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?”

 

 

Trade unions in the U.K. actively engaged in climate change policy, advocating for environmental representatives

Trade Unions in the UK: Engagement with climate change is a new report, based on research conducted between September 2016 and January 2017 by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group . The report asks:  what are the driving forces behind trade union engagement in climate change issues, and what are some of the barriers and difficulties for trade unions?  It summarizes the results of interviews with policy officers and environmental activists from the largest 15 unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), as well as two smaller but active unions: Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). The report is also based on the results of systematic searches of the unions’ websites and relevant policy documents (with links to key documents).  It reveals an overview of the diversity and context of trade union climate policy, focusing on issues such as environmental representatives, energy supply, airport expansion, fracking and divestment from fossil fuels. The report summarizes the positions on these issues, union by union, but for those who want even more detail, there is a supplementary inventory .

This first-ever report was released in August 2017, and since then, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment and the TUC adopted an historic motion for public ownership of energy at its September Congress.  Also at the Fringe Meeting of the September Congress, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group presented its discussion paper  ‘Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate‘. And most recently, the U.K. government at long last released its Clean Growth Strategy, to limited union approval.

 

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. “

Canada Pension Plan: improved benefits, but still exposed to fossil fuel risk

Welcome as it is that the federal government announced improvements in the Canada Pension Plan on October 4, it would be even more welcome to know that the CPP Invesment Board (CPPIB)  was not risking our future pensions by remaining invested in the  fossil fuel industry.  Friends of the Earth  Canada has launched a new campaign, Time to Climate Risk-proof the CPP,  which reveals that approximately 22% of the Canadian portfolio is invested in  fossil fuel producers or pipeline companies, including coal.  The Friends of the Earth campaign includes an online site called Pension Power , enabling ordinary Canadians to query their pension fund managers.  It also calls on the CPPIB to sign onto the Montreal Pledge, and  the Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition (PDC), two United Nations Environmental Program initiatives that encourage institutional investors to decarbonize their portfolios and disclose risky assets.  Anything less ignores the now-apparent decline of the fossil fuel industry and the shift to a low carbon world,  and thus fails the fiduciary responsibility of institutional investors – to protect assets against risk.

Canada’s Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) has published studies on the need for responsible investment;  Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Suncor Energy and NEI Investments published Unburnable Carbon and Stranded Assets : What investors need to know   in January 2015, and  Canada’s Marc Carney,  in his high profile role as Governor of the Bank of England and Chair of the international Financial Stability Board,  has been a world leader in warning about the dangers of stranded assets since 2015 .  How can the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have missed the message that other Canadians are so well aware of?

Further reading:   For an overview of the international literature, see Divestment and Stranded Assets in the Low-carbon Transition from the OECD (Oct. 2015)  or more recently: Unconventional Risks: The Growing Uncertainty of Oil Investments in July 2016;  Shorting the Climate ( from the Rainforest Alliance Network, BankTrack, Sierra Club and Oil Change International);  “New York City Pension Funds begin to craft a Fossil Fuel Divestment Path others can Follow”  (July 2016),  and  “Fiduciary responsibility and climate change”    in Corporate Knights (Aug. 30).