The real estate market has been disrupted, as home insurance rates skyrocket as wildfire and flood risks rise with the warming climate. Food prices have gone up with disruptions in agriculture. Health care costs have increased as heat takes a toll. Marginalized and already vulnerable communities that are least financially equipped to recover are being hit the hardest.
Powell’s rationale is that to maintain the Fed’s independence from politics and political cycles, it should use its tools narrowly to focus on its core mission of economic stability. That includes price stability, meaning keeping inflation low and maximizing employment. In Powell’s view, the Fed should stay away from social and environmental concerns that are not tightly linked to its statutory goals.
As researchers with expertise in climate justice and central banks, we recently published a paper reviewing the monetary policy tools available to central banks around the world that could help slow climate change and reduce climate vulnerabilities.
One way to introduce differentiated rates would be to create a special lending facility under which commercial banks could borrow money from the central bank at preferential interest rates if used for renewable energy deployment or other climate-friendly investments. Whether the Fed already has authorization to do that depends on interpretation of its current mandate.
Our analysis suggests two ways to help manage climate change now: The Fed can reinterpret its current statutory duties and start viewing climate action as a critical part of its role in maintaining economic stability within its existing mandate, as the European Central Bank has done, or the mandate of the Fed can be changed by Congress to explicitly include “green” transformation objectives, similar to the U.K.‘s mandate for the Bank of England.
Either of these options could empower the Fed to address climate change and support the government, businesses, banks, households and communities in financing climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Many times in its 110-year history, the Fed has provided financial support to the U.S. government during major crises, such as wars and recessions, by offering direct lines of credit or by directly purchasing Treasury bonds. During the pandemic, it took extraordinary steps to keep U.S. businesses running.
Now that the U.S. is facing rising costs from the climate crisis, we believe the Fed should treat climate change with the same urgency and importance.
In our analysis of the tools available to central banks, we took a climate justice perspective, looking beyond greenhouse gas emission reductions to incorporate social justice and economic equity. Instead of focusing on supporting corporate interests and the financial sector in the short term to stabilize markets, we believe central banks could prioritize longer-term stability by funneling investments toward vulnerable communities and people.