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.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board lags international financial community on recognition of climate change risks and stranded assets

In what the WWF has called   “a landmark moment for responsible investment in Europe” , the European Parliament voted in November 2016  to mandate that all workplace pension administrators must consider climate risk and risks “related to the depreciation of assets” -stranded assets-  in investment decisions.  It also requires greater transparency about investment policies. Individual governments of the EU now have two years to pass into national law this updated version of the  existing Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision (IORP) Directive. Currently, the directive would affect occupational pension plans affected covering approximately 20% of the EU workforce, mostly in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany .  A September 2016 Briefing Note from the European Parliament  details the administrative/political evolution of the Directive; a December  article from Corporate Knights  or  Go Fossil Free or Reuters  provide summaries.

In December 14, 2016, the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure, chaired by Michael Bloomberg,  released its report and recommendations  to the Financial Stability Board, a G-20 organization chaired by Mark Carney. An article by the two men appeared in The Guardian, capturing the gist of the work:  “We believe that financial disclosure is essential to a market-based solution to climate change. …. A properly functioning market will price in the risks associated with climate change and reward firms that mitigate them. As its impact becomes more commonplace and public policy responses more active, climate change has become a material risk that isn’t properly disclosed.” The Task Force calls for companies to make voluntary disclosure of climate risks to their business,  to help  investors, lenders and insurance underwriters to manage material climate risks, and ultimately to make the global economic and financial systems more stable.   A 60-day public consultation period began with release of the report; an updated report, incorporating that input,  will be released in June 2017.  The Task Force report was summarized in   “Climate disclosure framework creates a better environment for investors” in the  Globe and Mail Bloomberg News also reported on another recommendation, “Carney Panel Urges CEO Compensation Link With Climate Risk ” , stating that the time has come for organizations to provide detailed reporting of how manager and board member pay is tied to climate risks.  (See a Dec. 1 Reuters article about Royal Dutch Shell’s moves to link CEO bonuses to GHG reduction).

In Canada, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which administers the assets of the national public pension fund, seems to be standing on the sidelines.  A recent article in the Globe and Mail was written by the director of the CPPIB Sustainable Investment department , which is described in  more detail in their 2016 Report on Sustainable Investing . The report states (page 11)   “ CPPIB has established a cross-departmental Climate Change Working Group to consider how physical risks, as well as technological, regulatory and market developments will impact climate change-related risks, and create opportunities, in the future. …. This review, which will take some time, is being done from a long-term perspective in light of how the gradual transition to a lower-carbon global economy might unfold….  On the topic of divestment and climate change, research has shown that investors with longer horizons tend to be more engaged with the companies that they invest in, and CPPIB is a case in point. As responsible owners, we believe that in many cases selling our shares to investors who might be less active in terms of considering material risks, including climate change, would be counterproductive.”   In light of this very slow approach, Friends of the Earth (FOE) has been frustrated in its divestment campaign for the CPPIB in 2016 ;  FOE maintains a petition website, Pensions for a Green Future, which calls for the CPPIB to, among other things,  “report immediately to its 19 million members on the carbon footprint and exposure to climate solutions of our CPP investment portfolio” and “to replace climate polluting investments with those in green energy, technologies and infrastructure that support Canada’s commitment to act to avoid 1.5°C of warming.” The CPPIB discloses the companies it is invested in here  .

In contrast to the CPPIB, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ),  the second largest pension fund manager is Canada,  is highlighted in a new report by the World Economic Forum  as “ one of the most important institutional investors in wind power” for its investment of  close to $2.5 billion (US) in both onshore and offshore wind projects in Europe and North America, starting in 2013 with a tentative investment in the Invenergy , and now including the London Array wind farm in the outer Thames estuary.  The Caisse statements on environmental and social responsibility are here ; it is a signatory to the U.N.  Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), a member of the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Carbon Water Disclosure Project, and endorses the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative , which monitors the oil and gas industry .