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.

Unions supporting Pension Plan Divestment with practical guides

In Spring 2018,  the Labor Network for Sustainability and DivestInvest Network  jointly released a new guide: Should your union’s pension fund divest from fossil fuels? A guide for trade unionists  .  The guide begins with an introduction to union pension plans in the U.S., including how they are governed, and the legal and administrative safeguards designed to protect members’ money.  It also recounts the role of union pension fund divestment in the South African struggle against Apartheid, describes the current global campaign for divestment from fossil fuels, and how and why unions are participating in that movement. The final section of the guide provides practical guidelines for union divestment campaigns.

Inspiration and a practical example of such a campaign can be found in the article “How New York City Won Divestment from Fossil Fuels”.  The article, originally posted in Portside, is written by by Nancy Romer, a member of the Environmental Justice Working Group of the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York and an activist in the divestment campaign which led to the January 2018 decision by New York City to divest $5 billion of its pension funds (and to sue ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips).

The Guide and Nancy Romer’s article are available at a new Divest/Invest Hub on the LNS website, with plans for more campaign case studies and sample resolutions to be added.   Guides with similar aims have been  produced in the U.K.:  for public sector unions:  Local Government Pension Funds – Divest From Carbon Campaign: A UNISON Guide  (January 2018) ; in  2017, Friends of the Earth-U.K. published  Briefing: Local government pensions: Fossil fuel divestment  and Friends of the Earth- Scotland published  Divest Reinvest: Scottish Council Pensions for a Future worth living in .  The Public and Commercial Services Union published  Divest to Reinvest in 2016.