many countries have missed the deadline to submit updated climate action plans by the end of 2020...
UN Emissions Gap report
According to a recent UN publication, Emissions Gap Report 2020, many countries have missed the deadline to submit updated climate action plans by the end of 2020, as mandated by the Paris Agreement. The UN Report cited the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Climate Promise initiative, but highlighted the fact that countries are grappling with the timing of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submissions due to the COVID-19 crisis and political changes in many countries. The NDCs outline the climate actions committed to by nations. These are submitted every five years to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, with 2020 being the first deadline since the 2016 Paris Agreement. However, of the 115 countries supported by the UNDP (out of 197 total Paris signatories), only a handful have submitted revised climate plans, with the majority still to deliver now in 2021.4
Net Zero Asset Managers initiative launched
The Net Zero Asset Managers initiative is a group of international asset managers committed to supporting the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5oC. It does this by supporting investment aligned with net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. The launch group comprises 30 asset managers with over US$9 trillion in assets under management (AUM).5
As part of the initiative, asset manager signatories have committed to:
- Work in partnership with asset owner clients on decarbonisation goals, consistent with an ambition to reach net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner across all assets under management;
- Set an interim target for the proportion of assets to be managed in line with the attainment of net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner; and
- Review their interim target at least every five years, with a view to ratcheting up the proportion of AUM covered until 100% of assets are included.
ShareAction – asset managers and proxy voting
The NGO ShareAction, which focuses on responsible investment, has produced a report analysing the voting decisions of 60 of the world’s largest asset managers on 102 shareholder resolutions on climate change and social issues. Sixty-seven out of 102 resolutions voted on between September 2019 and August 2020 focused on disclosure. These tend to be less controversial as their purpose is usually to provide investors with additional information on companies’ exposure to Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) risks and their plans to mitigate these risks. In general, European asset managers have supported more of these resolutions than US asset managers. Asset managers that are part of Climate Action 100+ have also tended to be more supportive of climate-related resolutions.6
CFA Institute on the future of sustainability in asset management
The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute published a report in December looking at the future of sustainability in the asset management7 industry. It focused particularly on three elements that reflect the move from sustainable investing as merely a good idea to actual reality, and on the implications for all investment portfolios:
- It is additive to investment theory and does not mean a rejection of foundational concepts
- It develops deeper insights about how value will be created, using environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations;
- It considers many stakeholders.
The report looks at the:
- Influences – the accelerating demand for sustainable investing;
- Drivers – how investment organisations are adapting and expanding their business and investment models to meet investor expectations;
- Enablers – how the operating models and personnel of investment organisations will facilitate growth in sustainable investing; and
- Actions – a framework to support the pathway of sustainable investing.
A recent piece of work by the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) demonstrated that 2020 was a significant period for policy development, with over 130 new policies and revisions recorded in its regulation database. The EU led the pack: key regulations such as the EU Taxonomy on mitigation and adaptation and the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) moved forward with limited delays, despite the COVID-19 crisis slowing down regulatory activities.
In Asia, progress on financial policy reforms and net zero goals has built on the existing dialogue on green finance. China announced a climate neutrality goal for 2060 and Japan aims for net zero by 2050. The focus on climate in the region has increased, with Singapore preparing guidelines on environmental risk management, and the Hong Kong’s Securities & Futures Commission (SFC) consulting on new regulation for the management and disclosure of climaterelated risks by fund managers. Stewardship is also gaining momentum in the region, with India’s first stewardship code (which is mandatory for all investment managers in the Indian market) having come into force in July 2020. Japan updated its stewardship code in January, adding sustainability to the stewardship responsibilities of the code’s signatories.
The US, meanwhile, under the leadership of President Trump, moved in the opposite direction. New regulations from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Labor (DoL) (see below) have created headwinds against ESG integration and active ownership.
US DoL amends fiduciary Final Rule
The US Department of Labor (DoL) has published its Final Rule on Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights for Employee Benefit Plans. The origin of the changes can be traced back to an April 2019 executive order from the Trump Administration for a complete review of DoL’s guidance on fiduciary responsibilities for proxy voting. The DoL had expressed concern that ‘some fiduciaries and proxy advisory firms may be acting in ways that unwittingly allow plan assets to be used to support or pursue political agendas’.8
In response, the new rule sets out guidelines around proxy voting and the exercise of shareholder rights. Importantly, however, it stepped away from proposals to oblige investors to calculate the direct economic impact of their shareholding voting strategies, after significant market pushback.
The Final Rules, just published, now state that:
- Proxy voting decisions and other exercises of shareholder rights must be solely in the interest of, and for the exclusive purpose of, providing plan benefits to participants and beneficiaries. They must consider the impact of any costs involved;
- Plan fiduciaries should not subordinate the interests of participants and beneficiaries in their retirement income or financial benefits under the plan to any non-pecuniary objective, or promote non-pecuniary benefits or goals;
- There should be improvement in the fiduciary practices relating to the selection and monitoring of proxy advisory firms.
The Net Zero Asset Managers initiative is a group of international asset managers committed to supporting the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner...
Martin Currie has joined the Council of Institutional Investors (CII). This is a US non-profit association seen as a leading voice for effective corporate governance, strong shareowner rights and sensible financial regulations that foster fair and vibrant capital markets. It focuses on promoting policies that enhance long-term value for US institutional asset owners and their beneficiaries. Members include US public, corporate and union employee benefit funds, other employee benefit plans, state and local entities charged with investing public assets, and foundations and endowments. They have combined assets under management of approximately US$4 trillion9. The CII has been a frequent contributor to discussions at the International Corporate Governance Network (ICGN). It will be an excellent resource for Martin Currie, given our focus on ESG and our increasing US client base.
GEM team – the search for sustainable investments in the fossil fuel sector
Global Emerging Markets Portfolio Manager, Alastair Reynolds has written a report looking at the fossil fuel sector in emerging markets, and how we approach identifying sustainable business strategies in this sector. The world relies on fossil fuels for 80% of its energy needs. As a major source of greenhouse gases, the fossil fuels sector is a prime target for substitution in the fight against global warming. Science-based scenarios suggest fossil fuels will have to fall from about 80% of our energy mix to 56% over the next twenty years if we are to limit global warming to 2°C. However, fossil fuels continue to form a major part of the global energy mix in the International Energy Agency’s Sustainable Development Scenario. This entails significant ongoing investment in fossil fuels to meet projected energy demand. This report looks at the role of engagement with producers, consumers and policy setters. It also considers the need for a robust assessment of carbon risks in our investment process, in order to identify companies that can successfully navigate the transition to a lower-carbon economy.
Climate Action 100+ (CA 100+) has 545 investor signatories with US$52 trillion in AUM. Martin Currie is a signatory and is leading the engagement with one of the target companies10. This is the second progress report on Climate Action 100+. It presents an update on the achievements of the initiative from October 2019 to November 2020. One important development is the Climate Action 100+ Net Zero Company Benchmark, which will be used to publicly benchmark the companies that are the focus of the engagement. The first company scorecards will be released in early 2021. The Benchmark includes indicators that cover:
- The ambition of net zero by 2050;
- Targets and goals for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction in the short, medium and long term, and whether targets align with a 1.5°C climate scenario;
- Decarbonisation strategy;
- Capital allocation alignment;
- Climate policy engagement;
- Governance, including executive remuneration linked to climate targets;
- Just transition;
- Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) reporting, including scenario analysis.
The report shows that while some companies are taking steps to decarbonise in line with a trajectory of net zero emissions by 2050, there is a long way to go. Nearly half (43%) of companies have set a target or ambition of net zero by 2050 in some form. This is an important signal to investors that companies understand and are preparing for the transition. However, only 10% of companies considered have net zero targets that explicitly cover the companies’ most material Scope 3 emissions. Similarly, while more than half of companies in focus (51%) have set a short-term (to 2025) emissions reduction target, and just under half (38%) have set a medium-term target (2026 to 2035), these targets do not often cover both the companies’ operational Scope 1 and 2 emissions and the most material upstream and downstream Scope 3 emissions11.
We have recently published our second Stewardship Matters report, this time featuring the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are also beginning work on preparing the Stewardship Annual Report and the PRI return.
4Source: https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/01/1081272 and https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/12/09/world/science-health-world/paris-climate-change-coronavirus/
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