Analysis: Money before climate; market downturn spurs ESG fund exodus

Link: https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/money-before-climate-market-downturn-spurs-esg-fund-exodus-2022-11-11/

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Excerpt:

Funds adhering to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) principles have been hit by unprecedented outflows in the market downturn, as investors prioritize capital preservation over goals such as tackling climate change.

ESG, a classification applied to fund assets currently worth an estimated $6.5 trillion, is being tested by a drop in market values fuelled by concerns that central banks hiking interest rates to fight rampant inflation will trigger an economic recession.

Investors souring on ESG funds could pose a challenge to governments seeking to enlist them in the fight against climate change. Policymakers at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt are trying this week to secure more financing from the private sector to help lower carbon emissions.

Data from research service Refinitiv Lipper shows that funds of equities, debt and other asset types dedicated to responsible investing posted net outflows globally of $108 billion this year to the end of September, the first time investors withdrew money from them over such a long period since Refinitiv started tracking them in late 2017.

Author(s): Isla Bennie, Ross Kerber

Publication Date: 11 Nov 2022

Publication Site: Reuters

Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund to Reorientate Portfolio to Fully Offset Fossil Fuel Investments

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/chicago-teachers-pension-fund-to-reorientate-portfolio-to-fully-offset-fossil-fuel-investments/

Excerpt:

The Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund trustees in October voted to engage with fossil fuel companies to encourage them towards clean renewable energy sources and investing in viable clean and renewable energy sources to offset the fund’s fossil fuel investments. The fund plans to achieve this goal by the end of 2027.

In a statement shared to Chief Investment Officer, the fund’s CIO Fernando Vinzons wrote, “the fund will approach divestiture from a multi-pronged approach, engaging with current companies to encourage them toward a path of clean renewable energy sources, while working toward the longer-term goal of divesting from publicly traded fossil fuel holdings and investing. Divestment does not attract consensus among institutional investors. Many public pension funds are engaging with companies that produce fossil fuels, some are divesting those companies, and some, as the case with state funds from the state of such as Louisiana, are allocating away from managers perceived to be harming the domestic energy sector by endorsing programs like the Net Zero campaign.

According to a press release from the Chicago Teachers’ pension fund, Carlton W. Lenoir, Sr., executive director at CTPF, commented on the vote saying, “as fiduciaries, our trustees must invest consistent with our mission to protect and enhance the present and future economic well-being of members, pensioners, and beneficiaries, and we are confident that this action fulfills that responsibility.”

Author(s): Dusty Hagedorn

Publication Date: 7 Nov 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Republicans ride ESG backlash to state financial offices

Link: https://rollcall.com/2022/11/17/republicans-ride-esg-backlash-to-state-financial-offices/

Excerpt:

Republicans picked up state financial officer positions during the midterm elections amid a campaign against environmental, social and governance investing.

Five positions — in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada and Wisconsin — flipped from Democratic to Republican in races for state auditor, controller or treasurer. Of the 50 directly elected positions, Republicans won 29 and Democrats won 19, according to an analysis from Ballotpedia. Two races remain uncalled.

A handful of Republicans’ campaigns for state financial officers focused on ESG, echoing sentiments from GOP officials at statehouses across the country and in Congress who say ESG investing is harming capital markets and domestic energy production and reject the case made by Democrats, major investors and other proponents.

At stake is a suite of legislation and rules that would curb ESG as a material consideration, along with other financial factors, for investors. The proposals include policies for states’ pension funds to divest hundreds of millions of dollars from financial institutions that incorporate ESG — and especially climate — in their investment decisions.

Author(s): Ellen Meyers

Publication Date: 17 Nov 2022

Publication Site: Roll Call

The EU’s Windfall Profits Tax: How “Tax Fairness” Got in the Way of Energy Security

Link: https://taxfoundation.org/windfall-profits-tax-eu-energy-security/

Excerpt:

On 30 September, the Council of the European Union agreed to impose an EU-wide windfall profits tax on fossil fuel companies to fund relief for households and businesses facing high energy prices (due primarily to Putin’s war on Ukraine).

Given the dire economic environment for families and the urgency to transition away from Russian energy, extracting profits from fossil fuel companies to transfer to needy households sounds like killing two birds with one stone. It might even sound fair in a year when oil companies are making record profits because of higher energy prices. 

Unfortunately, it’s not sound policy. If history is any indicator, it will only make these goals harder to achieve.

The tax (or “Solidarity Contribution” in EU-speak) is calculated on taxable profits starting in 2022 and/or 2023, depending on national tax rules, that are above a 20 percent increase of the average yearly taxable profits since 2018. The EU anticipates the policy will raise about €140 billion.

Author(s): Sean Bray

Publication Date: 4 Oct 2022

Publication Site: Tax Foundation

The best climate news you may not have heard about

Link: https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2022/11/the-best-climate-news-you-may-not-have-heard-about/

Excerpt:

A treaty adopted 35 years ago and meant to solve an entirely different problem is also protecting the climate. And with bipartisan support from the Senate and President Joe Biden’s Oct. 26 signature, the U.S. became the world’s 139th nation to adopt a key amendment to that agreement — the first time the U.S. has joined a legally binding global measure specifically to combat climate change.

Global warming was on the back burner in 1985 when scientists from the British Antarctic Survey found a gaping hole in the planet’s stratospheric ozone layer. A natural feature of the atmosphere, the ozone layer is located between about 10 to 25 miles above Earth’s surface. It shields the planet from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, which is harmful in large doses to our skin and to myriad other aspects of plant and animal life.

Researchers rapidly pinned down the cause of the ozone destruction: chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs, which are chemicals used as refrigerants and to manufacture aerosol sprays and other materials. CFCs had been recognized for years as a threat to the ozone layer, but the ozone hole found in the mid-1980s was far worse than anything expected by that point.

By 1987, diplomats had crafted a treaty known as the Montreal Protocol to fix the problem. It was an immense success, ratified by every member state of the United Nations.

There was a major catch, though.

Both CFCs and their leading replacements – hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs – trap heat in the atmosphere, causing global warming.  

….

Enter the Kigali Amendment. 

Adopted at a United Nations meeting held in the Rwanda capital in October 2016, it uses a variety of policy approaches to throttle back on both the production and consumption of HFCs. The amendment has put the world on track to eliminate more than 80% of HFCs by midcentury. 

One reason the Kigali Amendment passed the Senate with bipartisan support (69-27, including 21 of the chamber’s 50 Republicans) is that national action on HFCs along the lines of Kigali was already in gear. The pandemic stimulus bill of late 2020 specified an 85% cut in HFC production by 2030. Many lawmakers, especially those from states with major chemical manufacturing, had recognized that cutting HFCs made sense. For one thing, nations that have not ratified the amendment cannot trade HFCs with those that have. 

Author(s): Bob Henson

Publication Date: 3 Nov 2022

Publication Site: Yale Climate Connections

A Coalition of Republican Attorneys General Targets Banks for Net-Zero Alliance Membership

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/a-coalition-of-republican-attorneys-general-target-banks-for-net-zero-alliance-membership/

Excerpt:

Republicans have seized upon the issues of net-zero and environmental, social and governance investing to call attention to what they claim are negative effects of so-called ‘woke’ orthodoxy on portfolio performance, and harm the U.S. energy industry.

They have also raised the potential for a lapse in fiduciary duty by arguing that allocating towards long-term ESG goals may create short-term underperformance, harming plan beneficiaries.

The attorneys general of 14 states – Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and five more that have joined but can’t be named due to state laws or regulations regarding confidentiality –have sent civil investigative demands to the six U.S. banks the investigation targets

The six banks did not respond to requests for comment.

The coalition argues that the banks’ membership in the Net-Zero Banking Alliance is damaging U.S. energy companies. The CIDs, similar to subpoenas, are legally enforceable requests for information related to state or federal investigations.

Author(s): Dusty Hagedorn

Publication Date: 25 Oct 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Debunking Net Zero, Carbon Offsets, Nature-Based Solutions, Climate Smart Agriculture, Bioeconomy…

Link: https://gpenewsdocs.com/debunking-net-zero-carbon-offsets-nature-based-solutions-climate-smart-agriculture-bioeconomy/

Excerpt:

FRIES: There are ten terms in this glossary: Net Zero, Carbon Offsets, Nature-Based Solutions, Zero Deforestation, Climate Smart Agriculture, Agriculture 4.0 (or the Fourth Industrial Revolution), Regenerative Agriculture, Carbon Farming, Bioeconomy and last but not least Green Finance. This then is what you identify as key greenwashing concepts and false solutions used by food and agribusiness corporations?

KUYEK: Yes. And some of the terms are not just being used by Big Food and Ag alone. There are terms that are being used by corporations from other sectors as well. But they are a big part of the greenwashing that agribusiness is involved in.

…..

NET ZERO

KUYEK: Well, net zero refers to the Paris Agreement, the COP in Paris from several years ago, where countries agreed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. And what that meant was that they would reduce emissions (it was supposed to mean they would reduce emissions) as close to zero as possible. 

And then any remaining emissions would be absorbed from the atmosphere. Now, how much would be remaining and how that would be absorbed is not defined. And certainly at this point, the technologies that are being talked about and stuff is definitely not proven. But there was that. 

And then it was also not discussed that if there are some emissions, well, what are those emissions for? Of course, you’d only want those to be for the most essential services or to fulfill the most basic needs of people. But the corporations have really used that as an open door to come forward with their own idea of net zero.

….

And then as a way to get to that net zero (which they’re claiming that they’ll be able to do), they are relying heavily on offsets. What is called carbon offsets. Meaning that they will invest or they’ll purchase credits of projects or technologies that are able to absorb carbon from the atmosphere

And an increasing amount of these sort of offset projects are based on land and forests. On the idea that if you say protect a forest from being deforested or you plant trees or you even engage in some kinds of agricultural practices that are set to store carbon in the soil, that through that (if a company purchases or pays for that) then they can offset their own emissions. 

So really it becomes just this way for them to continue with business as usual. 

Author(s): LYNN FRIES and DEVLIN KUYEK

Publication Date: 20 Oct 2022

Publication Site: GPE newsdocs

Interest Rate Hikes Will Make Climate Change Worse

Link: https://jacobin.com/2022/10/interest-rates-climate-change-liz-truss-tories

Excerpt:

Raising interest rates won’t just push Britain into a recession and make the cost-of-living crisis worse for working-class people — it will discourage badly needed investments in green energy, undermining the UK’s efforts to address climate change.

….

The theory goes that higher interest rates help bring inflation down by making credit more expensive across the economy and reducing the amount of money firms and families have to spend on goods and services, thereby slowing price increases. But our inflation is predominantly driven by external factors, most notably high gas prices resulting from COVID-19 supply issues and the war in Ukraine. Instead, the bank’s policy is likely to push the UK economy into a recession, without addressing the main underlying causes of rising prices. That also means higher costs of borrowing for the very investments we need to reduce our reliance on costly fossil gas, like wind farms and home insulation.

To compound the problem, higher interest rates discourage investment in clean projects more than dirty ones. Running renewables doesn’t cost much: they rely on free wind and solar energy instead of expensive fossil fuels. But building them in the first place does come with high initial costs, meaning they are particularly impacted by the higher costs of credit. Similarly, insulation and heat pumps need to be paid for up front, before they begin to lower energy bills for households. Demand for improvements like heat pumps is significantly influenced by the availability of cheap loans to cover the initial installation costs.

Author(s): LUKASZ KREBEL

Publication Date: 23 Oct 2022

Publication Site: Jacobin

CalSTRS’ board sets science-based emissions goal for 2030 and commits to additional net zero actions

Link: https://www.calstrs.com/calstrs-board-sets-science-based-emissions-goal-for-2030-and-commits-to-additional-net-zero-actions

Excerpt:

The board set four initial measures for integrating the net zero strategy across the portfolio, with a specific focus on emissions reductions:

  1. Interim science-based goal. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the investment portfolio by 50% by 2030, consistent with the latest findings of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  2. Systematic decision-making process. Adopt processes to incorporate greenhouse gas emissions into investment decisions as part of traditional risk-and-return analyses and their potential impacts on the CalSTRS Funding Plan.
  3. Reduced emissions. Target a 20% allocation of the Public Equity portfolio to a low-carbon index to significantly reduce portfolio emissions while managing active risk.
  4. Integration of climate scenarios. Incorporate future climate-related scenarios into CalSTRS’ asset-liability modeling framework to help guide CalSTRS’ investment allocations.

These actions reflect increasing global momentum toward achieving a net zero economy. CalSTRS will review its net zero goals and strategy annually to adjust for the latest available data, market fluctuations and related scientific advancements.

CalSTRS’ net zero pledge is rooted in its century-long promise to deliver a secure retirement for California’s hard-working educators and their families,” said Board Chair Harry Keiley. “Taking these interim actions to reduce emissions in our portfolio is a profound step forward and underscores our commitment to considering the impacts of climate change fully and systematically as we manage our fund on every level.”

Author(s): Rebecca Forée

Publication Date: 31 August 2022

Publication Site: Calstrs

New York Announces Historic Fossil Fuel Divestment Plan

Link: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/rich-schrader/new-york-announces-historic-fossil-fuel-divestment-plan

Excerpt:

As part of the plan, the Comptroller announced an aggressive schedule of divestment activity over the next four years. This year already, the Common Fund has divested from 22 coal companies. In the next few months, it will divest from companies with tar sands investments. After that, over the next several years, it will divest from these subsectors of the fossil fuel industry:

  • Shale oil and gas firms;
  • Integrated oil/gas majors like Exxon and Chevron as well as smaller integrated companies;
  • All oil/gas exploration and production firms;
  • Fossil fuel service firms, like Schlumberger;
  • And finally, fossil fuel transportation and pipeline companies like Kinder Morgan and Williams.

In addition, the Common Fund is moving forward with two key steps, both supported by the 2018 Decarbonization Panel that was jointly appointed by Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli. First, the Fund will hire new staff trained in financial analysis of climate impacts and dangers. And second, the Common Fund will actively vote against board directors of non-fossil fuel companies that do not prioritize climate concerns in alignment with the Fund’s decarbonization goals.

Author(s): Rich Schrader

Publication Date: 9 Dec 2020

Publication Site: NRDC

So Are ESG Investments Lousy, or Not?

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/in-focus/market-drilldown/so-are-esg-investments-lousy-or-not/?oly_enc_id=2359H8978023B3G

Excerpt:

One criticism of ESG investing is that, when it shows good returns, this might be because of temporary factors that have an outsize impact. Such superior returns are  often driven by climate-news “shocks,” declared Robert Stambaugh, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and two other academics, in a recent paper. The reference is apparently to a spell of severe drought or destructive hurricanes. The professors expressed uncertainty as to whether any future ESG outperformance can be assumed.

Of course, with climate-oriented investing now a partisan issue, a welter of claims and counter-claims has appeared. To pro-ESG folks, science is on their side, hence the opposition is just blowing smoke to confuse people.

Anti-ESG politicians appear to be convincing the public that a “false equivalence” exists between their stance and the sustainability advocates, contended Witold Henisz, director of Wharton’s ESG Initiative, in a recent article in the Knowledge Wharton periodical. He wrote that “ideological opposition [is] cynically seeking a wedge issue for upcoming political campaigns — and, so far, it appears to be working.”

Whatever the outcome of the current debate over ESG-related bans and the like, the climate change question is not going away. Says CalSTRS’s Ailman, “It will be with us for the next 50 years.”

Author(s): Larry Light

Publication Date: 8 Sept 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Insurers Increasingly Withdraw From Fossil Fuel Projects: Climate Activists’ Report

Link: https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2022/10/20/691030.htm?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Excerpt:

Insurance companies that have long said they’ll cover anything, at the right price, are increasingly ruling out fossil fuel projects because of climate change – to cheers from environmental campaigners.

More than a dozen groups that track what policies insurers have on high-emissions activities say the industry is turning its back on oil, gas and coal.

The alliance, Insure Our Future, said Wednesday that 62% of reinsurance companies – which help other insurers spread their risks – have plans to stop covering coal projects, while 38% are now excluding some oil and natural gas projects. (The Insure Our Future report on re/insurers’ fossil fuel activities can be viewed here).

In part, investors are demanding it. But insurers have also begun to make the link between fossil fuel infrastructure, such as mines and pipelines, and the impact that greenhouse gas emissions are having on other parts of their business.

Publication Date: 20 Oct 2022

Publication Site: Insurance Journal