Investors need to work with their investee companies and policy makers to enable a low-carbon transition.
As some of you will have read in the Financial Times, CCLA has been building an “Aiming for A” coalition. This includes some of our fellow mutuals in the UK fund management industry and influential UK asset owners, including the £100bn Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) and the largest members of the £12bn Church Investors Group. In a nutshell, we’ll be asking 10 major UK-listed utilities and extractives companies to aim for inclusion in the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP’s) Carbon Performance Leadership Index (CPLI). This will probably involve filing supportive shareholder resolutions for AGMs occurring after September 2013.
The underlying methodology for CDP’s disclosure scores and performance bands was developed with advice from their global advisor, PwC. Over time it is anticipated that sectoral methodologies will also be developed. In their 2011 Global 500 Report CDP stated that their Carbon Performance Bands aim to reflect “the ambition and success of a company’s short and long-term actions to mitigate climate change”.
There are several reasons why asset owners and mutuals like CCLA have come together to support companies in their efforts to improve their response to the anticipated low-carbon transition and ultimately reach the CPLI. These range from systemic risk management and our collective fiduciary duty to engage in transformational change, through to amplifying long-term investor voices and involving ultimate beneficiaries. I can still remember where I was when the kernel of “Aiming for A” popped into my head.
In the rest of this article I’ve outlined some of the conversations and RI conundrums that probably led to that moment of insight as I walked through Clerkenwell from CDP’s offices back to the heart of the City of London.
Firstly, thanks to Mercer and Carbon Tracker’s seminal 2011 work, horizon-scanning investors are aware of the risks of public policy uncertainty and stranded assets to their portfolios. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has also warned policy makers that “the door to reach two degrees is about to close. In 2017 it will be closed forever”. Major energy technology transitions, like that envisaged by the IEA, are rarely smooth. Rapid bumpier ones tend to pose more risks to investors, because it’s hard to build a portfolio that is resilient to draconian policy action that is introduced quickly. The macro prudential risks are building. These could come home to roost sooner than we think. For example, if a major climate-related incident seriously disrupts a major economy this decade, politicians could move rapidly from debate to action.
Secondly, this is, of course, a collective action problem. How long should investors wait for someone else to lead? Shouldn’t we find the courage to help co-lead the economic transformation required? In July I joined a small meeting with two of the economists at the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics (my own alma mater). We were discussing the wicked nature (in a Charles West Churchman sense!) of climate change (including the near term costs and the much
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