Labour unions, pension funds and divestment: resolutions from Alberta, Ontario conventions and a U.S. report from Stand.earth

Labour Confronts the Climate Crisis” appeared in the November issue of Our Times magazine, written by James Hutt of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). He highlights the notable speakers from the November convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, but states that the main discussion at the convention focused on if and how unions can fight climate change through divestment, ethical investing, and active involvement in their pension fund management.

From the article :  

“  Many speakers underlined that divestment may have limited financial impact but can be very effective as a political tool. Democratic institutions, in particular unions, can use it to make a powerful statement and undermine the social legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry…

…. speakers concluded that there are a number of important actions unions should take regarding their pension funds, including demanding transparency and input into how funds are being invested. Unions can also advocate for investing in community-led renewable initiatives, and they can help these initiatives scale up.

The final panel recognized that while pensions do have a role to play, ultimately our true power lies elsewhere. As workers and unions engaged in the climate fight, it’s clear that we must go beyond pension-board tables and the confines of capital markets.”

At its annual convention held in early December, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE)  passed three environmental resolutions, announced and summarized in a press release (Dec. 4).  These included calls for 1.  just transition for workers,  2. a green new deal that includes providing union jobs through an expanded public sector,  modernizes public infrastructure , recognizes Indigenous rights and treaties; and builds a just society, and 3. a  call for the  Alberta Investment Management Corp.  (AIMCo) to “quantify the climate risks of its investments and adopt a path to net zero” in the pension funds it manages.  Response from AIMCo is presented in an article in Benefits Canada , which notes that AUPE members have a seat on the AIMCo sponsors’ Board through their membership in the Local Authorities Pension Plan.   

AUPE members are right to be concerned with the performance of AIMCo – as described in the report published on December 15 by the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta. Can AIMCo be Fixed?  traces the controversial moves by the UCP government to take control of public sector pensions, as well as AIMCo’s risky volatility trading strategy (VOLTS), which led to a $2 billion loss in 2020.  The authors at Parkland conclude that “A thorough rethink of AIMCo’s board of directors and ownership structure is required in light of the troubling actions by the UCP government, AIMCo’s poor performance as an investment manager in recent years, and the serious structural weaknesses of AIMCo”.  The report makes five policy recommendations for change, none of which relate to its management of climate risks, but focus on the ownership and governance structure, including: Eliminate the Crown’s sole ownership of AIMCo and “Implement a new ownership structure with the government holding a minority position to prevent governments using AIMCo funds for their own political purposes”.

The Parkland report is the latest of several which have condemned the Alberta pension manager for its bias to oil and gas investments, described in a previous WCR article when it invested in the Coastal GasLink pipeline in 2020, and in the 2019 report from Progress Alberta, Alberta’s Failed Oil and Gas Bailout .

From the U.S., a new report released by Stand.earth and the Climate Safe Pensions Network argues for the importance of divestment.  The Quiet Culprit: Pension Funds Bankrolling the Climate Crisis  details the fossil fuel exposure of 14 public pension funds, revealing that  $81.6 billion is invested in coal, oil, and gas. The report notes, for example, that nine of the fourteen funds  have invested over $281 million in TC Energy, the company behind the controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline violating Indigenous rights in Wet’suwet’en land. The pension funds also have over $3.24 billion invested in big tar sands miners Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus, ConocoPhillips, Exxon and Suncor.  The conclusion?  “With over $46 trillion in assets worldwide, pension funds are among the largest institutional investors in fossil fuels. These investments have dangerously underperformed the rest of the market, making public pensions’ fossil fuels investments inherently risky….The fastest way for pensions to address climate change is to divest fossil fuel holdings and invest in just and equitable climate solutions.”

Activism is working to move pension funds away from stranded fossil assets

 “Canadian pensions are retiring fossil fuel investments” (Corporate Knights magazine, November 9) strikes a hopeful note about the state of Canada’s pension funds, stating:  “Canadian pension portfolio exposures to fossil fuel stocks are down to a 10th of what they were 10 years ago, notwithstanding some controversial private equity investments.”   The article summarizes analysis from the Canadian Pensions Dashboard for Responsible Investing, a new project of The Natural Step Canada, Smart Prosperity Institute, and Corporate Knights.  That full report is a unique overview of sustainability performance, and employs measures such carbon footprint of the portfolio, presence of net-zero targets, the pay link to Environmental Standards (ESG), support for shareholder environmental resolutions, and more.

Another related Corporate Knights article describes youth-driven campaigns which have challenged pension plans to acknowledge and adjust to climate risk.  “How young people are using climate litigation to fight for their future” focuses on youth activism targeting pension funds. It describes a years-long challenge to the Retail Employees Superannuation Trust (REST)  in Australia, which ultimately ended in the pension fund settling a lawsuit out of court by acknowledging that “climate change is a material, direct and current financial risk” that could “lead to catastrophic economic and social consequences.”  The fund also agreed to be more proactive and “ensure that investment managers take active steps to consider, measure and manage financial risks posed by climate change and other relevant ESG risks.”  A second example describes the current activist campaign calling for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) to phase out all current fossil fuel investments by 2025 and completely decarbonize its portfolio by 2030. Retired teachers and high school students have mobilized in Toronto, under the leadership of Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health (Shift), which is organizing similar campaigns at the ten largest Canadian pension funds.  In September 2021, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board announced  “industry-leading targets to reduce portfolio carbon emissions intensity by 45% by 2025 and two-thirds (67%) by 2030, compared to its 2019 baseline. These emission reduction targets cover all the Fund’s real assets, private natural resources, equity and corporate credit holdings across public and private markets, including external managers.”    The WCR has more detail here .

Relevant to all pension management: new research published in Nature Energy   and summarized in The Guardian with this headline:  “Half world’s fossil fuel assets could become worthless by 2036 in net zero transition” .

Canadian Pension fund managers pledge climate action; Unions can push for more

In the run-up to COP26, and on the same day that Canada’s Big Six Banks joined the United Nations Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), Canadian institutional investors and some of its pension fund managers also hit the news, by releasing a new Canadian Investor Statement on Climate Change. Coordinated by the Responsible Investment Association (RIA), the statement signed on October 25 states: “We recognize that a transition to a net-zero economy will involve a major transformation of sectors and industries. We encourage all companies and stakeholders to facilitate a just transition that does not leave workers or communities behind. We also recognize that the financing required for transition activities and climate solutions presents an investment opportunity….. We further recognize that Indigenous Peoples have managed collective wealth for millennia – including lands, waters, and …..We support a transition to a net-zero economy informed by Indigenous perspectives, that supports Indigenous economic opportunities, and encourages business practices that align with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”

The Statement sets out specific expectations for investees which include just transition, and pledges five actions for the investment community, such as integrating climate-related risks and opportunities into the investment processes and developing a climate action plan to achieve net-zero by 2050.  Further, the 36 signatories pledge to “ Ensure that any climate-related policy advocacy we undertake supports a just transition and the ambition of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, and engage with our industry associations to encourage climate advocacy efforts that are consistent with these goals.”  

Pension funds which have signed on to the Statement  (so far) include:  British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, British Columbia Municipal Pension Board of Trustees, British Columbia Public Service Pension Board of Trustees, Canada Post Corporation Pension Plan, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Ontario Pension Board, Pension Plan of The United Church of Canada, University of Toronto Asset Management (UTAM), and the University Pension Plan.   

 “Only Labor Can Force Canadian Pension Funds to Divest From Oil “ (Jacobin, October 19)  puts this lofty new institutional Statement in perspective, as it takes a more critical look at one of the leading pension fund managers, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and its September announcement that it would quit all oil production investments at the end of 2022.  After also highlighting examples of the fossil and mineral exploration investments of some of Canada’s major pension funds, the article concludes: “ ‘Financial sustainability’ — despite the Caisse’s announcement — will continue to take precedence over climate justice.” 

Thus, the main point of the Jacobin article is to urge unions to take action:

 “….the unions who represent the beneficiaries of these pension funds can fight to make sure that the deferred wages of workers are used for the common good. In many cases, unions appoint trustees to boards of investment funds. If the labor movement chose to organize around these issues, it would be a game changer. …. Public sector funds are subject to legislation and can be reformed through political action. Although they’ve been carefully designed to be free of democratic accountability, they are not immune to external pressure. Sustained organizing by unions and their members can lead to greater amounts of worker control over the use to which these large sums of money are put.”

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).

Ontario Teachers Pension Plan sets target to reduce 45% carbon emission intensity in their portfolio by 2025

The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board announced on September 16  “industry-leading targets to reduce portfolio carbon emissions intensity by 45% by 2025 and two-thirds (67%) by 2030, compared to its 2019 baseline. These emission reduction targets cover all the Fund’s real assets, private natural resources, equity and corporate credit holdings across public and private markets, including external managers.”  The press release continues: “By significantly growing our portfolio of green investments and working collaboratively with our portfolio companies to transform their businesses, we can make a positive impact by encouraging an inclusive transition that benefits our people, communities and portfolio companies.”    Reaction by  pension advocacy group Shift Action acknowledges that this is  “the strongest climate commitment we’ve seen yet from a Canadian pension plan”, but called for OTPP to explain how it will eliminate its fossil fuel investments. The ShiftAction Backgrounder which accompanies the press release challenges the OTPP’s own estimate that approximately 3% of their assets ($6.6billion) are held in oil and gas assets, and compiles a list of company names and the extent of OTPP investments, including recent investments in 2020 and 2021.

If all of this sounds familiar, it may be because the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan released a Net Zero Emissions Commitment  in January 2021, which was criticized as greenwashing in  Breaking down Ontario Teachers’ 2050 net-zero emissions promise (The National Observer , Feb. 4). The article  stated: “…If OTPP is serious about adopting a globally significant climate-safe investment strategy, it needs a plan to exclude all new oil, gas and coal investments; a timeline for phasing out existing fossil fuel holdings; a commitment to decarbonize its portfolio by 2030; ambitious new targets for increasing investments in profitable climate solutions; and a requirement for owned companies to refrain from lobbying activities that undermine ambitious climate policy, set corporate timelines for reducing emissions, and link executive compensation to measurable climate goals.”  It seems OTPP is moving in the right direction, but ever so slowly – similar to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), as explained in  An Insecure Future: Canada’s biggest public pensions are still banking on fossil fuels   released by the Corporate Mapping Project in mid-August .

Canada’s public pensions at risk of stranded assets, as fund managers increase fossil investments

An Insecure Future: Canada’s biggest public pensions are still banking on fossil fuels  was released by the Corporate Mapping Project in mid-August . It examines the investments of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) over a five-year period from 2016 to 2020 – the two together manage $862.7 billion, which fund the pensions of over 26 million Canadians. The report finds that, despite public declarations and climate strategies, CPPIB increased the number of shares in oil and gas companies by 7.7 per cent between  2016 and 2020.  The CDPQ in 2017 pledged to increase its low-carbon investments by 50 per cent by 2020, but the authors calculate there was only a 14% drop in fossil fuel investments between 2016 and 2020, and also note that overall, the CDPQ holds over 52 per cent more fossil fuel shares than the CPPIB. The paper also highlights the funds’ investments in individual fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil ; TC Energy ; Enbridge; the world’s highest-producing coal companies, and in companies that are members of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.  The numbers are startling,  and demonstrate a high potential for stranded assets which will threaten Canadians’ pension security.

The authors propose a number of policy changes, including a call for Canadian public pension fund trustees/investment boards to “ Immediately design a plan to phase out fossil fuel investment in alignment with targets set by the Paris Agreement to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius” and re-invest in renewables.  Recommendations for  the federal government include :  “mandate a clear timeline for public pensions to withdraw from all fossil fuel investments. Define reinvestment criteria that support a just and equitable transition to a renewable-based energy system” .

The report is summarized in “For climate’s sake, Canada Pension Plan needs to take a serious look at its investments”  (National Observer, September 7th),  which also summarizes the “oily” corporate connections of the decision-makers of the CPPIB, and highlights the current election promises related to financial regulation of our pension funds.

U.K. guide to pension fund divestment includes a role for unions

Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet:  An analysis of local government investments in coal, oil and gas was released in February by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland.

The report details the extent of fossil fuel investment by local governments in the U.K., and their progress in divestment. However, of broader interest, it summarizes the financial status of the declining fossil fuel industry, explains the process which lead to stranded assets, and describes the financial dangers for all pension funds in quite understandable terms:  “pension funds exposed to the fossil fuel system in the coming decade will face a rollercoaster ride of disruption, write-downs, financial instability and share price deratings as markets adjust.”  In an explanation very relevant to Canadians, whose own Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board still clings to the “staying invested and ‘engaging’” approach –    the report uses the example of investing in Blockbuster videos vs. Netflix, to debunk the “engagement” approach: “The argument for ‘engagement’ tends to be one made by asset owners who employ investment managers who won’t or can’t accept that there is a technology-driven transition occurring. …. this approach of ‘we’ll decarbonise when markets decide to decarbonise’ is clearly not a risk management strategy. It is a ‘do nothing, and hope a few meetings will help’ strategy.”   

Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet offers practical steps for local councillors, community members, and labour unionists.  For unions, it points to the leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which passed a climate action motion in 2017 which included support for divestment, based on a motion by their constituent unions representing food workers, communication workers, fire brigades, train drivers, and other transport workers.  Unison, the primary union representing U.K.  government workers, also passed a strong divestment motion in 2017 – meaningful because in the U.K., union members in government workplaces are usually entitled to some form of representation on their pension fund committee and board. The report urges union members to become knowledgeable about financial issues and to speak up in committee meetings – advocating for divestment and re-investment in lower-carbon, socially just funds which benefit their local communities and economies, especially after Covid.  The report cites inspiring examples, such as investment in wind farms by Manchester and London Councils, the U.K.’s first community-owned solar power cooperative by Lancashire County Council, and social housing in the Forth Valley and in London Councils.

An earlier guide for unions was Our Pensions, Our Communities, Our Planet: How to reinvest our pensions for our good? published by the Trade Union Group within Campaign against Climate Change.  The 6-page, action-oriented fact sheet lacks all the up-to-date statistical detail in Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet but makes many of the same arguments for divestment, and includes links to U.K. resources, as well as a model motion for local unions.

Canadian university pension funds unite for low carbon goals, and public sector pension funds across the country act on sustainability

With the goal to leverage their collective financial clout, Canadian university endowment funds and pension plans launched the University Network for Investor Engagement (UNIE) on February 18.  Working through SHARE, Canada’s leading not-for-profit in responsible investment services,  “The UNIE initiative will focus on key sectors where advocacy can make the biggest difference, including finance, transportation, energy and utilities, and manufacturing, focusing both on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy.”  Initial participants include Carleton University, Concordia University, McGill University, McMaster University, Mount Alison University, Université de Montreal, University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto Asset Management, University of Victoria, and York University.

This development  follows on a number of statements and initiatives by Canadian pension administrators – most of which reflect this general strategy to prefer  engagement as shareholders over divestment from fossil fuel holdings. Some examples:

In November 2020, the CEOs of Canada’s eight major pension administrators, with approximately $1.6 trillion in assets under management, issued a press release announcing their joint position statement, Companies and investors must put sustainability and inclusive growth at the centre of economic recovery.  The text  calls on companies to provide consistent and complete environmental, social, and governance (ESG) information, and continues: “For our part, we continue to strengthen our own ESG disclosure and integration practices, and allocate capital to investments best placed to deliver long-term sustainable value creation.”  The signatories included: AIMCo, BCI, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, CPP Investments, HOOPP, OMERS, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and PSP Investments.

Why are Ontario pensioners investing in future Alberta stranded assets?” (in Corporate Knights, December 16, 2020)  describes investment by OP Trust (which holds the pension funds of Ontario civil servants, teachers and healthcare workers) in a natural gas electricity-generation plant in Alberta.  The authors summarize the growing global realization that fossil fuel investments are financially risky and conclude, “The people at OPTrust have begun to recognize this. They’ve created multiple reports, with pretty graphs and rosy statements about supporting the Paris Agreement. But this statement rings out: “Emission reduction targets are not today’s objective.” Like many other organizations, they are unwilling to walk the talk.”

Similarly, a Net Zero Emissions Commitment  released by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan on January 21 has been criticized as possible greenwashing.   An article in The National Observer,  “Breaking down Ontario Teachers’ 2050 net-zero emissions promise” (Feb. 4)  states: “With no clear definition for what net-zero means or how it will alter investment decisions, the commitment runs the risk of becoming a cynical example of greenwashing……If OTPP is serious about adopting a globally significant climate-safe investment strategy, it needs a plan to exclude all new oil, gas and coal investments; a timeline for phasing out existing fossil fuel holdings; a commitment to decarbonize its portfolio by 2030; ambitious new targets for increasing investments in profitable climate solutions; and a requirement for owned companies to refrain from lobbying activities that undermine ambitious climate policy, set corporate timelines for reducing emissions, and link executive compensation to measurable climate goals.”   These goals reflect the position of the authors, who are members of ShiftAction for Pension wealth and Planet Health, which outlines the same demands in their  Open Letter campaign for teachers . (In the FAQ statement accompanying the Net Zero statement, the OTPP states:  “We favour engagement over divestment, since selling our stakes simply passes on the problem and causes us to lose our ability to influence for positive change.” )

On February 19, the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI), which manages pensions for B.C. public sector workers, announced  that it “will target a cumulative $5 billion investment in sustainability bonds by 2025 …. and reduce the carbon exposure in its global public equities portfolio by 30 per cent by 2025”  from 2019.  BCI was a  founding signatory to the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) in 2006, has supported the TCFD recommendations, and issued its own Climate Action Plan in 2018. The Energy Mix summarized the B.C. developments in this February 22 article .

Alberta public sector pensions lose more control over pension savings  

A joint press conference by union leaders protested the January 4 2021 Ministerial Orders which build on Bill 22 in 2019 by further weakening the  decision-making powers of the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund . From the unions’ press release: “….. not only will AIMCo be the monopoly provider of investment management services, they will also be able to ignore the wishes of the pension plans when it comes to decisions about how the retirement savings of workers and retirees should be invested……We think Jason Kenney’s end game is to use the retirement savings of hundreds of thousands of Albertan to prop up oil and gas ventures in the province that are having an increasingly difficult time raising money from global investors and international markets …. To be clear: we are not opposed to all oil and gas investments. What we ARE opposed to is a system in which the government gives itself the power to invest other people’s money in risky ventures without their permission.”  The Alberta Teachers Association is preparing a legal challenge to the Ministerial Order, according to a CBC report.  The back story is described in  “Alberta’s United Conservative Party Has Seized Control of Its Public-Sector Pension Funds”  (Jacobin, Feb. 2), an interview with Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund Board Chair Greg Meeker .

Climate Risk consultations by Canadian pension fund regulator

On January 11, 2011, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions     (OSFI), Canada’s regulator of banks and pension plans,  announced a three-month consultation on the climate change risks to financial stability, based on a discussion paper, Navigating Uncertainty in Climate Change: Promoting Preparedness and Resilience to Climate-Related Risks.

Landmark New York State divestment will begin with Canadian oil sands investments

The New York State Comptroller’s office announced on December 9 that it will begin a systematic review of the holdings of the New York State Common Retirement Fund in early 2021, with the ultimate goal to achieve decarbonization of all investments by 2040. The New York State Common Retirement Fund is the third largest pension fund in the U.S., valued at $226 billion, and provides retirement benefits for 1.1 million state and municipal workers.

The review will examine all investment holdings over a period of four years, beginning with what are judged the riskiest – oil sands investments such as Imperial Oil, Canadian Natural Resources, Husky Energy, Suncor Energy, and Cenovus Energy –  followed by companies in oil and gas, fracking, oil services and pipelines.   Details of the companies to be reviewed are in a Backgrounder by Divest NY; details are also provided in the press release from the Comptroller’s Office.  As described in  “New York State Just Set a New Standard for Fossil Fuel Divestment”  in Gizmodo:  “With the state of New York and New York City now ready to divest, it puts enormous pressure on polluting companies. As the beating heart of capital, the city and state’s pension funds—which together total around $500 billion—no longer going to fossil fuels sends a huge signal to Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry. But it also turns up the heat on other institutional investors, notably California’s pension funds, which are the largest in the nation, to catch up.”

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and divestment leader, wrote an Opinion piece in the New York TimesYou should have listened, New York Tells Big Oil” . McKibben characterizes this divestment decision as a victory in an 8-year battle, and the latest development in the declining economic and political power of Big Oil.

Canada Pension Plan continues to risk Canadians’ retirement savings – this time, fracking investments in Colorado

The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board continues to display a hypocritical disregard for its own sustainability principles, as reported in  “CPPIB’s fracking operation in U.S. raises questions” in the Toronto Globe and Mail on September 27. The Globe and Mail describes the fracking activities and political donations of Crestone Peak Resources, a company 95% owned by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and formed out of the ashes of Encana. The article reports that Crestone spent more than US$600,000 to support pro-business candidates who opposed tougher regulation of fracking in the 2018 Colorado state elections. Friends of the Earth Canada were involved in the Globe and Mail investigation and has posted unique information here .

The Energy Mix also published “’Canadians Don’t Want This: Fracking Company Owned By Canada Pension Plan Spent $600,000 To Influence Colorado State Elections” (September 30).The article quotes  Professor Cynthia Williams, Osler Chair in Business Law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, who states:  “It’s a “perfectly correct statement of corporate law” to say that CPP and Crestone are separate companies”, …. But it’s “an imperfectly correct answer to the ethical questions about CPPIB using its heft, based on the involuntary monetary contributions of millions of citizens and other people working in Canada, to try to shape politics to support its oil and gas investments, in Colorado, even as the Government of Canada has committed to working to transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Professor Williams  is the author of  Troubling Incrementalism: Canadian Pension Plan Fund and the Transition to a Low-carbon Economy , published in September by the Canada Climate Law Initiative.  The report discusses CPPIB investments in fossil fuels in the last six years in detail, including fracking companies in Ohio and the Crestone company in Colorado, as well as oil sands expansion in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The report concludes by calling on CPP Investments to fundamentally re-evaluate its role, stating:

“Our view is that CPP Investments should be, and could be, making a substantial contribution to Canada’s future economy by supporting new technologies, new companies, and the just transition to a low-carbon economy. We argue that doing so would be more consistent with its statutory mandate to manage the assets of the CPP Fund in the best interests of the twenty million Canadian contributors and beneficiaries than is its current approach. It would also be more consistent with its common-law fiduciary duties, which require intergenerational equity.”

What can Canadians do to move their pension funds away from fossil fuels?

Friends of the Earth Canada offers an online letter to Heather Munroe-Blum (Chair, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board) and Mark Machin (CEO), with five recommendations arising from the Crestone investigation. FOE is also conducting open informational meetings about the CPP investments throughout Canada in October.

Shift Action  is a project of Tides Canada which advocates for environmentally-responsible pension management.  Their press release (Sept. 29) cites the Crestone investment, highlights the nearly $12 billion invested in Chinese coal mines and other fossil fuel companies (double its clean energy investments),  and warns: “The CPP is betting Canadian retirement savings against the unstoppable transition to a clean energy economy, and fueling the global climate crisis in the process.”  In an interview published in The Energy Mix , Shift Action’s Executive Director, Adam Scott urges Canadians:  “One of the best ways to have an impact in this crisis is to make sure the funds that are invested on your behalf are invested in solutions to climate change, not in the problem. There’s a tool on our website that makes it easy for all Canadians to send a note to their pension funds asking what they’re doing on climate risk and how they’re investing.”   Shift Action published a detailed guide to engagement in June 2019, Canada’s Pension Funds and Climate Risk: A Baseline For Engagement . It concludes with tips which include:  “Each of Canada’s major pension plans has a different structure for governance and accountability. Beneficiaries should understand this structure and have a clear sense of their pension plan’s sponsors and governance model. Beneficiaries should engage with all relevant points of contact, for example a union pension representative or a government appointed pension trustee.”

And finally, for pension fund trustees, the Canada Climate Law Initiative  flagship initiative is the Canadian Climate Governance Experts program, which offers “pro bono sessions on effective corporate governance to address climate-related financial risks and opportunities to corporate boards of directors and Canadian pension fund boards.”

 

 

Ontario Teachers’ pension fund invests in Abu Dhabi oil pipelines

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP), has outdone the May decision of AimCo in Alberta to invest in the Coastal GasLink pipeline,  with its announcement on June 23d that it is part of a consortium which has invested $10.1 billion  in a  gas pipeline network under development by the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.  Details appear in the Globe and Mail    and Energy Mix on June 23.  The consortium partners are Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management, New York-based Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), and investors from Singapore, South Korea, and Italy.  The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan  is quoted by the Globe and Mail, stating: “This strategic transaction is attractive to Ontario Teachers’ as it provides us with a stake in a high-quality infrastructure asset with stable long-term cash flows, which will help us deliver on our pension promise.”

Advocacy group Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health responded with a scathing statement , which says:

“Investments like the OTPP’s in fossil fuel infrastructure are betting the hard-earned retirement savings of thousands of Ontario teachers against the long-term safety of our climate… Ensuring the growth of pensions in the long-term requires ending investments that lock-in fossil fuels and redeploying massive pools of finance into climate solutions like renewable energy and clean technology.”

Shift also links to a 25-page Toolkit for OTPP members on the risks of fossil fuel investment of their pension funds. (May 2020).   The OTPP Statement on Responsible Investing for 2019 is here.

Alberta Pension fund invests in Coastal GasLink pipeline, the latest risky fossil fuel investment

Carbon Tracker, the group which originated the term “stranded assets, published two new reports about the financial risks of fossil fuel investment in June:  It’s Closing Time: The Huge Bill to Abandon Oilfields Comes Early  and Decline and Fall: The Size & Vulnerability of the Fossil Fuel System on June 4 .  Banking giant Goldman Sachs also released a new report, Carbonomics: The Future of Energy in the age of climate change , which sees a fundamental shift from fossils to renewable energy investments.

Yet even as the drumbeat of fossil fuel decline continues, the public sector pension funds of Alberta and South Korea purchased a majority ownership stake in the Coastal GasLink pipeline from TC Energy on May 25,  using  the  retirement savings of millions of individuals.  “Alberta and South Korea’s pensions just bought the Coastal GasLink pipeline: 8 things you need to know” in The Narwhal (June 10) analyses the situation and cites a report from Progress Alberta :  Alberta’s Failed Oil and Gas Bailout , with this subtitle provided: “How AIMCO invested more than a billion dollars of pensioners and Albertans money into risky oil and gas companies with more than $3 billion in environmental liabilities and how the people running those companies got rich through huge salaries, share buybacks, dividends and conservative political connections.” Besides exposing the political shadows and environmental liabilities of many AimCo energy investments, the report makes recommendations, including for a public review of the investment performance and governance of Aimco; to divest from risky fossil fuel investments; to allow pension plans whose funds are being managed by AIMCo to appoint representatives to its board ; and to allow pension funds the freedom to leave AIMCo.

The recommended reforms are necessary because of the changes made by the Kenney government in November 2019,  described by WCR here and by Alberta unions in:  Union leaders tell UCP: ‘The money saved by Albertans for retirement belongs to them, not to you!’    Alberta’s Failed Oil and Gas Bailout   report urges: “The mismanagement of pensions and the Heritage Fund today offers opportunities for unions, political parties, civil society groups and organizers to engage and activate people who otherwise might never get involved in political collective action. People’s retirements and Alberta’s savings fund from its fossil fuel wealth are at stake.”

Answering Mark Carney: What are the climate plans for Canada’s banks and pension funds?

On December 18, the Bank of England was widely reported  to have unveiled a new “stress test” for the financial risks of climate change. That stress test is a proposal contained in an official BoE Discussion Paper,  2021 biennial exploratory scenario (BES) on the financial risks from climate change , open for stakeholder comments until March 2020.  Mark Carney, outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, has led the BoE to a leadership position on this issue in the financial community and will continue  in his new role as United Nations special envoy on climate action and climate finance in 2020.  In a December BBC interview reviewing his legacy, he warned the world yet again about stranded assets and asked: “A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer: what’s your plan?”

What are the climate plans for Canada’s pension funds ?

shift action pension report 2019In their June 2019 report, Canada’s Pension Funds and Climate Risk: A Baseline For Engagement  , ShiftAction concludes: “Canadian pension funds are already investing in climate solutions, but at levels that are far too low relative to the potential for profitable growth, consistent with levels required to solve this challenge.” The report provides an overview, and importantly, offers tips on how to engage with and influence pension fund managers.

Since then…..

The sustainability performance of  the  Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) continues to be unimpressive, as documented in  Fossil Futures: The Canada Pension Plan’s failure to respect the 1.5-degree Celsius limitreleased in November ccpaFossilfuture2019 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis-B.C. (CCPA-BC).  According to the CPPIB Annual Report for 2019, (June 2019) the CPPIB is aiming for full adoption of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures recommendations by the end of fiscal 2021 (page 28).

Canada’s second largest pension fund, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), announced in November that CEO Michael Sabia will retire in February 2020 and move to the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. The press release credits Sabia with leading the Caisse to a position of global leadership on climate change, beginning in 2017 with the launch of an investment strategy which aims to increase low-carbon assets and reduce the carbon intensity of investment holdings by 25%. In 2019, the Caisse announced that its portfolio would be carbon-neutral by 2050.   Ivanhoé Cambridge ,the real estate subsidiary of the Caisse de dépôt, has a stated goal to increase low-carbon investments by 50% by the year 2020 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the year 2025. In December 2019, Ivanhoé Cambridge announced that it had issued a $300 million  unsecured green bond to finance green initiatives – the first real estate corporation in Canada to do so. Shawn McCarthy reviewed Sabia’s legacy in “Canada’s second largest pension fund gets deadly serious about climate crisis”, in Corporate Knights in December.

AIMCo, the Alberta Investment Management Corporation is a Crown Corporation of the Government of Alberta, with management responsibility for the public sector pensions funds in Alberta, along with other investments. In November 2019, the Alberta government passed Bill 22, which unilaterally transfers pension assets from provincial worker plans to the control of AIMCo (see a CBC summary here ). The Alberta Federation of Labour and the province’s large unions protested in a joint statement, “Union leaders tell UCP: ‘The money saved by Albertans for retirement belongs to them, not to you!’” (Nov. 20) . The unions state: “we’re worried that what you’re attempting to do is use other people’s money to create a huge slush fund to finance an agenda that has not yet been articulated to the public – and which most people would not feel comfortable using their life savings to support.” And in December 2019, those worries seem to come true as AIMCo announced  its participation in a consortium to buy a 65% equity interest in the controversial LNG Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project from TC Energy Corporation. Rabble.ca reported on the demonstrations at AIMCo’s Toronto offices regarding the Coastal Gas project in January .

On January 8, the Toronto Star published  “Toronto asks pension provider: How green are our investments?” – revealing that the city has asked for more details from the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement fund (OMERS). OMERS, with assets of over $100 billion, manages the pension savings of a variety of Ontario public employees, including City of Toronto and Toronto Police, Fire, and Paramedics. On January 8, OMERS announced the latest consolidation of Toronto pension plans with its consolidation of the Metropolitan Toronto Pension. Its Sustainable Investment Policy statement is here .

What are the climate plans for Canada’s private Banks?  

The 10th annual edition of Banking on Climate Change: the Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card was released in October 2019 by Banktrac, Rainforest Alliance Network and others . It states that $1.9 trillion has been invested in fossil fuels by the world’s private banks since the Paris Agreement, led by JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America. Canadian banks also rank high in the world: RBC (5th), TD (8th), Scotiabank ( 9th), and Bank of Montreal (15th).  Also in October, the World Resources Institute green-targets2published Unpacking Green Targets: A Framework for Interpreting Private Sector Banks’ Sustainable Finance Commitments , which includes Canadian banks in its global analysis and provides guidance on how to understand banks’ public documents.  “How Are Banks Doing on Sustainable Finance Commitments? Not Good Enough”  is the WRI blog which summarizes the findings.

Since then….

On September 14, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce announced the release of their first climate-related disclosure report aligned with the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. Building a Sustainable Future highlights the CIBC’s governance, strategy, and risk management approach to climate related issues. It provides specific metrics and targets, especially for its own operational footprint, but also a commitment: “to a $150 billion environmental and sustainable finance goal over 10 years (2018-2027).”

Scotiabank also announced climate-related changes in November, including “that it would “mobilize $100 billion by 2025 to support the transition to a lower-carbon and more resilient economy”; ensure robust climate-related governance and reporting; enhance integration of climate risk assessments in lending, financing and investing activities; deploy innovative solutions to decarbonize operations; and establish a Climate Change Centre of Excellence “to provide our employees with the tools and knowledge to empower them to act in support of our climate commitments. This includes training and education, promoting internal collaboration, and knowledge and information sharing.”  Their 4-page statement on climate commitment  is here. Their  2018 Sustainable Business Report (latest available) includes detailed metrics and description of the bank’s own operations, including that they use an Internal Carbon Price of CAD$15/tonne CO2, to be reviewed every two years.

RBC, ranked Canada’s worst fossil-fueling bank in the 2019 edition of Banking on Climate Change , released a 1-page statement of their Commitment to Sustainable Finance (April 2019)  and an undated Climate Blueprint  with a target of $100 billion in sustainable financing by 2025.  However, in their new research report,  Navigating the 2020’s: How Canada can thrive in a decade of change , the bank characterizes the coming decade as “Greener, Greyer, Smarter, Slower”, but offers little hope of a change in direction. For example, the report states “ Canada’s natural gas exports can also play a role in reducing emissions intensity abroad. LNG shipments to emerging economies in Asia, where energy demand is growing much faster than in Canada, can help replace coal in electricity production, just as natural gas is doing here in Canada. …As climate concerns mount, Canada’s challenge will be to better sell ourselves as a responsible, cleaner energy producer.”

Moral failure and financial risk at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board

Mark Carney will leave his role as Governor of the Bank of England in January 2020 and return to live in Canada as he takes up his new job as the United Nations’ special envoy on climate action and climate finance.  According to the BBC,  “Mr Carney will be tasked with mobilising private finance to take climate action and help transition to a net-zero carbon economy for the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Glasgow in November 2020. This will include building new frameworks for financial reporting and risk management, as well as making climate change a key priority in private financial decision making.”

fossil futures ccpaRequired reading on the topic:  Fossil Futures: The Canada Pension Plan’s failure to respect the 1.5-degree Celsius limit, released on November 19 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis-B.C. (CCPA-BC).   The report reveals new evidence in the long-standing criticism of the management of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), which manages the fund on which all Canadians rely when they retire.  Fossil Futures’ major finding is that the CPPIB is failing to consider the Paris agreement target of 1.5 degrees C., stating:  “Within its public equities portfolio, it has over $4 billion invested in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel reserve holders (oil, gas and coal). To stay within 1.5 degrees, these companies can extract only 71.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, yet the companies the CPPIB is invested in have 281 billion tonnes in reserve, meaning they have almost four times the carbon reserves that can be sold and ultimately burned to stay within 1.5 degrees. Since reserves are factored into current company valuations, this means the CPPIB has invested billions of dollars in companies whose financial worth depends on overshooting their carbon budget.”  This aspect of the report was highlighted in an article in The Narwhal .

Fossil Futures also considers why the CPPIB has lagged the rest of the world in climate responsibility, stating that “the board of directors and staff are entangled with the oil and gas industry. For example, one of the CPPIB’s managing directors of energy and resources sits on the board of nine oil and gas companies.”  And as for its traditional position that it has not divested from fossil fuel companies so that it can influence their direction on environmental issues, Fossil Futures concludes: “The CPPIB’s attempts to draw on proxy voting as a central tool to address climate in its portfolio appears ineffective at best, but at worst may misinform beneficiaries expecting a more stringent and meaningful climate strategy.”

Fossil Futures makes recommendations for both the CPPIB and the Canadian government:

  • The CPPIB should: 1. Carry out a portfolio-wide risk analysis in the context of the climate emergency and disclose all findings to pension members. 2. Divest and reinvest. The surest way to address the financial and ethical risks associated with investment in the fossil fuel industry is to start the process of divestment. This means freezing any new fossil fuel investment, developing a plan to first remove highrisk companies from portfolios such as coal, oil sands and fracked gas producers, and finally, moving toward sector-wide divestment and reinvestment of capital into renewable energy sources. 3. Advocate for strong climate policy. Scientific and economic experts predict that climate change beyond 1.5 degrees will result in widespread political, social and economic decline, with the attendant impacts on pension returns. While pension plans are incapable of preventing such changes on their own, managers of these plans can become strong advocates for climate policy that is in alignment with their intergenerational fiduciary duty.

 

  • The Canadian government should: 1. Require full public disclosure of climate risk—including disclosure of all fossil fuel holdings—for all pension funds. California recently passed a law requiring that its major public pensions disclose climate risk. The Canadian government should do the same with the CPPIB. 2. Provide regulatory clarity to ensure that executing fiduciary duty means avoiding shortterm economic gains that imperil long-term climatic security for Canadians and the global community. 3. Revise the CPPIB’s “investment-only” mandate so that social and ecological values are better represented in investment decisions. It is unclear that securing retirement income by investing in tobacco companies, weapons manufacturers, private prisons and the fossil fuel companies responsible for the climate emergency is aligned with the interests of current or future beneficiaries.

 

Is+your+pension+part+of+the+solution+-+Shift+graphicAction item:   Tides Canada campaign has launched a new campaign, called Shift your Pension, for individuals who are concerned about their pensions – both the financial health and the impact on the climate crisis.  It allows you to send your own message to the CPPIB as well as provincially-managed public sector pension funds.

Alberta government proposes to snatch away joint governance of public sector workers’ pension funds

The UCP government in Alberta has made the unilateral decision to consolidate Alberta public sector pensions under the control of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, a crown corporation administered by the provincial government . According to an article in the Calgary Herald,  “Unions blast provincial decision to shift billions in public sector pension funds” : “(The) government intends to reverse the option of public sector pension plans leaving AIMCo as a fund manager. Moreover, the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund, Workers’ Compensation Board and Alberta Health Services will be expected to transfer funds to AIMCo for management, reducing redundant administration.” More details appeared  in  “Government contemplates changes to management of more than 400,000 Alberta workers’ pension plans” in the Edmonton Journal (Nov. 1) which summarizes the opposition  by the Alberta public sector unions on the grounds that the decision reverses a recent change that gave more than 351,000 public sector employees joint control of their pension funds, through  a joint governance model that had been authorized by 2018 legislation and which only took effect in March 2019.  The Edmonton Journal article also states that police and firefighter pensions might also be included in the government plans.  “Alberta’s public unions prep for a fight, whether in the streets or the courts” is a broader overview from CBC Calgary which discusses the pension consolidation, as well as the wage cuts and workforce reduction included in Bill 21 of the new budget under the new UCP government.

ccpa-bc_fossilpensions_june2018-thumbnail (1)The attempt to shift Alberta workers’ pension funds brings to mind the 2018 report, Canada’s Fossil-Fuelled Pensions: The Case of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation by the Corporate Mapping Project.  The report found that  despite its statements that it was a climate responsible investor, BCI had actually increased its  fossil fuel investments – for example, by boosting investment from $36.7 million in 2016 to $65.3 million in 2017  in Kinder Morgan, owner of the Trans-Mountain pipeline.  And although the new publication by the Corporate Mapping Project,  Big Oil’s Political Reach: Mapping fossil fuel lobbying from Harper to Trudeau, examines the power of the fossil fuel industry at the federal level, some might argue that its influence could also extend to Alberta’s pension management decisions.

 

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board shifting toward renewables; new study shows fossil fuel investments lose value

Canadian workers can hope that climate change awareness is finally dawning  at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), responsible for the financial health of the Canadian public pension system. On November 4, a CPPIB press release announced that the Board entered into a purchase agreement with Pattern Energy Group Inc. ; the Globe and Mail describes the deal in  “CPPIB bets on renewable energy with $2.63-billion purchase of wind-farm operator Pattern Energy” . cppib 2019 report This would demonstrate a big leap for the CPPIB, which reported in its  2019 Report on Sustainable Investing, released on November 6,  “CPPIB’s investments in global renewable energy companies more than doubled to $3 billion in the year to June 30, 2019. This is up from just $30 million in 2016.”  The annual Report includes other details, including a description of the new climate change investing framework, launched in April 2019.   Bloomberg News video channel  (Nov. 5) offers an interview with the CEO  of CPPIB discussing the CPPIB climate risk strategy, and providing the good news that the CPPIB will not participate in the expected blockbuster fossil fuel public offering by  Saudi Aramco.

Changes to public sector pensions in Alberta

One hopes that the Alberta government may also invest in that province’s growing renewable energy industries, as it has made the unilateral decision to consolidate Alberta public sector pensions under the control of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, a crown corporation administered by the provincial government . According to an article in the Calgary Herald,  “Unions blast provincial decision to shift billions in public sector pension funds” : “(The) government intends to reverse the option of public sector pension plans leaving AIMCo as a fund manager. Moreover, the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund, Workers’ Compensation Board and Alberta Health Services will be expected to transfer funds to AIMCo for management, reducing redundant administration.” More details appeared  in  “Government contemplates changes to management of more than 400,000 Alberta workers’ pension plans” in the Edmonton Journal (Nov. 1) which summarizes the opposition  by the Alberta public sector unions on the grounds that the decision reverses a recent change that gave more than 351,000 public sector employees joint control of their pension funds  – a joint governance model that had been authorized by 2018 legislation under the previous NDP government, and which only took effect in March 2019.  The Edmonton Journal article also states that police and firefighter pensions might also be included in their plans.  “Alberta’s public unions prep for a fight, whether in the streets or the courts” is a broader overview from CBC Calgary which discusses the pension consolidation, as well as the wage cuts and workforce reduction included in Bill 21 of the new budget under the new UCP government.

The dangers of investing pension funds to prop up the Alberta fossil fuel industry are indicated by a recent study of three major state public pension funds in California and Colorado (CalSTRS, CalPERS and PERA) . “Study Shows Pension Funds’ Refusal to Divest From Fossil Fuels Cost Retired Teachers, Firefighters, and Public Workers $19 Billion”  appeared in  Common Dreams  on November 5,  summarizing a study by Canadian publisher Corporate Knights.  Their analysis concluded that those three pension funds collectively lost over $19 billion in retirement savings for teachers, state troopers and public workers by continuing to invest in fossil fuels.  The full reports are not available yet on the Corporate Knights website, but are on Google Drive here .  A response by 350.org  also summarizes the study,  calls fossil fuel investments  “a Losing Strategy for Retirement Savings  — and the Planet” and asks “Why would any fund manager continue to invest in fossil fuels? Risky, harmful to our planet and shared future, and less profitable than many other investment opportunities, fossil fuel investments are a lose-lose choice.”

 

Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance recommends incentives to green pensions, RRSP’s

Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance released its final report on June 14,  Mobilizing Finance for Sustainable Growth . The report makes fifteen recommendations,  stating “…. climate change opportunity and risk management need to become business-as-usual in financial services, and embedded in everyday business decisions, products and services.”  Although the Panel’s main focus was on institutional investments, they also made recommendations which would help individuals to make greener personal investments.

Tiff Macklem, Chair of the Expert Panel,  summarizes and simplifies the message of the Panel Report in “Climate change should be part of regular savings and investment decisions” in The Conversation  on July 3.  Concerning individual actions,  he states:  “To accelerate climate-conscious investment, we … recommend actively engaging Canadians in the climate opportunity and making their stake in fighting climate change more tangible…To engage them, we recommend the federal government create an incentive for Canadians to invest in accredited climate-conscious products. Specifically, we recommend that the Minister of Finance create additional space in RRSPs and defined contribution pension plans for these investments and offer a “super deduction” — in other words, a taxable income deduction greater than 100 per cent —on eligible investments.”   This proposal was further explained in “Expert panel on sustainable finance recommends super tax deduction to incentivize green savings” in Benefits Canada magazine.

Other recommendations in the final Report include:  Establish a standing Canadian Sustainable Finance Action Council (SFAC), with a cross-departmental secretariat, to advise and assist the federal government in implementing the Panel’s recommendations;  Establish the Canadian Centre for Climate Information and Analytics as an authoritative source of climate information and decision analysis;  Define and pursue a Canadian approach to implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). Although the recommendations include goals for private financing of the building retrofit market and clean tech industry, they also include a call to support Canada’s oil and natural gas industry “in building a low-emissions, globally competitive future.”

 

FTQ shareholder resolution calls for GHG targets aligned with the Paris Agreement; corporations respond with a charge of “micromanagement”

As part of its stated Action Plan for Engaging in a Just Energy Transition , the Fonds de Solidarité des Travailleurs du Québec  (FTQ) (an investment fund controlled by Quebec trade unions) put forward the following shareholder’s resolution  at the Cenovus Energy Annual Meeting in Calgary in April.  (The text of the resolution appears on page 51, as Appendix A in the company’s Information Circular):

Resolved: That Cenovus Energy Inc. (“Cenovus”) set and publish science-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets that are aligned with the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. These targets should cover the direct and indirect methane and other GHG emissions of Cenovus’ operations over medium and long-term time horizons. Such targets should be quantitative, subject to regular review, and progress against such targets should be reported to shareholders on an annual basis.

The Board’s written response and recommendation  states “…..Cenovus has always and will continue to assess our approach to climate change risk management with a view to maximizing shareholder value. ….Achieving the level of commitment contemplated by the Paris Agreement requires an integrated plan at a national and global level, with policies to guide the actions of governments, individuals and corporations to collectively work together toward the desired outcome. Our view is that it is an overly demanding request, and contrary to the best interests of shareholder value, to require an individual company to unilaterally set targets….   As such, we recommend voting against the proposal.”  And sure enough, as expected, the FTQ proposal was defeated by an  89% vote against. The news is summarized  and in The Energy Mix  and  by the CBC  .

The  Fonds de Solidarité des Travailleurs du Québec (FTQ), along with the Canadian shareholders’ non-profit  SHARE, was also part of the recent resolution to Exxon . That resolution, filed in the U.S.  by a group of investors led by the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the Church Commissioners for England, proposed that the company develop “short-, medium- and long-term greenhouse gas targets aligned with the goals established by the Paris Climate Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.”  In response,  ExxonMobil   applied for and received permission from the  U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), allowing it to exclude the resolution from its Proxy Circular.  In retaliation, SHARE states in a blog, Why we’ll vote against Exxon’s entire board of directors, that it is “recommending to our proxy voting clients that they withhold their support for all Exxon directors at the upcoming annual general meeting on May 29th.”

The “Micromanaging” argument:  “Investors Worried About Climate Change Run Into New SEC Roadblocks” from Inside Climate News (May 3), in addition to providing a good overview of shareholder actions, explains: “The term “micromanage” has become the linchpin to objections by companies seeking to block these resolutions. The precedent was set last year when the SEC agreed with EOG Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas exploration company, that a resolution asking the company to adopt emissions goals had sought to “micromanage” the company.”  More in  “Exxon Shareholders want action on climate change: SEC calls it micromanagement”  in the Washington Post (May 8). According to the CBC report about the FTQ resolution at  Cenovus, the corporate CEO called the proposal “overly demanding”, and said  “we had challenges with the prescriptive nature of the proposal”,  echoing the industry’s language and strategy.

To stay up to date: The U.S. non-profit As you Sow  monitors corporate environmental and social responsibility, including climate change and the energy transition  – through  press releases  , reports, and an up-to-date database of resolutions .

Canadian banks still investing in yesterday’s economy – fossil fuels

offshore oil rigBanking on Climate Change – Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2019 , the 10th annual report by BankTrack and a coalition of advocacy groups, has been expanded to include coal and gas investors, as well as oil, as it ranks and exposes the  investment practices of 33 of the world’s largest banks. The newly-released report for this year reveals that $1.9 trillion has been invested in these fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement, with the four biggest investors  all U.S. banks – JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America. But Canadian banks rank high: RBC ranks fifth, TD ranks 8th, Scotiabank ranks 9th, and Bank of Montreal ranks 15th.  Among those investing in tar sands oil : “five of the top six tar sands bankers between 2016 and 2018 are Canadian, with RBC and TD by far the two worst.”

In addition to the investment tallies, the report  analyzes the banks’ performance on human rights, particularly Indigenous rights, as it relates to the impacts of specific fossil fuel projects, and climate change in general.  The report also describes key themes, such as tar sands investment, Arctic oil, and fracking.

In response to the Banking on Climate Change report, SumofUs has mounted an online petition It’s time for TD, RBC and Scotiabank stop funding climate chaos.    An Opinion piece in The Tyee,  “How Citizens can stop the big five ” calls for a citizens strike on Canadian banks – particularly by young people and future mortgage investors, and points out the alternatives: credit unions, non-bank mortgage brokers, and ethical investment funds, (such as Genus Capital of Vancouver ).  But while individual Canadians can make ethical choices, that doesn’t seem to be the path of our public pension plan, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which manages $356.1 billion of our savings.  On March 19, Reuters reported that the CPPIB  will invest $1.34 billion to obtain a 35% share in  a $3.8 billion joint venture with U.S. energy firm Williams to finance gas pipeline assets in the Marcellus and Utica shale basins.

Investment attitudes are shifting away from fossils:  The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund continues to lead the way: In March, it announced it would divest almost $8 billion in investments in 134 companies that explore for oil and gas; in April, it  announced it will  invest in renewable energy projects that are not listed on stock markets – a huge marekt and a significant signal to the investment community, as described in   “Historic breakthrough’: Norway’s giant oil fund dives into renewables” in The Guardian (April 5) .

In Canada, with the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance   scheduled to report shortly, the Bank of Canada announced on March 27 that it has joined the  Central Banks’ and Supervisors’ Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), an international body established in December 2017 to promote best practices in climate risk management for the financial sector.  (This is despite the fact that Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz discussed the vulnerabilities and risks in Canada’s financial system in his year-end progress report in December  2018   – without ever mentioning climate change. )  In the U.S., on March 25, the head of the  Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released Climate Change and the Federal Reserve  , which states: “In this century, three key forces are transforming the economy: a demographic shift toward an older population, rapid advances in technology, and climate change.”  A discussion of both these developments appears in “Bank of Canada commits to probing climate liabilities” in The National Observer (March 27) .

And if we needed more proof that coal is a dying industry:  The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis released Over 100 Global Financial Institutions Are Exiting Coal, With More to Come  in February, drawing on the ongoing and growing  list of banks which have stopped investing in new coal development, as maintained by BankTrack.   The detailed IEEFA report states that “34 coal divestment/restriction policy announcements have been made by globally significant financial institutions since the start of 2018. In the first nine weeks of 2019, there have been five new announcements of banks and insurers divesting from coal. Global capital is fleeing the thermal coal sector.”  Proof: global mining giant Glencore announced on February 20 that it would cap its coal production at current levels in  “Furthering Our Commitment to the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy. “

New report calls on B.C. Pension Fund management to divest from fossil fuels, reinvest in renewables

ccpa-bc_fossilpensions_june2018-thumbnailThe British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI) is the fourth largest pension fund manager in Canada,  and controls capital of $135.5 billion, including the pension funds of the province’s public employees.  A June report asks the question: is BCI investing funds in ways that support the shift to a two degree C global warming limit?  The answer is “no”, and in fact, fossil fuel investments have been increasing, according to the authors of  Canada’s Fossil-Fuelled Pensions: The Case of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation   . For example, BCI boosted its investment in Kinder Morgan, owner of the Trans-Mountain pipeline, to $65.3 million in 2017 from $36.7 million in 2016.

An article in the Victoria B.C. Times Colonist newspaper  summarizes the study and includes reaction from one of  the authors, James Rowe, an associate professor at University of Victoria.  Rowe  states: “BCI claims to be a responsible investor. …But we find some hypocrisy in that we don’t find any good signs they are investing with climate change in mind.”  The article also quotes an email from BCI,  which defends the investment in Kinder Morgan, as “a passive investment held inside funds designed to track Canadian and global markets.”  Further, it states, “BCI does invest in oil and gas companies, but that particular sector accounts for a significant portion of the Canadian economy. It’s about 20 per cent of the composite index on the Toronto Stock Exchange.”  For more from BCI,  see their website which  provides their  2017 Responsible Investing Annual Report , as well as a Responsible Investing Newsletter, with the most recent issue (Oct. 2017) devoted to “Transparency and Disclosure”.

Canada’s Fossil-Fuelled Pensions: The Case of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation   makes the following recommendations so that  BCI can align its investments with the 2°C limit:

  1. “A portfolio-wide climate change risk analysis to determine the impact of fossil fuels on BCI’s public equity investments in the context of the 2°C limit. And, subsequent disclosure of all findings to pension members.
  2. Divestment. The surest way to address the financial and moral risks associated with investing in the fossil fuel industry is to start the process of divestment: freezing any new investment and developing a plan to first remove high-risk companies from portfolios, particularly coal and oil sands producers, and then moving toward sector-wide divestment.
  3. Reinvest divested funds in more sustainable stocks. The International Energy Agency estimates that trillions of dollars of investment are needed in the renewables sector to support the transition away from fossil fuels.”

The report is part of the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP), jointly led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Parkland Institute. CMP is  a research and public engagement initiative investigating power dynamics within the fossil fuel industry.