Climate Change Could Make Borrowing Costlier for States and Cities

By: - October 1, 2019 12:00 am

A woman walks along a flooded street in Miami Beach, Florida. Miami-Dade County has been praised by analysts for its infrastructure investments focused on climate preparedness as credit ratings firms begin to focus on climate change. Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press

Someday soon, analysts will determine that a city or county, or maybe a school district or utility, is so vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding, drought or wildfire that it is an investment risk.

To be sure, no community has yet seen its credit rating downgraded because of climate forecasting. And no one has heard of a government struggling to access capital because of its precarious geographical position.

But as ratings firms begin to focus on climate change, and investors increasingly talk about the issue, those involved in the market say now is the time for communities to make serious investments in climate resilience — or risk being punished by the financial sector in the future.

“We look not just at the vulnerability of state and local governments, but their ability to manage the impact,” said Emily Raimes, vice president with Moody’s Public Finance Group. “While we’ll be looking at the data on rising sea levels and who may be more vulnerable, we’ll also be looking at what these governments are doing to mitigate the impact.”

Moody’s has been especially vocal about its climate change concerns. The firm has issued numerous papers assessing climate risk, and two months ago it purchased a majority stake in Four Twenty Seven, a climate-risk data firm.

Emilie Mazzacurati, Four Twenty Seven’s founder and CEO, said that the bond sector’s attention to the issue should prompt local governments to make it a priority. “It creates an incentive for them to be better prepared, because it’s going to cost them money if they don’t.”

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Alex Brown
Alex Brown

Based in Seattle, Alex Brown covers environmental issues for Stateline. Prior to joining Stateline, Brown wrote for The Chronicle in Lewis County, Washington state.