FINAL PART OF A THREE-PART SERIES
Rapid and accelerating change is everywhere – including the investment world. Over the last decade, there has been a steady growth in impact investing, yet it has remained a relatively niche area. As of today that may still be the case, but it is unlikely to be so for long.
Anyone who has not gone cold turkey on the news for the sake of their mental health in the last year will know that, finally, the climate emergency is garnering the attention it demands.
Just to recap, in that short time we have had:
• The IPCC Report identifying that global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees, if we continue to emit carbon at current rates, by 2030
• The UK government legislating to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and the report of the UK Climate Change Committee demonstrating how that might be achieved
• National and local governments, businesses and organisations declaring climate emergencies across the globe
• The Bank of England publishing an open letter on climate-related financial risks stating that, “If some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist”
• Extinction Rebellion protests and school strikes across the globe demonstrating the scale of public concern around the issue
• Pension trustees being required soon to produce a Statement of Investment Principles which sets out financially materiaconsiderations (specifically including climate change) over the appropriate time horizons of the investments
• Hot topics for businesses including ‘Effective Climate Governance on Corporate Boards’ and ‘Managing Transition Risk’
• The PRA issuing a Supervisory Statement for banks and insurers on managing the financial risks of climate change
• A coalition of charitable foundations approaching the Charity Commission and Attorney General to seek a ruling on trustees’ investment duties in the context of climate change specifically and more broadly in relation to the societal impact of investments by public benefit organisations.
That is a lot happening and is by no means all of it. For the most part, it is not activists, or the left, coming out with this stuff either. This is the political, financial and business worlds beginning to face up to the situation we are in – and doing so because climate is a political risk, a financial risk and a business risk, as identified as long ago as 2006 by Lord Stern and by many since from Carbon Tracker and CDP through to the 34 central banks and supervisors comprising the Network for Greening the Financial System. It is essential to understand though this is not an issue for the compliance or risk teams to manage in isolation. It must inform attitudes, behaviours and practices across the industry.
For the most part, it is not activists, or the left, coming out with this stuff either. This is the political, financial and business worlds beginning to face up to the situation we are in.
To comply with the Paris Agreement aspiration of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, fossil fuels have to be left in the ground, while failure to achieve 1.5 degrees will lead to circumstances which will have significant detrimental impact on the value of whole markets and economies. Either way, fossil fuels are no longer a sound long-term investment.
The question becomes not if but when to divest, and given the precipitous fall in value when that happens at scale, that is a huge financial risk (regardless of the other consequences of continuing to invest). The ‘fail to exist’ threat voiced by Mark Carney is a real one. In other words, not responding appropriately will not only mean negative social impact, it means negative financial impact too. You cannot disaggregate the social and the financial.