UNISON launches a campaign for pension fund divestment with a Guide for Local Unions

uk MONEYOn January 10, 2018,  the U.K. union UNISON launched a campaign to encourage members of local government pension schemes to push for changes in the investment of their funds – specifically, to “explore alternative investment opportunities, allowing schemes to sell their shares and bonds in fossil fuels and to go carbon-free.”  A key tool in this campaign: Local Government Pension Funds – Divest From Carbon Campaign: A UNISON Guide, which states:  “Across the UK there are nearly 50 divestment campaigns targeting local government pension funds ….. In September this year, it was revealed that a total of £16 billion is invested in the fossil fuel industry by Local Government Pension funds.”  The new Guide explains how the U.K. pension system works for local government employees, and provides case studies of existing divestment campaigns.  In addition, it provides “Campaign Resources”, including a model campaign letter, a glossary of pension and investment terms,  and it reproduces the Pensions and Climate Motion passed at the 2017 UNISON Delegates conference.  The Guide was written by UNISON, in collaboration with ShareAction – a registered U.K. charity that promotes responsible investment practices by pension providers and fund managers.

Greener Jobs AllianceInformation about the divestment campaign, as well as information about the National Auditor’s Report re the U.K. Green Investment Bank,  is included in the January-February issue of the newsletter of the  Greener Jobs Alliance , a U.K.  partnership of “trade unions, student organisations, campaigning groups and a policy think tank.” The Greener Jobs Alliance is part of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, which is organizing an event on March 10 in London: Jobs & Climate: Planning for a Future that Doesn’t Cost the Earth

U.K. Rolls out Green Policies, including Fighting Plastics, Phasing Out Coal, and Encouraging Divestment

Theresa May 2018 Facing criticism for recent  policy reversals which have resulted, for example, in falling investment in clean energy in the U.K. in 2016 and 2017 , the government has recently attempted a re-set with its policy document:  A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment , released on January 11.    “Conservatives’ 25-year green plan: main points at a glance” (Jan. 11) in The Guardian summarizes the initiatives, which focused on reducing use of plastics (in line with a recent EU decision), encouraging wildlife habitat, and establishment of an environmental oversight body.  Specifics are promised soon; the Green Alliance provides some proposals in “Here’s what Theresa May should now do to end plastic pollution” (Jan. 11). George Monbiot is one of many critics of the government policy, in his Opinion Piece.

In the lead-up to the long-term Green Future policy statement, other recent developments have  included: 1.  Changes to investment regulations to encourage divestment.    “Boost for fossil fuel divestment as UK eases pension rules”  appeared in The Guardian on December 18 , stating:  “in what has been hailed as a major victory for campaigners against fossil fuels, the government is to introduce new investment regulations that will allow pension schemes to ‘mirror members’ ethical concerns’ and ‘address environmental problems.’    The rules are expected to come into force next year after a consultation period and will bring into effect recommendations made in 2014 and earlier this year by the Law Commission. ”

2. Coal Phase-out:  Also, on January 4, the British government responded to a consultation report by announcing CO2 limits to coal-fired power generation.  By imposing emissions limits, the government seeks to phase out coal-fired power by 2025, but still to allow flexibility for possible carbon capture operations, and for emergency back-up energy supply. The consultation report, Implementing the end of unabated coal: The government’s response to unabated coal closure consultation  , capped a consultation period which began in 2015.    The government’s policy response is  summarized in the UNEP Climate Action newsletter here  (Jan. 5).

 

New York City and State announce plans to divest pension funds; Canadian Public Pension fund holds on to coal

I love new yorkNew York City Mayor Bill diBlasio captured headlines on January 10 2018 for his announcement that New York City will divest from fossil fuels and will sue Exxon and other oil companies for the damages of Superstorm Sandy.   Yet  it was actually on December 19 that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo  first announced separate proposals to freeze current fossil fuel investments, divest New York’s public pension funds from fossil fuels, and reinvest in renewable energy.    Common Dreams summarized the announcements in ” ‘Undeniable Victory’: Cheers Follow Proposals to Divest Massive New York Pensions From Fossil Fuels”Reaction from 350.org (Dec. 19)  emphasized the importance of five years of citizen activism , and quoted Bill McKibben, who emphasized the symbolic importance of New York’s announcement:  “Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It’s a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels.”   (As further proof, in November, administrators of Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund recommended no further investment in fossil fuels and  divestment from existing oil and gas shares , and in the U.K., legal changes are in the works to ease divestment for pension funds.)

At the state level,   Governor Cuomo’s press release  states:  “Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli will work together to create an advisory committee of financial, economic, scientific, business and workforce representatives as a resource for the Common Retirement Fund to develop a de-carbonization roadmap to invest in opportunities to combat climate change and support the clean tech economy while assessing financial risks and protecting the Fund.” The New York Common Fund of the state manages approximately $200 billion in retirement assets for more than one million New Yorkers and is  heavily invested in fossil fuels, with nearly $1 billion invested in ExxonMobil alone.

At the city level, officials have set a goal of divesting the city’s  funds from fossil fuel companies within five years , according to the press release from the Office of the Comptroller,  which also highlights the complex process involved.  In February 2017,  the Office of the Comptroller had issued a  press release  stating,  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The New York City pension fund includes municipal employees, teachers, firefighters and police.

Related reading re New York activism : The Divest NY website;  “How New Yorkers won fossil fuel divestment”  from the Indypendent (Jan. 12); and Noami Klein’s article in The Intercept (Jan. 11).

Contrast the New York divestment announcements with the continued fossil fuel investment of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), revealed in two new reports.  In early December, Friends of the Earth Canada, as part of its ongoing campaign,  released  Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance, and Urgewald, a German organization, released Investors vs. the Paris Agreement.  The two reports “present a compelling picture of entrenched investors holding onto the old dirty economy and its growing risks at a time when politicians are committing to the phase out of coal.” – specifically, the Powering Past Coal Alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain at COP23 in Bonn in 2017.  The Powering Past Coal Declaration commits governments to phasing out existing traditional coal power and placing a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage, and commits all partners to supporting clean power through their policies and investments, as well as restricting financing for traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage. In an October 2017  press release,  Friends of the Earth representatives asked, “Why is the CPPIB ignoring government policy and undermining Canada’s diplomatic efforts to lead a global phase-out of coal?” . To date, there has been no public statement adjusting  the Sustainable Investing position of the CPPIB to bring it in line with the Powering Past Coal Alliance Declaration.

Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance calculates the CPPIB’s total investment in coal at $12.2 billion Cdn., with $267 million of that in new coal projects . In a global ranking in Investors vs. the Paris Agreement, Urgewald found that Canada is the 8th largest investor in new coal development, and names several Canadian institutions in its Top 100 Investors list, including SunLife  (ranked #31 with $895 million invested); Power Financial Corporation (#53 with $631 million invested); Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec ( #71 with $433 million invested); Royal Bank (#86 with $356 million invested); and Manulife Financial ( #98 with $282 million invested).

Also of interest:  “Failure to Launch” in Corporate Knights  magazine (Jan. 15 2018), which provides a serious discussion of the problems of pension plan regulation as the answer to its tagline question: “Why are Canadian pension funds dragging their feet when it comes to climate change?”

 

 

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.

 

Ontario Teachers Pension Plan invests in clean technology

The  Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan acknowledges that “ Climate change risks have global impacts that affect multiple sectors and companies. On the other hand, climate change will also present new investment opportunities, such as innovative technologies.”  The embodiment of that approach came with the  OTPP announcement  on March 9 that it has partnered with Anbaric, a developer of clean energy transmission and microgrid projects from Wakefield Massachusetts.  According to the Boston Globe newspaper  , Ontario Teachers  will invest $75 million  initially to gain a 40 percent stake in Anbaric, creating a new management company, called Anbaric Development Partners  . Potential exists to invest a further $2 billion in clean energy projects.   The OTPP press release  states,  “Ontario Teachers’ investment in Anbaric creates an attractive launching pad for generating innovative energy jobs and boosting local economies while replacing our deteriorating and outdated fossil fuel-oriented grid with new and sustainable energy alternatives. This includes sophisticated high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission technology and microgrid projects that will bring renewables online with greater efficiency.” The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan controlled $171.4 billion in net assets at December 31, 2015 on behalf of  the province’s 316,000 current and retired teachers.

As a sophisticated, global investor, it has examined the risks of climate change, and in Fall of 2016, published  Climate Change: Separating the real risks for investors from the noise   , which, like the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board ,   seems to acknowledge the reality and complexity of climate risk, while rejecting divestment of fossil fuel assets.  The report states that “Investors need a toolbox of solutions to help manage physical and regulatory risks across their portfolios, both in the short and longer term. Portfolio carbon footprints are only one tool, and they have limitations. Divestment should be the outcome of a well informed and thoughtful investment process, rather than a wholesale approach to a single sector. “   And further  –  “ Engagement with policy makers and companies provides investors with key pieces of information and could be the impetus for governments and companies to be more proactive in climate change mitigation or adaptation. “