Canada’s second largest pension fund joins Harvard, the MacArthur Foundation in divestment away from fossil fuels

The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ),  the second largest pension fund in Canada, announced on September 28 that it will exit oil production investments at the end of 2022. The new, complete Climate Strategy document is here, and is built on four “vital and complementary pillars, as summarized in a press release

  • Hold $54 billion in green assets by 2025 to actively contribute to a more sustainable economy. 
  • Achieve a 60% reduction in the carbon intensity of the total portfolio by 2030.
  • Create a $10-billion transition envelope to decarbonize the main industrial carbon-emitting sectors. 
  • Complete our exit from oil production by the end of 2022.

Reaction from pension  activist group ShiftAction states that the : “move to exclude investments in oil producers from its portfolio by the end of 2022 is a welcome and significant move that improves the CDPQ’s position as a climate leader among Canada’s major financial institutions. It is amazing that it took until 2021 for a Canadian pension fund to finally recognize that protecting our retirement savings from the worsening climate crisis inevitably requires abandoning market exposure to high-risk fossil fuels…. To achieve climate safety, investment in fossil gas production and infrastructure must also be urgently phased out…… The CDPQ’s progress stands in stark contrast to the Canada Pension Plan, whose CEO said earlier this year that the Canada Pension Plan has no plans to institute a blanket screen on oil and gas during his tenure.”   (Neither does the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, as quoted in the Toronto Star article,  “Canada’s oil industry dealt a financial blow as pension giant divests itself of investment in fossil fuel”) .

New Canadian campaign demands information from pension fund managers

On September 29, letters were delivered to the boards and executive of Canada’s 10 largest pension fund managers, asking for specific and detailed answers by December, about how the funds are meeting their legal fiduciary obligations in the face of the global climate crisis. According to a Greenpeace press release , the letters were coordinated with ShiftAction and Ecojustice. The letters were signed by members of the respective pensions funds, along with some of their union representatives , and were accompanied by appendices of analysis and a legal brief. The 9-page letter to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, co-signed by Fred Hahn, President of CUPE-Ontario serves as an example.

Global divestment momentum

All of this is part of the growing momentum of the divestment movement in the lead-up to COP26.  On September 10, after years of resisting activist campaigns, Harvard University announced that its $42 billion endowment will bar any future investments in coal, oil and gas.  Stand.earth states: “this landmark announcement marks a tipping point that will cascade throughout mainstream endowments and financial institutions globally.”   On September 22, Reuters reported “MacArthur Foundation joins investment shift away fossil fuels”, stating that the $8.2 billion fund “is the largest foundation in the world to commit publicly to fossil-fuel divestment to date.” Bill McKibben, one of the architects of the global divestment movement, sums it all up, including the new Caisse de dépôt climate policy, in his article “Starving the Beast” (Crucial Years, Sept. 29).

Quebec Pension fund leads the way in low-carbon investing in Canada

The  Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) is Canada’s second largest pension fund, with $286.5 billion under management for the  public and parapublic pension plans of  Quebec workers. On October 18, the Caisse burnished its existing reputation as a responsible investor by releasing  “Our Investment Strategy to address Climate Change”,    a detailed strategy document which pledges to factor climate change into every investment decision.   The CDPQ will increase its low-carbon investments by 50% by 2020, and reduce the carbon intensity of its portfolio by 25% by 2025 across all asset classes.   According to an article in the Montreal Gazette , “the Caisse is the first fund in North America, and only the second in the world — after the New Zealand Superannuation Fund — to adopt this type of approach.” That article also notes that investment managers’ compensation will be tied to the emissions performance of their investments:  investment teams will be given fixed carbon budgets, “and their performance will be evaluated and remuneration linked to how well they stick to these budgets.” The announcement was also covered by the Globe and Mail  .

In contrast, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board , entrusted with the funds to support the public pensions of 20 million Canadians (the CPP), continues to invest in oil and gas ventures – and according to Bloomberg Research , is currently involved in a bidding process for an Australian coal operation owned by Rio Tinto .  Friends of the Earth Canada is advocating against the bid as part of its ongoing campaign, Time to Climate-Risk-Proof the CPP  .  The CPPIB describes its investment strategy regarding climate change here  .

It is worth noting that the Labor Convergence on Climate event  organized by the Labor Network for Sustainability in September included a discussion of how union leaders and rank and file members can work through their pension funds to join the movement to divest from fossil fuels and make green investments .

The role of the banking and investment community is important in policy development also; the case is most recently made in  “Three suggestions for for B.C.’s Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council” in the National Observer (Oct. 26). The article concludes:  “If the Advisory Council wants to see money move to support its policy aspirations they will have to find genuinely committed allies in the asset management and banking community. Action on climate change is great economic opportunity for British Columbia and Canada, and the financial sector must be brought into the discussion in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon energy system.”

How receptive is the Canadian investment community to considering and disclosing climate change risks and stranded assets? Two reports  by the UN-affiliated Principles for Responsible Investment ( PRI )   are relevant to this question. Fiduciary duty in the 21st century: Canada roadmap (Jan. 2017) makes recommendations for how Canadian pension fund and investment managers can catch up with the international community and implement the recommendations of the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) . The PRI Canada country review (June 2017) describes the current regulatory framework for environmental and social governance disclosure .  The Responsible Investment Association has  also published the 2016 Canadian Responsible Investment Trends Report .

Actors within Canada include the Canadian Securities Administrators , which began their own  review on climate-related financial disclosure practices in March 2017 , but have not yet reported.   A group of Canadian Chief Financial Officers launched  the CFO Leadership Network in March 2017, to focus on the role CFO’s play in integrating environmental and social issues into financial decision making. The Canadian CFO Leadership Network is the Canadian Chapter of The Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) CFO Leadership Network; in Canada, it operates in partnership with Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada , with support from The Prince’s Charities Canada.

Finally, SHARE (Shareholder Association for Research & Education), is a Vancouver-based organization which actively promotes sustainable and responsible investing. On October 12, it announced  that it is participating in an investor-led initiative which has written to the CEO’s of sixty of the world’s largest banks, including six Canadian banks, calling on them to adopt the landmark recommendations of the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), released by the Financial Stability Board in December 2016 .  Specifically, they call for disclosure in four key areas: climate-relevant strategy and implementation, climate-related risk assessments and management, low-carbon banking products and services, and banks’ public policy engagements and collaboration.