18:20
carbon correction and he says the
18:22
adjustments could reach trillions of
18:25
dollars this will trigger extraordinary
18:27
shifts in prices the trick for investors
18:30
is to get on the front foot in terms of
18:33
risk management while taking advantage
18:35
of the new profit opportunities that
18:37
will be created by this shaker
18:40
hold onto your hats
18:45
[Music]
18:53
[Music]
18:59
you

Larry Fink’s Latest Sermon

The BlackRock CEO auditions to be the next Treasury Secretary.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink is among the world’s most powerful investment managers, but it seems he longs for more influence. To wit, he has assumed a role as self-styled conscience of the business world in telling CEOs how to run their companies.

“We believe that sustainability should be our new standard for investing,” he wrote to clients in his annual letter this week. He added that “all investors—and particularly the millions of our clients who are saving for long-term goals like retirement—must seriously consider sustainability in their investments.”

Corporations in which BlackRock invests will also have to comply with the rules from a “Sustainability Accounting Standards Board” on issues such as labor practices and workforce diversity. “Disclosure should be a means to achieving a more sustainable and inclusive capitalism,” Mr. Fink writes.

Like his friends at the Business Roundtable, Mr. Fink is big on “stakeholder” capitalism. “Each company’s prospects for growth are inextricable from its ability to operate sustainably and serve its full set of stakeholders,” he says. If he means serving employees, customers, suppliers and communities, he is merely saying what any successful company already does. But our guess is that by stakeholders Mr. Fink really means regulators and politicians.

The giveaway is that Mr. Fink says BlackRock will divest its actively managed funds from corporations that generate 25% or more of their revenues from coal production. “We don’t yet know which predictions about the climate will be most accurate,” Mr. Fink acknowledges, but “even if only a fraction of the projected impacts is realized, this is a much more structural, long-term crisis.”

He might be right, but then estimates of future temperature increases are based on climate models that have overstated warming to date. Mr. Fink wants to make corporations plan for unknown temperature increases as well as climate regulations that are even less certain.

Coal is an easy target since its share of American power is declining. But the International Energy Agency projects that oil and coal demand will stay flat through 2040 and natural gas consumption will increase 40% even if all countries keep the promises they made in the 2015 nonbinding Paris climate accord. The U.S. is predicted to account for 85% of the increase in global oil production over the next decade thanks to shale drilling.

All of which means that fossil fuels still have a long shelf life, especially in developing countries. There are 170 gigawatts of coal-plant capacity under construction across the world, which is more than what currently exists in Europe. So what happens if Mr. Fink’s political and climate predictions prove wrong? His clients will pay the price.

BlackRock is a fiduciary and as such is legally obligated to act in its clients’ best interest. This is ostensibly why BlackRock has voted against more than 80% of the climate resolutions on proxy ballots by activist shareholders. But suddenly Mr. Fink is prioritizing the interests of liberal politicians and pressure groups.

We can’t help but wonder if Mr. Fink, after a profitable life in business, is auditioning to be Treasury Secretary in, say, the Warren Presidency. His “stakeholder” notions sound similar to her plans to put American corporations further under the government’s thumb.

CEOs who take Mr. Fink seriously might note that his political and moral importuning isn’t satisfying progressives. “BlackRock will continue to be the world’s largest investor in coal, oil and gas,” the Sierra Club said in response to Mr. Fink’s letter.

Businesses will never be able to appease the climate absolutists. The best way they can prepare for climate risks and serve their stakeholders is to succeed as a business and create the wealth and broad prosperity that will make the world better able to adapt to whatever happens. That’s real “sustainablility.”

For the Economy, Climate Risks Are No Longer Theoretical

Climate crises, like financial crises, will be damaging, unpredictable and almost impossible to avoid

Last year Australia’s central bank hoped that several interest-rate cuts would mark a turning point for its slowing economy. That was before the worst bushfires in Australia’s history hit tourism, consumer confidence and growth forecasts for this year. There is now a good chance the bank will cut interest rates again soon.

Welcome to a world in which climate change’s economic impact is no longer distant and imperceptible.

  • Puerto Rico never fully recovered from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
  • Extreme drought in California and poorly maintained utility power lines led to severe wildfires in 2018, the utility’s bankruptcy and blackouts last year.

Climate change can’t be directly blamed for any single extreme weather event, including Hurricane Maria, California’s wildfires or Australia’s bushfires. But it makes such events more likely. “They are starting to be more than tail events, they’re starting to affect economic outcomes,” Robert Kaplan, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, told an economic conference earlier this month.

Climate crises in the next 30 years may resemble financial crises in recent decades:

  • potentially quite destructive,
  • largely unpredictable and, given the powerful underlying causes,
  • inevitable.

Climate has muscled to the top of business worries.

Every year, the World Economic Forum asks business, political, academic and nongovernmental leaders to rank the most probable and consequential risks, from cyberattacks to fiscal crises. This year, ahead of its annual meeting next week in Davos, Switzerland, climate-related risks took the five top spots in terms of probability, the first time a single issue had done so in the survey’s 14-year history.

The New NormalAs global temperatures rise, extreme temperatures and environmental disasters become more common.Summer temperatures for local regions in the northern hemisphere
STANDARD DEVIATION FROM 115-YEAR AVERAGETHOUSANDS OF OCCURRENCES1961-19802011-2015-4-3-2-10123450102030405060
World-wide extreme weather eventsSources: McKinsey Global Institute (temperature distribution), JPMorgan (extreme weather events)
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Of course, economies have always been vulnerable to natural disasters. Before the modern industrial era, crop failures were a leading cause of recession. The monsoon season remains a key economic variable in India, and the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 tipped Japan into recession.

And while estimates of climate’s economic impact are suffused with uncertainty, they don’t suggest any major economy will be pushed into recession, much less depression.

Studies reviewed by David Mackie of JPMorgan Chase suggest climate change could reduce global gross domestic product by 1% to 7% by 2100, assuming “business as usual” (i.e., absent policies to mitigate emissions of carbon dioxide). Given that the impact is spread out over 80 years, in which per capita incomes probably rise 300% to 400%, even larger climate change impacts would appear small, he said.

Aggregate changes in GDP, though, can be misleading. As global temperatures climb, the probability of extreme temperatures and events and the associated economic consequences should rise more.

This relationship is driven home in a study released Thursday by the McKinsey Global Institute. It estimated that “unusually hot summers” affected 15% of the Northern Hemisphere’s land surface in 2015, up from 0.2% before 1980.

McKinsey estimated that climate change made the European heat wave that in 2019 killed 1,500 in France 10 times more likely and the forest fires that devastated northern Alberta in 2016 up to six times more likely.

Satellite Images Show Smoke From Australian Fires Circling the World

Satellite Images Show Smoke From Australian Fires Circling the World
NASA says smoke from Australian fires has made a full circuit of Earth. It has affected New Zealand’s air quality and turned skies in South America hazy. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory handout/Shutterstock

Looking ahead, assuming business as usual, McKinsey projected the probability of a 10% drop in wheat, corn, soybean and rice yields in any given year will rise from 6% now to 18% in 2050. Such a change wouldn’t cause food shortages but could cause prices to spike. The probability that a catastrophic cyclone disrupts semiconductor manufacturing in the western Pacific will double or quadruple by 2040. Such an event “could potentially lead to months of lost production for the directly affected companies,” McKinsey said. The probability of rain heavy enough to halt the mining in southeastern China of rare-earth elements, vital to many electronic devices, will rise from 2.5% now to 6% by 2050.

Such an exercise comes with plenty of caveats. The projections make no allowance for adaptation, though no doubt some outdoor activity will move indoors, some businesses will relocate from flood plains, and insurance will cushion the cost for many.

But adaptation goes only so far. Humans can’t survive prolonged high heat and humidity beyond certain thresholds. Those thresholds are rarely met now, but will be reached regularly in some regions by 2050.

Adaptation and insurance may be deemed too costly. “Underinsurance may grow worse as more extreme events unfold, because fewer people carry insurance for them,” McKinsey predicted.

Some on Wall Street are starting to treat climate change the way they regard financial crises. “Climate change is almost invariably the top issue that clients around the world raise with BlackRock,” Chairman and CEO Laurence Fink told chief executives this week in explaining why climate would be a key criterion in how BlackRock Inc. invests its $7 trillion of client money. For businesses, mandates—private or government-driven—pose a risk distinct from climate change itself. Car companies are now spending heavily to market electric vehicles with no assurance they will be profitable.

Some central bankers are also talking about climate risk the way they talk about financial crises. Christine Lagarde, the newly installed European Central Bank president, told European parliamentarians last fall, “At a minimum…[the ECB’s] macroeconomic models must incorporate the risk of climate change.”

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Yet worrying about it isn’t the same as doing something about it. Unlike financial crises, neither Wall Street nor central bankers have the tools to alter the forces making climate crises more likely: rising carbon dioxide emissions and economic development in vulnerable regions. Only political leaders can—and it isn’t clear they will.

The Madrid climate summit in December “is the most recent example of countries failing to cooperate to create a global emissions trading regime,” Mr. Mackie said. “Most likely, business as usual will be the path that policy makers follow in the years ahead…[which] increases the likelihood that the costs of dealing with climate change will go up as action is delayed.”

BlackRock to Hold Companies and Itself to Higher Standards on Climate Risk

World’s largest asset manager to take tougher stance against corporations that aren’t providing a full accounting of climate change risks

BlackRock Inc. BLK -0.21% said it would take a tougher stance against corporations that aren’t providing a full accounting of environmental risks, part of a slew of moves by the investment giant to show it is doing more to address investment challenges posed by climate change.

Among the moves, BlackRock said it would be increasingly disposed to vote against management and boards if companies don’t disclose climate change risks and plans in line with key industry standards.

BlackRock is also pulling back from thermal coal producers in actively managed debt-and-equity portfolios by mid-2020, a move that will lead to $500 million in sales. It will expand the range of sustainable investment products as well as double to 150 the number of exchange-traded funds that address environmental, social and governance challenges.

BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager, with about $7 trillion under management. It has risen on the back of index funds that trade on exchanges and through these funds has extended its reach across nearly every company and is part of the retirement accounts of millions of people around the world. The firm also sits at the backbone of Wall Street as its software is used by banks to monitor their risks.

The firm said it is putting the focus on sustainability because the costs of climate change have ramifications on the price of assets and the financial ecosystem.

“Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects,” BlackRock Chief Executive Laurence Fink said in his annual letter. “The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.”

The letter is a reflection of Mr Fink’s towering influence over companies. But the letter has rankled some rivals who have sometimes grumbled about what they consider to be a moralistic tone.

The rise of index funds transformed three firms into major forces in corporate America and thrust them into the public spotlight. The biggest—

  1. BlackRock,
  2. Vanguard Group and
  3.  State Street Corp.

—hold roughly a fifth of the S&P 500 through funds they run for investors. They can cast critical votes and have the ears of chief executives. How they exercise this power—or choose not too—has ripple effects across markets.

All three have faced questions over their responsibilities as shareholders on behalf of investors in funds they run. In years past, these firms have targeted gender diversity in boardrooms among other issues.

Lately, there has been increased pressure on them to do more on climate change.

BlackRock’s offices around the world have been frequented by activists who blast the firm for being slow to act on green issues. The firm has debated a question internally: how can BlackRock ensure it has public support to operate in the countries where it does business as it continues to grow?

The firm said it would provide more information on data on the carbon footprint and other potentially controversial holdings in its mutual funds. It also said it would disclose more details of its conversations with the companies its funds invest inBlackRock also recently said it had joined Climate Action 100+, the world’s largest group of investors by assets pressuring companies to act on climate change.

The moves come as regulators are scrutinizing ESG funds across the asset-management industry in an attempt to determine whether those claims are at odds with reality.

“Over the next few years, one of the most important questions we will face is the scale and scope of government action on climate change, which will generally define the speed with which we move to a low-carbon economy,” Mr. Fink said in his letter.

He added that “while government must lead the way in this transition, companies and investors also have a meaningful role to play.”