G20 & Central Banks Response on COVID-19 — Global Challenge Requires Global Response

By Sofia Yialama – Sustainability Reporting Analyst-Intern, G&A Institute

Exploring how the G20 leaders plan to preserve the global financial safety.

The G20 Group, representing both developed and developing countries and the 80% of the world’s economic output, recently expressed its willingness and responsibility to undertake an immediate, coordinated and bold response on the current global health and economic crisis.

At the latest virtual G20 Leader’s Summit, the leaders of the world’s largest economies committed to amplify their fiscal, credit and monetary support aiming to bolster the resilience and stability of the global economy, provide adequate stimulus packages and safeguard the global market from a global recession.

In a spirit of cooperation and readiness to support the global economy, the G2O nations, among other commitments, pledged to underpin the global economy with over US$5 trillion, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes.

All together, they expressed their support to the central banks and highlighted the urgent need for cooperation between them and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in order to mobilize emergency funding.

To surmount the socio-economic impact from COVID-19 and ensure market recovery in all countries, they also mandated their respective Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to develop a G20 joint action plan.

Following the G20 Leader’s Communiqué, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC Ministerial Meeting on 9th April and the G20 Energy Ministers Meeting on 10th April, were both crucial for the global economic stability.

“OPEC+” (“plus”) is joining forces with the G20 to coordinate the supply/demand imbalance in the international oil market and finally work to end the recent oil price war during such exceptionally difficult times. This was characterized as ‘a historic show of cooperation” and “by far the biggest supply deal in history”.

Enough Effort – Is More Action Needed?

Are these actions enough to counteract the detrimental coronavirus impact on the global economy?

Front-line international organizations — such as the United Nations, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) — have called on G20 leaders to provide explicit support to vulnerable countries and sectors in high risk, respectively.

At the same time, a strong international group, including various former presidents and prime ministers, with an open letter to G20 leaders, asked them to set up a G20 Executive Task-force and accelerate the development of an action plan for COVID-19, along with targeted financial packages to support the global health system and provide essential financial aid to the developing countries, especially in Africa.

These facts showcase that the world needs urgent coordinated action.

Which system will last by the end of the virus crisis? The cooperation pact or the self-protectionism?

How the central banks of key G20 members responded on COVID-19

In 2009, after the 2008 global financial crisis, the G20 group urged the establishment of the Financial Stability Board (FSB) to gather treasury ministries and central bank governors together with the aim of coordinating actions and find solutions for the global financial system’s vulnerabilities.

For this reason, it is highly important now to examine how the central banks of the world’s largest economies have responded during the pandemic.

Central banks have taken surprising credit, regulatory and monetary measures to ensure adequate liquidity in the market and uphold the credit safety of businesses and households.

And at this moment, as the rampant spread of the virus continues, every day each of the banks announce additional financial packages to prevent the economic collapse.

So far, the central banks of key G20 member countries — notably the US Federal Reserve (Fed), the European Central Bank (ECB), the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the Bank of Japan (BOJ), and the Bank of England (BOE) — have moved to:

  • monetary policy easing and unprecedented cut of interest rates,
  • increasing lending,
  • provision of cheaper loans and new funding schemes,
  • emergency free lending to other financial and non-financial institutions,
  • easing bond issuance, and
  • additional incentives for SMEs.

Further, as a joint response, the central banks of the U.S., Canada, Japan, Euro Area, the U.K., and Switzerland, enhanced further the provision of liquidity via the standing US dollar liquidity swap line arrangements.

The extraordinary measure of cutting rates to near zero started from the U.S. Fed and triggered similar measures by other central banks all over the world — such as in New Zealand, Japan and South Korea and Australia.

As a result, this extreme U.S decision spurred the “domino effect” and so, other non-G20 central banks followed on reducing their interest rates.

Are these coordinated measures enough to save the global financial system?

The answer is still vague, as the pandemic is still ongoing in all the affected countries.

As the title of this document says, a global challenge requires a global response.

The world economies now are called to action in order to secure a sustainable and resilient future.

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About the Author

Sofia Yialama is a GRI-certified Senior Sustainability Research Analyst from Greece. She holds a Bachelor and MSc degree in International and European studies and her areas of expertise include international relations, international cooperation and sustainable development.

As a former E.U Projects Consultant and member in regional Task Forces, she has significant experience in project management in sectors such as

Sustainability in the Blue Economy sectors, Green Economy, Sustainable Tourism and Nature-Based solutions.

Her solid career objective and self-motivation is to inspire, influence and develop initiatives and projects coupled with multilateral partnerships towards achieving “Sustainability Transition” in the private sector.

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References 

  1. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/FMCBG_Extraordinary_Press%20Release.pdf
  2. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20_PR_Second%20Virtual%20FMCBG%20Meeting_30%20March_ENG%20(1).pdf
  3. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/Virtual_Leaders_Summit_King_Salman_Opening_Remarks_EN.pdf
  4. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20_Extraordinary%20G20%20Leaders%E2%80%99%20Summit_Statement_EN%20(3).pdf
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/07/coronavirus-global-leaders-urge-g20-to-tackle-twin-health-and-economic-crises
  6. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2020/04/08/commentary/world-commentary/now-never-global-leadership-covid-19/#.XpMfFMgzbIU
  7. https://www.ft.com/content/150df67ba-839f-455a-9546-6edf72a08df0
  8. https://www.opec.org/opec_web/en/press_room/5882.htm
  9. https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19#U
  10. https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/coronavirus
  11. https://www.piie.com/blogs/realtime-economic-issues-watch/timeline-central-bank-responses-covid-19-pandemic
  12. https://www.oecd.org/about/secretary-general/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Joint-actions-to-win-the-war.pdf
  13. https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200409a.htm
  14. https://www.boc.cn/en/
  15. https://www.boj.or.jp/en/index.htm/
  16. https://www.ecb.europa.eu/home/html/index.en.html
  17. https://www.seatrade-maritime.com/regulation/ics-iaph-joint-call-g20-support-maritime-sector-and-global-supply-chains
  18. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-central-banks-glob/global-central-banks-pull-out-all-stops-as-coronavirus-paralyzes-economies-idUSKBN2130KR
  19. https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2020-03-24/note-correspondents-letter-the-secretary-general-g-20-members

California – America’s Sovereign State of Sustainability Superlatives!

While the Federal Government Leaders Poo-Pooh Climate Change, the Sovereign State of California Continues to Set the Pace for America and the World!

Focus on The State of California – the America’s Sovereign State of Superlatives Including in the Realm of Societal Sustainability…

By Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

We are focusing today on the “Golden State” – California – America’s sovereign state of sustainability superlatives!

The U.S.A.’s most populous state is forceful and rigorous in addressing the numerous challenges of climate change, ESG issues, sustainable investing and other more aspects of life in this 21st Century.

Think about this: California is by itself now the fifth largest economy in the world. The total state GDP (the value of goods & services produced within the borders) is approaching US$ 3 trillion. The total U.S.A. GDP is of course the largest in the world (it includes California GDP) and then comes China, Japan, Germany… and the state of California!

The California population is about 40 million people – that means that roughly one-in-eight people in the U.S.A. live in the Golden State.

Stretching for 800+ miles along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, California is third largest in size behind Alaska (#1)  and Texas and takes the honor of setting the example for the rest of the U.S.A. in societal focus on sustainability.

Most investors and public company boards and managements know that the large California pension fund fiduciaries (institutional investors) often set the pace for U.S. fiduciary responsibility and stewardship in their policies and activities designed to address the challenges of climate change, of global warming effects.

The state’s two large public employee pension funds —  CalPERS (the California Public Employees’ Retirement System) and CalSTRS (the California State Teachers’ Retirement System) have been advocates for corporate governance reforms for public companies whose shares are in their portfolios.

CalPERS manages more than US$350 billion in AUM; CalSTRS, $220 billion.

A new law in California this year requires the two funds to identify climate risk in their portfolios and to disclose the risks to the public and legislature (at least every three years)

CalSTRS and CalPRS will have to report on their “carbon footprints” and progress made toward achieving the 2-Degrees Centigrade goals of the Paris Accord.

Looking ahead to the future investment environment — in the  emerging “low carbon economy” — CalPERS is pointing more of its investments toward renewable energy infrastructure projects (through a direct investment program). The fund has invested in two solar generation facilities and acquired a majority interest in a firm that owns two wind farms.

Walking the Talk with proxy voting: long an advocate for “good governance,” CalPERS voted against 438 board of director nominees at 141 companies this year in proxy voting. CalPERS said this was based on the [companies’] failures to respond to it effort to engage with corporate boards and managements to increase board room diversity.

CalPERS’ votes including “no” cast on the candidacy of numerous board chairs, long-term directors and nominating & governance committee chairs. This campaign was intended to “create heat” in the board room to increase diversity. CalPERS had solicited engagements with 504 companies — and more than 150 responded and added at least one “diverse” director.  CalSTRS joins its sister fund in these campaigns.

During the year 2018 proxy voting season, to date, CalPERS has voted against executive compensation proposals and lack of diversity in board room 43% of the time for the more than 2,000 public companies in the portfolio.

Other fiduciaries in the state follow the lead of the big funds.

The San Francisco City/County Employee Retirement Fund

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) with US$24 billion in AUM recently hired a Director of ESG Investment as part of a six-point strategy to address climate risk.  Andrew Collins comes from State Street Global Advisors (SSgA) and the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB – based in SFO) where he helped to develop the ESG accounting standards for corporations in 80 industries.

The approach Collins has recommended to the SFERS Investment Committee:

  • Engagement through proxy voting and support for the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) proxy resolutions.
  • Partnerships with Climate Action 100+, Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), Ceres, Council of Institutional Investors, and other institutional investor carbon-reducing initiatives.
  • Active ESG consideration for current and future portfolio holdings.
  • Use of up-to-date ESG analytics to measure the aggregate carbon footprint of SFERS assets; active monitoring of ESG risks and opportunities; continued tracking of prudent divestment of risky fossil fuel assets.

The staff recommendations for the six point approach (which was adopted) included:

  • Adopt a carbon-constrained strategy for $1 billion of passive public market portfolio holdings to reduce carbon emissions by 50% vs. the S&P 500 Index.
  • Hire a director of SRI to coordinate activities – that’s been done now.

As first step in “de-carbonization” the SFERS board approved divestment of ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron (September 2018) and will look at other companies in the “Underground 200 Index”.  The pension fund held $523 million in equities in the CU200 companies and a smaller amount of fixed-income securities ($36MM).

Important background is here:  https://mysfers.org/wp-content/uploads/012418-special-board-meeting-Attachment-E-CIO-Report.pdf

There are 70,000 San Francisco City and County beneficiaries covered by SFERS.

At the May 2017 SFERS board meeting, a motion was made to divest all fossil fuel holdings.  An alternative was to adopt a strategy of positive investment actions to reduce climate risk. The board approved divestment of all coal companies back in 2015.

California Ignores the National Leadership on Climate Change

In 2015, the nations of the world gathered in Paris for the 21st meeting of the “Conference of Parties,” to address climate change challenges. The Obama Administration signed on to the Paris Accord (or Agreement); Donald Trump upon taking office in January 2017 made one of his first moves the start of withdrawal from the agreement (about a three year process).

American states and cities decided otherwise, pledging to continue to meet the terms previously agreed to by the national government and almost 200 other nations – this is the “We are still in movement.”

The State of California makes sure that it is in the vanguard of the movement.

This Year in California

The “Global Climate Action Summit” was held in San Francisco in September; outgoing Governor Jerry Brown presided. The meeting attracted leaders from around the world with the theme, “Take Ambition to the Next Level,” designed to encourage collaboration among states, regions, cities, companies, investors, civic leaders, NGOs, and citizens to take action on climate change issues.

Summit accomplishments:  there were commitments and actions by participants to address: (1) Healthy Energy Systems; (2) Inclusive Economic Growth; (3) Sustainable Communities; (4) Land and Ocean Stewardship; and (5) Transformative Climate Investments.  Close to 400 companies, cities, states and others set “100 percent” renewable energy targets as part of the proceedings.

New “Sustainability” Laws

The California State Legislature passed the “100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2018” to accelerate the state’s “Renewable Portfolio Standard” to 60% by year 2030 — and for California to be fossil free by year 2045 (with “clean, zero carbon sourcing” assured). Supporters included Adobe and Salesforce, both headquartered in the Golden State; this is now state law.

Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order directing California to achieve “carbon neutrality” by the year 2045 — and to be “net zero emissions” after that.

Building “De-Carbonization”

The state legislature this year passed a “Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) ” measure that is now law, directing the California Energy Commission to create incentives for the private sector to create new or improved building and water heating technologies that would help reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Water Use Guidelines

Water efficiency laws were adopted requiring the powerful State Water Resources Control Board to develop water use guidelines to discourage waste and require utilities to be more water-efficient.

About Renewables and Sustainable Power Sources

Walking the Talk: Renewables provided 30% of California power in 2017; natural gas provided 34% of the state’s electricity; hydropower was at 15% of supply; 9% of power is from nuclear. The state’s goal is to have power from renewables double by 2030.

California utilities use lithium-ion batteries to supplement the grid system of the state. PG&E is building a 300-megawatt battery facility as its gas-generating plants go off-line.

Insurance, Insurers and Climate Change Challenges

There are now two states — California and Washington — that participate in the global Sustainable Insurance Forum (SIF); the organization released a report that outlines climate change risks faced by the insurance sector and aims to raise awareness for insurers and regulators of the challenges presented by climate change. And how insurers could respond.

The Insurance Commissioner of California oversees the largest insurance market in the U.S.A. and sixth largest in the world — with almost $300 billion in annual premiums.  Commissioner Dave Jones endorsed the 2017 recommendations of the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (the “TCFD”) and would like to see the now-voluntary disclosures be made mandatory by the G-20 nations. (The G-20 created the Financial Stability Board after the 2018 financial crisis to address risk in the financial sector).

In 2016 the Insurance Commissioner created the requirement that California-licensed insurance companies report publicly on the amount of thermal coal enterprise holdings in portfolio — and asked that the companies voluntarily divest from these enterprises.  Also asked: that insurers of investments in fossil fuel companies (such as thermal coal, oil, gas, utilities) survey or “data call” on these companies for greater public financial disclosure.

What About a Carbon Tax for California?

The carbon tax – already in place. California has a “cap and trade” carbon tax adopted in 2013; revenues raised go into a special fund that finances parks and helps to make homes more energy efficient. The per ton tax rate in 2018 was $15.00.  The program sets maximum statewide GhG emissions for covered entities in power and industrial sectors and enables them to sell allowances (the “trade” part of cap & trade). By 2020, the Cap and Trade Program is expected to drive more than 20% of targeted GhG emissions still needed to be reduced.

As we said up top, the “Golden State” – California – is America’s sovereign state of sustainability superlatives!

There is more information for you at G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” management briefing platform:

Brief:  California Leads the Way (Again) – State’s Giant Pension Funds Must Now Consider Portfolio Climate Risks & Report on Results – It’s the Law