US says net-zero pledges must align with temperature limits

Treasury Department releases new principles as world leaders discuss climate crisis at UN General Assembly

Smoke rises from a coal-powered steel plant near Ranchi, in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. AP
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Net-zero” financing commitments from banks and asset managers should align with goals to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C and be backed by “credible” metrics and targets, the US Treasury said on Tuesday.

The Treasury released a document setting out new principles as world leaders, celebrities and business moguls converged on Manhattan to focus attention on the climate crisis during the UN General Assembly week.

It aims to promote consistency, credibility and transparency across net-zero pledges by financial institutions.

Among the nine principles, the Treasury prescribed that financial institutions should practice “transition finance” that can support decarbonisation in high-emitting sectors that are difficult to abate. This includes providing financing, investment, or advisory services to support “a managed and accelerated transition from high-emitting to zero- or near-zero- emissions assets.”

Examples of this would be to phase out coal-fired power plants before the end of their useful lives to be replaced with wind or solar power, the Treasury said.

Institutions also should bring their clients' and portfolio company investments into line with temperature limits. US Treasury officials told reporters that this goal can fit in with institutions' fiduciary responsibilities to clients.

Data research funding

The Treasury also announced that several philanthropic groups have pledged $340 million to help develop research, data and technical resources intended to help financial institutions develop and execute “robust, voluntary net-zero commitments.”

The funding will also support work to facilitate the transition planning efforts of non-financial sectors of the economy, the Treasury said.

Groups included in these commitments include the Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Climate Arc, ClimateWorks, Hewlett Foundation, and Sequoia Climate Foundation.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said her goal for the new principles is to “affirm the importance of credible net-zero commitments and to encourage financial institutions that make them to take consistent approaches to implementation.”

She said in excerpts of remarks to be delivered later on Tuesday that there would be $3 trillion in global investment opportunities associated with the transition to net zero each year between now and 2050.

Mark Carney, the UN's Special Envoy for Climate Action, endorsed the principles as aligning with the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero's own planning framework.

He said in a statement that encouraging financial institutions to consider climate solutions to decarbonise existing businesses, “will help investment flow where it needs to get the entire economy to net zero,”

“This will strengthen growth, create jobs, and reduce energy prices – all while lowering emissions,” Mr Carney added.

Updated: September 19, 2023, 10:40 PM