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U.S. Treasury“s Morton steps down, sees growing recognition of climate change risks


John Morton, the U.S. Treasury’s first climate counselor, is stepping down, effective Friday, but says he is confident his work in coordinating climate change policies across the department will continue – even beyond the Biden administration.

Morton, who left climate change advisory and investment firm Pollination Group to join Treasury in April 2021, told Reuters he was returning to the private sector, but Treasury would hire a replacement and keep operating the “climate hub” he headed.

“I’m really hopeful that we potentially have turned the corner where the economic imperative and the risk associated with inaction … is more firmly understood,” he said in an interview. “I’m hopeful that that will add continuity to the agenda … well beyond the (Biden) administration.”

Morton said targeted hiring over the past two years had also given the department greater climate-related expertise in a range of areas, including economic policy, domestic finance, international affairs and tax policy.

A Treasury official said the department now had dozens of people working on climate-related issues, including a handful of new key senior positions.

There was also greater acceptance in the department, across the administration and in financial markets of the risks posed by climate change and the need to act now, Morton said, when asked about the impact of any future Republican administration.

“Climate change is now undeniably seen,” he said. “There may be differences of opinion on how you respond to that threat and that risk, but the fact that there is this risk and it is increasing is fairly well accepted now, both by policymakers, but also by financial markets.”

He said implementation of 2022 Inflation Reduction Act – which includes $270 billion in climate- and clean-energy tax credits – and the bipartisan infrastructure law would result in “historically significant” capital flows in coming years.

Work now underway by the Federal Insurance Office to collect and analyze data on insurance and climate threats would show that “climate change really does represent a significant and increasing risk to the U.S. economy and to the global economy unless certain actions are taken,” he said, adding, “And that is a nonpartisan and an apolitical set of findings.”

Morton’s departure follows that of White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy, who stepped down in September. Morton, who also served in a senior climate post in the Obama administration, said he had made a commitment of about two years when he was hired by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Treasury Chief of Staff Didem Nisanci said Morton’s “leadership of and commitment to one of the most ambitious climate agendas in our department and nation’s history has left an indelible mark on Treasury, where climate issues have been elevated and integrated into everyday policy work.”