US treasury secretary Janet Yellen. Picture: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS
US treasury secretary Janet Yellen. Picture: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS

New York — US treasury secretary Janet Yellen has named John E Morton to head the department’s new office devoted to addressing climate change, picking a former Obama White House official with private-sector experience to co-ordinate efforts across the agency.

Morton, 50, who as climate counsellor will report directly to Yellen, was most recently a partner at Pollination, an investment and consulting firm focused on climate-change opportunities.

He is expected to take a central role in President Joe Biden’s “whole-of-government” approach to tackling the issue, with a particular focus on aligning public and private investments with international goals on emissions and global warming, the treasury said.

Activists are pushing US financial regulators to move aggressively in forcing Wall Street to reckon with the risks and curtail investments in fossil fuels that drive climate change. They are urging Yellen to use her power as head of the financial stability oversight council to trigger tighter scrutiny of investments in oil and gas assets.

“Climate change requires economywide investments by industry and government as well as actions to measure and mitigate climate-related risks to households, businesses, and our financial sector,” Yellen said.

The new “climate hub” illustrates the treasury department’s commitment to addressing the financial risks posed by a warming planet and comes as the Biden administration steps up work to confront climate change across the federal government. Biden has established an inter-agency task force dedicated to co-ordinating climate-policy moves across the executive branch, from treasury to transportation.

The new office will be tasked with:

  • Mobilising financial resources for climate-friendly investments.
  • Using economic and tax policy to build resilient infrastructure and transition to a net-zero decarbonised economy.
  • Ensuring climate policies consider environmental justice.
  • Helping make information on economic and financial risks associated with climate change available to companies, workers and investors.
  • Understanding and mitigating risks posed by climate change to global financial stability.

Morton was senior director for energy and climate change at the National Security Council under former president Barack Obama.

In a December interview, Morton said the treasury should find ways to use Covid-related stimulus to invest in green programmes. The treasury will have the most power to address climate change through its work with the banking sector and how the industry assesses environmental risks, he said.

The announcement is part of a rush of actions this week as the administration seeks to prove to the world that the US is back in the global fight against climate change. Biden is convening the leaders of up to 40 nations in a climate summit on Thursday and Friday.

The president is set to announce a new US pledge to slash greenhouse-gas emissions that is expected to require a 50% reduction from 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

The US treasury department is readying a plan for distributing potentially billions of dollars more in aid to help developing nations adapt to global warming and propel clean energy. Biden ordered the spending blueprint in January.

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