The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank at the end of last week rocked the American startup landscape, and climate tech was no exception.
SVB counted more than 1,500 climate and sustainability companies among its clients, and was known as the financial home for small climate tech startups often passed over by major financial institutions. Now those same institutions are harvesting what’s left of the erstwhile climate tech funder, injecting uncertainty into the short-term viability of some renewable projects.
As Tom Steyer puts it, the first thing most lenders look at when assessing the risk of a loan to a company are the assets it owns and its cash flow. Many startups have neither, making them a quick “no” for most banks. That presented an opportunity for SVB, which made a name for itself by working with startups to get financing at uncertain stages in their development.
With that avenue now gone, it’s unclear who, if anyone, will fill the gap.
One concern is that climate tech financing could suddenly be subjected to more red tape from new lenders, potentially driving up the cost of capital for a credit line. More generally, the worry is that a banking crisis could quash high-impact innovation at a critical point in the climate crisis.
The good news is that while the bank may have run short of funds, few of its loans to the clean-energy industry are at risk of default, which may help make the SVB episode a bump in the road rather than an extinction event.
For the time being, most investors appear confident that climate tech will prove more resilient than it appears. Robust subsidies from the Inflation Reduction Act and European Green Deal are expected to go a long way toward weathering any wider economic fallout stemming from SVB’s collapse.
Amidst the chaos in the US, the Canadian government announced rules that will bring its banks in line with climate goals.
The Canadian Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) has released new guidelines requiring federally regulated financial institutions in Canada to develop and implement a climate transition plan over the next two years.
The new rules compel Canadian banks to institute measures that climate finance advocates have been promoting for years. They are designed to hold financial institutions and their management officials accountable for managing climate-related risks.
First, banks will have to account for and disclose the greenhouse gas emissions tied to companies in their loan, bond and mortgage portfolios.
That’s especially important considering Canada's outsized impact on funding fossil fuels. A report from last year found that eight of Canada’s largest banks financed more than double the country’s entire carbon footprint.
Canadian banks have shown an appetite for oil sands projects in particular, with 5 of the top 10 global funders of tar sands extraction coming from Canada.
The new rules also aim to manage mounting legal and physical risks from climate change, such as lawsuits against banks’ fossil fuel clients and property loss from devastating storms. This should come in handy as the impacts of climate change have already run up a considerable tab in Canada.
Last year was the third-most expensive for severe weather insurance claims in Canada, just ahead of 2021 and behind 2016 and 2013.
The move comes as regulators in other parts of the world consider more robust climate requirements for their financial institutions, with the Federal Reserve Board in the US considering rules to force major banks to weigh climate-related financial risks in their decision-making, and new rules implemented by the European Banking Authority requiring banks in the European Union to report emissions associated with the products they sell.
Canadian climate advocates have hailed the guidelines as a positive step, but some believe they do not go far enough in addressing financial institutions’ contributions to climate change.
The rules require banks to analyze risks under a 1.5 degree Celsius scenario, but still don’t force them to align with them. They also don’t do much to help consumers understand their financial risk to climate impacts. The Canadian home insurance industry has endorsed attaching a climate risk score to real estate to keep lenders and buyers on the same page about how much climate change could cost them.
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