The Bank of England (BoE) has published the results of the Climate Biennial Exploratory Scenario (CBES), which explores the financial risks posed by climate change for the largest banks and insurers operating in the UK. In line with the findings of other central bank stress tests across the globe, the CBES found that while the financial system might be adequately capitalised to absorb the shocks of climate change scenarios, the sector would suffer losses across each scenario, with the greatest quantifiable losses suffered in a No Action and Late Action scenario. This reaffirms the BoE’s drive to an early and orderly transition to a net-zero economy.
- In June 2021 the BoE launched the CBES, seeking to explore and better understand the financial risks posed by climate change to the UK financial system, and to ensure that real change is effected to help with systemic resilience.
- Following the submission of participants’ initial responses in October 2021, we looked at the CBES in the context of other central bank initiatives and stress tests across the globe, to understand the scope of the CBES as part of our November 2021 Global Banking Review, which focussed heavily on the issues facing financial institutions in connection with Climate Change.
- Just over six months later the BoE has published the results of the CBES, and we consider here what it has learnt, where will the focus fall, and what will come next?
Summary of key findings – Banks
The climate risks captured in the CBES scenarios are likely to create a drag on the profitability of both UK banks and insurers. Loss projections varied across participating firms and the three different climate scenarios but equated to an annual drag on profits of around 10-15% on average. Projections suggested (unsurprisingly) that the overall costs will be lowest in scenarios with early, well-managed actions to transition to a net-zero economy.
However, the CBES found that there was substantial uncertainty as to the magnitude of climate risks. The figures identified in the BoE report were heavily caveated to allow for various acknowledged limitations, with this, its first CBES, including:
- The banks’ projections were focused on credit risk, and did not yet fully take into account possible impacts resulting from market risk;
- The data used to populate responses from firms was incomplete and inconsistent in its approach – for example, loss estimates on the same corporate customers differed substantially in participating firms’ responses;
- The ‘No Action’ scenario would likely incur losses past the time horizon selected for the CBES projections, and as such projections for this scenario were likely partial; and
- The BoE acknowledged the limitations of the fixed balance sheet approach adopted for the CBES.
Despite these, and other limitations, the CBES included a number of interesting observations for market participants:
Quantitative findings – calculating the risk
- Projected climate risk impacts were highest for banks’ wholesale and mortgage exposures, and projected climate-related consumer credit losses were relatively low.
- Institutions which relied upon third-party modelling and data without sufficient internal capability to challenge and scrutinise often gave rise to materially lower loss projections than those institutions which had invested in and developed their own internal models. The development of internal models was more established in the insurance than the banking sector.
- Limitations caused by data gaps and inconsistent data provision from third parties such as clients and counterparties were again noted. In particular, the lack of available data regarding corporates’ current value chain emissions and future transition plans was a common issue affecting firms. The BoE also recommends that banks act to encourage remediation of data limitations and gaps to help firms meet the PRA’s supervisory expectations, as set out in SS3/19. Firms’ efforts in this area will be supported by initiatives currently in train to resolve some of these data gaps.
Qualitative findings – planning ahead
- Responses to the qualitative secondary part of the CBES, which focused on transition planning, suggested that some banks, in particular, were not considering their transition plans holistically: they were failing to take into account the likelihood of similar management actions from competitors or adjusting for different macro scenarios.
- Transition plans suggest that banks intend to divest from energy-intensive sectors. The BoE sounded a note of caution in relation to these suggestions and to the idea that capital requirements could be used to target investment towards “green” sectors and away from energy-intensive sectors. The BoE noted the systemic risk inherent in depriving energy-intensive sectors from the funding they would need to transition towards net-zero, and also the economic repercussions of mass divestment from providing finance to carbon-intensive sectors ahead of the expansion of renewable energy supply.
- Capital adequacy remains at the forefront of the BoE’s mind, but in the context of developing (along with other central banks) Solvency II to better accommodate the nuances of climate change risk, rather than using the BoE’s prudential regulation as a pseudo-governmental arm seeking to drive policy change.
- While participating firms were making good progress in some aspects of climate risk management, they all had more work to do to improve their climate risk management capabilities.
Climate Litigation Risk
As part of the CBES, the BoE engaged with members of the London Insurance Market to understand the extent to which existing policies would cover climate-related litigation. Following the trend of increasing climate-related litigation (particularly in the United States, which is ahead of many European jurisdictions in this regard), the BoE wanted to look at the impact of this development in the contentious landscape. The BoE identified seven ‘types’ of climate-related litigation, these are set out in full below:
- Direct causal contribution: a corporate is found liable for its representative contribution to manmade climate change.
- Violation of fundamental rights resulting in cessation or reduction of operations: a corporate is prevented from practising carbon-intensive activities that violate fundamental human and dignity rights, this has a significant impact on financial revenues.
- Greenwashing: a corporate is found to be misleading customers (e.g. false advertising, mislabelling as ‘environmentally friendly’, underreporting disclosures) and must pay out compensation to customers/investors.
- Misreading the transition: a corporate is sued on the basis that it continued to sell a carbon-intensive product while in knowledge it would become redundant due to government net-zero policy, they must refund and compensate customers.
- Indirect casual contribution (related to exposure to Utilities sector only): utilities are sued for their indirect contribution to climate change which amplifies physical risks due to inadequate or negligent preparation.
- Directors’ breach of fiduciary duties (related to cover against asset managers only): investors of an asset manager allege that the entity’s directors have understated the physical and/or transition risk to their assets in their disclosures. Investors seek payment for damages from the directors’ breach of fiduciary duty.
- Indirect causal contribution (financing): a case is brought against financiers of carbon-intensive activities, as they have contributed indirectly to manmade climate change through financing activities of carbon majors.
Taken from Table 1 of Box C of the CBES Results
Following engagement with members of the insurance market, the BoE identified that (in aggregate) just under half of the D&O insurance policies currently in place would cover these types of litigation risk; while approximately a quarter of the professional indemnity policies would cover climate related litigation. The respondents noted that this figure may not reflect coverage of the defendant’s own legal costs, which could often be high, particularly where the claims were investor-led.
While the focus of these questions was on the impact to the insurance industry of the developing trend, the analysis should focus the minds of banks and asset managers: have they sufficiently considered their litigation risk? Have they considered whether their policy coverage is adequate? As we move forward, have they budgeted for the increasing cost of Profin and D&O insurance which may arise from developing trends in this area?
- The BoE’s work on climate scenario analysis, including that done as part of the CBES, provides a key tool supporting firms and policymakers as they navigate uncertainty over future climate policy and climate change, enabling assessment against a range of possible outcomes.
- As set out in the PRA’s October 2021 Climate Change Adaptation Report, the PRA and the BoE are undertaking further analysis to determine whether changes need to be made to the design, use, or calibration of the regulatory capital frameworks.
- To support this work on the capital framework, the BoE will host a research conference on the interaction between climate change and capital in Q4 2022, and has already put out a ‘Call for Papers’. The BoE will publish follow-up material on the use of capital, including on the role of any future scenario exercises, informed by the conference and the findings of the CBES.
- While no future CBES has been announced, it is clear that more work is needed before the BoE and market participants understand the stress that they may soon be under as a result of climate risks.
For further information, please contact:
Simon Clarke, Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills