A number of the world’s largest pension funds have taken significant steps in recent years to make their portfolios greener, according to a study created by a team of students from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, in collaboration with the World Bank and the Sustainable Finance Institute.
The study zeroed in on how five of them have gone about reducing the climate risk of their holdings. All invest in renewable energy and have measures to assess how environmentally sensitive any potential holdings are before the programs invest in them.
The five pension programs analyzed were: the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the Netherlands’ Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global and the New York State Common Retirement Fund. All are the largest in their countries, except for New York Common, which ranks third in the U.S. In their most recent fiscal year, when stock and bond markets were in retreat, they either had small increases or were in the red.
Although the report does not delve into the political intricacies of each fund, it does weigh their climate-oriented efforts. They each have different approaches to limiting carbon emissions and making green investments.
The toughest task is faced by Norway’s GPFG (assets: $1.4 trillion), where investing is managed by Norges Bank Investment Management. GPFG is known as the Oil Fund, as it gets its money from revenue generated by North Sea oil and gas wells. GPFG also has relatively small equity positions in Shell ($6 billion) and BP ($2.8 billion), the energy giants that dominate North Sea extraction.
Still, the Columbia report stated, the Norwegian fund will not invest in mining or energy producers with more than 30% of revenues derived from coal. Further, it divests from companies that do not meet its climate or ethical standards—and thus far has ditched investments in 282 such companies, although the report did not name them. In the past fiscal year, the fund lost 14.1%.
New York Common ($242 billion), on the other hand, has had a harder line on energy outfits: It has divested from investments in shale oil and gas and is assessing the commitment of remaining energy companies in its stock portfolio (it has positions in Exxon Mobil and Chevron, for instance) to renewable energy. The fund has pledged to have a net-zero portfolio by 2040.
The New York plan has set up its own low-carbon index and committed $4 billion to buying the stocks in that collection. The program also requires directors of companies it holds to report their commitment to climate and other environmental, social and governance risks. It has a robust effort to mount climate and other ESG shareholder proposals and has funded 128 of them. New York Common dropped 4.1% in the recent fiscal year. Over five years, it gained 6.6% annually.
The CPPIB ($420 billion), as is typical of Canadian plans, is heavily invested in real estate and infrastructure, both in Canada and elsewhere, with ownership of 295 “green-certified” buildings in 25 countries. It also has a partnership with a Brazilian power company, Votorantim Energia, which is heavily into hydropower. Plus, CPPIB issued $109 billion in euro-denominated “green bonds” to raise capital to invest in renewable energy and low-carbon companies. The fund gained 1.3% for the year, far below its five-year annual increase of 10%.
Japan’s GPIF ($1.5 trillion), the world’s largest public pension fund, is focused on ridding its holdings of carbon-based influences: It issues green bonds and has two low-carbon-oriented stock indexes it invests in. GPIF regularly discloses the carbon footprint of its portfolio. In the most recent year, it gained just 1.5%.
The Dutch fund, ABP ($465 billion), pledges to reduce its portfolio’s carbon footprint 40% by 2025. The fund also pressures companies whose supply chains include deforestation to end such links. Its investment results plunged 16.6%.
One criticism in the Columbia report: Quantitative climate goals and disclosures were absent for three of the funds. The exceptions were ABP and GPIF. “Despite well-articulated climate strategies, many pension funds fail to define their objectives in numeric terms,” the report stated.
Overall, the study praised the five funds’ climate-minded policies, writing that “the world’s largest pension funds are acting on climate risks and opportunities, and that their innovative approaches provide an example of how other funds can follow their lead.”
Tags: Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Climate Change, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, CPPIB, Government Pension Investment Fund. GPIF, GPFG, GPIF, New York State Common Retirement Fund, Norges Bank Investment Management, Norway Government Pension Fund Global, Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP, Sustainability, Sustainable Finance Institute, World Bank