Corporate Climate Risk Disclosure needed to protect Pensions

To protect pensions, companies should be required to come clean on climate risk” writes Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada in an Opinion piece in the National Observer on November 27.  Stewart reports that Greenpeace Canada has filed a formal request under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, for the Ontario government to review the need for mandatory disclosure of climate-related risks in corporations’ financial filings. The government’s response is expected by the end of 2017.  This is the latest of recent and ongoing calls for increased corporate disclosure of the risks posed by climate change,  to protect investors and financial stability.  The issue has even made it to the conservative Report on Business of the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper, in  “Business risk from climate change now top of mind for Canada’s corporate boards” (November 22)  . The article warns that Canada’s  stock markets are  particularly vulnerable to a potential “carbon bubble” in the valuations of fossil-fuel-dependent companies, given that the Toronto Stock Exchange is so heavily weighted with energy and mining companies (20 per cent for that category, as compared with only 2 per cent for clean technology and renewable-energy companies).  And that’s not the worst:  on the TSX Venture Exchange, mining and oil and gas companies account for 68 per cent of the index.  (Such a resource sector dependency was part of the reasoning given by the Norweigian Wealth Fund for its proposal to divest oil and gas investments (Nov. 16)).

Another related Globe and Mail article provides an excuse for the current state of climate risk disclosure in Canada in  “Companies Looking to Report Environmental Data Also Navigate Inconsistent Frameworks” (Nov. 22) . The article states that “There is a dizzying number of best-practice guidelines for climate disclosures” and lists the major ones – with information drawn largely from the Carrots & Sticks database . In fact, Carrots & Sticks lists  nine sustainability reporting instruments unique to Canada, in addition to widely-recognized international ones such as the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) Reporting Framework  and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises  .  (Carrots & Sticks  is an initiative begun in 2006 by KPMG International, Stichting Global Reporting Initiative, UNEP, and the Centre for Corporate Governance in Africa, with the goal of encouraging and harmonizing financial disclosure guidelines.)

Most recently, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, led by Marc Carney and Michael Bloomberg, released their  landmark Final Report and Recommendations in 2016. The following Canadian pension funds have, at least on paper, supported it:  Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, OPTrust, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.  The Canadian Securities Administrators  launched a Climate Change Disclosure Review  in March 2017 to investigate and consult re Canadian practice, which will issue a report “upon completion of its review”.

And across the globe in Australia, the  Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), the  regulator of the financial industry, has  also announced an industry-wide review of climate-related disclosure practices.  On November 29, an Executive Board member of the APRA delivered a speech, “The weight of money: A business case for climate risk resilience” , in which he outlines the Australian perspective on climate-related financial risks, and states:  “So while the debate continues about the physical risks, the transition to a low carbon economy is underway, and that means the so-called transition risks are unavoidable: changes to market sentiment, new financial or environmental regulations, or the emergence of new technologies with the potential to prompt a reassessment of the value of a large range of assets, and consequently the value of capital and investments.”  The speech is summarized in The Guardian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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. “

LiUNA’s Canadian Pension Fund invests in clean energy

The Labourers International Union of North America (LiUNA) , under the leadership of Terry Sullivan in the U.S., is known for its support of  the recent Trump-government decisions to proceed with the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone Pipeline .   Taking a greener position, on February 6, the pension fund of LiUNA in Canada committed to provide $200-million in investment funding for NRStor, a Canadian energy storage company, which among other projects, plans to market the Tesla Powerwall in Canada. See the NStor press release   or a Globe and Mail article (Feb. 6) which quotes LiUNA international vice-president  Joe Mancinelli:  “We believe energy storage is a key enabler of our future energy system, and welcome the opportunity to invest capital into low-carbon assets on behalf of our pension fund.” The LiUNA Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada  is a multi-employer fund with $5.7-billion in assets under management.