Opinionista Ivo Vegter 11 May 2015

Climate changers want to rob central banks

Thwarted in their hopes of raising $100 billion from willing but cash-strapped governments, the climate change lobby has set its sights on the ultimate source of money: central banks.

Usually, if your ambitious fund-raising efforts fall short of expectations, you might consider setting your sights a little lower. Not the climate change lobby. Instead of recognising the strain under which the global economy operates, it is going straight to the source of the magic money machine: central banks.

At the a glitzy meeting of the green and glamorous held in 2010 in the resort town of Cancún, Mexico, a Green Climate Fund was established, under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). Its goal was to raise $100 billion in capital from governments in the developed world, and spend it on low-carbon technologies and climate adaptation projects in the developing world.

Needless to say, developing countries were delighted by this idea. They lined up all neat and tidy, begging bowls in hand. Of course they would. Who is going to question alarmist predictions when they can earn you tons of free cash?

Developed countries weren’t as keen to participate, however. Many of them had their own fiscal battles to fight. When you’re trying to assure restless citizens of the virtues of austerity, it is hard to claim it’s a good idea to donate funds to projects with dubious returns.

Some countries already have their own funds, such as the UK’s International Climate Fund, which makes just shy of £1 billion per year available for climate-related projects. According to the UK Treasury’s head of international climate change, Robert Douglas, public climate finance is not a special case, and has to be considered on a value-for-money basis. Each project has to demonstrate that there is a market failure that warrants public expenditure, that its effectiveness can be measured and monitored, and that it cannot raise money from other funding sources.

As a consequence of this reluctance ot invest in climate change adaptation, the UN Green Climate Fund’s kitty stood at only $10.2 billion four years later.

This, of course, is a problem. The World Bank, which is the primary trustee of the UN Green Climate Fund, cites a report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate on how much funding will be required in the 15 years between now and 2030 to transition to a low-carbon economy: it “could be just $4.1 trillion.”

This exceeds the nominal GDP of every country in the world except Japan, China and the United States. You have to be fairly insane to use the phrase “just $4.1 trillion” in any context; let alone a speculative investment based on 85-year computer model projections that did not predict the last 15 years’ climate with any accuracy.

What can you do if nobody wants to give you money, nobody wants to pay you for your idealism, and nobody wants to invest in your grand projects? How do you “mobilise the billions and trillions”, as the World Bank so blithely calls it? The same way governments do it: go direct to the source.

A prominent German policy think tank, the World Future Council, has proposed that central banks simply print the money needed for climate change adaptation and the transition to a low-carbon economy. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they printed money to bail out banks that took excessive risk, now they want to fund a particular special interest directly from the money printers.

Effectively, this would give the green industry direct access to the money in our pockets, devaluing it by printing more, in order to fund projects they think are needed to stop the climate from changing so much.

Central banks, the think tank report claims, “can never become insolvent in their own currency due to their monopoly of issuing the legal tender – even if they purchase non-performing assets.”

The group proposes that the Green Climate Fund offers bonds for sale, at low or zero interest, with a maturity date 100 years hence. These “Green Climate Bonds” would then be bought by central banks instead of government or corporate bonds, to “create liquidity”. The effect, of course, would not be liquidity in any real sense of the word. It would be a cash injection directly into the Green Climate Fund.

For some reason, this strategy seems both viable and just to them. As if the bank bailouts weren’t costly enough, they now think the magic money machine is inexhaustible.

The economic potential of central banks was witnessed during the bank bailout, leaving no apparent reason why they should not contribute to saving the climate with a fraction of the funds previously used,” the report says. “The monetary policies of the central banks would benefit from this new liquidity to finance real production instead of simply purchasing existing financial assets.”

Real production, eh? Why, if they’re proposing “real production”, are investors not falling over themselves to invest in climate bonds? The idea of climate-focused bonds is simple enough, and they do exist. In fact, the Climate Bonds Initiative appears to be doing better than the UN’s own fund, having attracted some $36.6 billion in 2014.

But this is a drop in the ocean of the bond market. Clearly, much of the market doesn’t see the value of the supposed “real production” the World Future Council touts, and expects climate change adaptation to prove less costly. The market views these kinds of investment as high-risk gambles with uncertain or unquantifiable returns. Yet the green think tankers think zero returns over 100 years is just fine, because central banks supposedly can’t go bust. It would be too absurd if you made it up as a funny insult to green activists.

Central banks, for their part, are beginning to evaluate their own role, should climate change present significant threats to the global financial system. The Bank of England, for example, says it will issue a Climate Change Adaptation Report in July 2015.

The costs of printing money are well-known. The results are a higher inflation rate than would otherwise be the case, or malinvestment of capital, or both. So far, the world has largely avoided high consumer price inflation. Stagnation and deflation are the fears on the minds of economists. This suggests that all the money that central banks have been printing is inflating new asset bubbles as we speak.

The greens want their own industry to be one of those bubbles, and doesn’t want to give anyone a choice about it. And when the bubble inevitably bursts, they want ordinary people to bear the brunt of the financial fallout.

If raising capital for climate adaptation was as easy as printing money, one has to wonder why this is not true for the world’s other problems. Most of them are more certain than the threat of a changing climate. We know how we can save millions of lives lost to malaria, malnutrition, lack of sanitation, and other acute global problems. If all it took to raise the necessary funding was to issue “Disease Bonds” or “Hunger Bonds” with 100-year maturity and zero interest, wouldn’t central banks have done this a long time ago?

You can’t just print money whenever you want some. That this needs explaining is a testament to the delusional idealism of the climate change industry. No wonder nobody wants to give them money voluntarily. DM


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