Methane leadership is a competitive advantage, says global investor

Environmental Defense Fund Q&A with Tim Goodman, Director of Engagement at Hermes Investment Management

Tim Goodman, Director of Engagement at Hermes Investment Management

Early oil and gas industry adopters of methane management strategies and technologies are starting to see these reductions as an opportunity to gain a competitive edge.

Just last week, ExxonMobil announced  a new methane reduction program for its XTO Energy subsidiary, underscoring that the industry is paying close attention to the issue.

Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is leaked and vented across the oil and gas supply chain every day as the world energy mix shifts towards greater natural gas usage, according to the International Energy Agency. The oil and gas industry wastes billions of dollars a year of methane that simultaneously acts as a climate change accelerator, harming the brand of natural gas as a cheap and clean fuel source. Methane is 84 times more powerful as a heat-trapper than carbon in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Read more

Investor sees methane management as self-help for oil & gas companies

Environmental Defense Fund Q&A with Tim Goodman, Hermes Investment Management

Tim Goodman, Director of Engagement at Hermes Investment Management

When burned, natural gas produces half the carbon as coal, so it is often touted as a “bridge” fuel to a cleaner energy future. But the carbon advantage of natural gas may be lost if too much of it escapes across its value chain.

Natural gas is mostly methane, which, unburned, is a highly potent greenhouse gas accounting for roughly a quarter of today’s global warming. Worldwide, oil and gas companies leak and vent an estimated $30 billion of methane each year into the atmosphere.

EDF’s Sean Wright sat down with Tim Goodman, Director of Engagement at London-based Hermes Investment Management. Goodman, who views methane management as practical self-help for the industry to pursue, engages with oil and gas companies on strategies to manage their methane emissions. This is the first of a two-part conversation with Hermes, a global investment firm, whose stewardship service Hermes EOS, advises $330.4 billion in assets.

Wright: Do you think the oil and gas industry is changing its overall attitude towards climate after the historic Paris agreement and recent successful shareholder resolutions? If so, how do you see that change manifesting itself?

Goodman: I think climate change is obviously an existential question for the industry. The really big question is can it actually change in response to Paris? The industry is beginning to respond as a result of Paris and shareholder proposals and other stakeholder pressure. You’re seeing some of the majors increasing their gas exposure at the expense of oil. You’re seeing a number of international oil companies reducing or ending their exposure to particularly high carbon or high risk assets, such as the Canadian oil sands or the Arctic. The oil and gas industry is also starting to place a greater focus on methane management and its own emissions.

Wright: What about investors – what do you think is driving the continued momentum around methane and climate as we see larger and more mainstream funds tackling these issues?

Goodman: Let’s talk about climate for the moment – the roles of both investors and companies in the run up to the Paris agreement and during the negotiations were crucial. The investors made it absolutely clear that they wanted to see a successful Paris agreement. Addressing climate change is good for business and good for their portfolios. And we saw this with the Exxon vote – the two-degree scenario proposal where mainstream asset managers voted for this proposal. We believe that this happened because of the underlying pressure asset managers were getting from their own clients who have a long-term perspective and see climate change as a risk to their funds.

Specifically on methane, it’s practical self-help for the industry to embark on methane management. It’s an obvious practical measure for investors to engage upon. If you can reduce your contribution to greenhouse gases, save money, and gain revenue by being more efficient and safe, why wouldn’t you do that? It’s an easy entree into engaging with the oil and gas industry. Whereas the existential question, what’s your business going to look like 20 years from now, is a more difficult question perhaps both for the industry and the companies themselves.

Wright: You pretty much just explained why Hermes prioritized methane – is that correct?

Goodman: Yes. But the science is a big part of it. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon – the more that we can minimize its effects, the greater the window the world has to transition to a low carbon economy. Methane’s effects don’t last as long as carbon, but if we don’t tackle methane, we aren’t taking meaningful action to move to a low-carbon economy.

Wright: What do you see as the risks of unmanaged methane emissions?

Goodman: There is an economic risk and benefit for companies. Most of the measures to manage methane are relatively low-cost and can very easily be implemented for new projects. If you’re not doing them, for example, and you’re fracking shale, you’re at a competitive disadvantage to your peers. The cost-benefits perhaps are more difficult, but still there, in existing infrastructure. But particularly among the oil majors, their relationship with their host governments, local communities, and other stakeholders is vital. It’s important for companies to demonstrate good corporate citizenship. If you’re a laggard on methane, you’re more likely to be considered as an irresponsible partner both commercially and also in your local community. So I think oil and gas companies risk massive reputational and legal risks if they’re not managing methane effectively, notwithstanding the economic benefits.

Wright: What do you typically hear from operators in your conversations about methane management? Do you hear different things from operators in different parts of the world?

Goodman: Methane management is part of a number of important issues that we’re engaging with the industry on, including other pollution, health and safety, human rights, corruption and climate change. What we’re hearing on methane does vary. It’s fair to say in some emerging markets methane management is not often discussed by investors with those companies. But when we do address this topic in these markets, the companies show interest and want to know why it’s important to us, what they should be doing, how they should be disclosing, etc. So we’re often having positive and interesting conversations in these markets.

In the developed markets, there’s a difference. And I think there’s a distinction between Europe and North America. The EU companies, particularly the majors, are realizing it’s an important issue and are talking about it and disclosing at least some data. In private dialogue with North American companies, it is clear methane is often an important issue for them, but their disclosure is less convincing. It does vary around the world, but you also have this interesting phenomenon, where some companies seem to be doing a good job in private dialogue, but the disclosure lags behind what they are actually doing. We also see companies attempting to present their efforts in a better light than perhaps they deserve. It’s a complex mixture, which is why engagement is so important because we are able to view the reality on the ground through private dialogue.

For more information on EDF’s investor resources on methane mitigation, please see our recent report, An Investor’s Guide to Methane, or subscribe to our newsletter.

Global investor touts methane opportunity with oil & gas industry

Institutional investors worldwide are increasingly encouraging oil and gas companies to improve and disclose their management strategies to minimize methane risk.

Methane – an invisible, odorless gas and main ingredient in natural gas – is routinely emitted by the global oil and gas industry, posing a reputational and economic threat to portfolios.

Natural gas is widely marketed as a low-carbon fuel because it burns roughly 50 percent cleaner than coal. But this ignores a major problem: methane. Natural gas is almost pure methane, a powerful pollutant that speeds up Earth’s warming when it escapes into the atmosphere.

Last month marked a significant milestone in investor action on the methane issue. The Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) launched a new initiative representing 36 investors and U.S. $4.2 trillion in assets that will engage with the oil and gas industry across five different continents to improve its methane management and disclosure practices. The PRI initiative complements existing methane engagement efforts focused on the U.S. led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and CERES.

EDF Senior Manager Sean Wright recently sat down with Sylvia van Waveren, a Senior Engagement Specialist with Robeco Institutional Asset Management, a Dutch-based investment firm managing over $160 billion, to discuss the matter and understand why some investors are keen to affect the status quo on methane.

Wright: Why is methane a focus of your engagements? What do you see as the risks of unmanaged methane emissions? 

Sylvia van Waveren, Senior Engagement Specialist, Robeco Institutional Asset Management

van Waveren: Methane is one of the most important drivers of engagement with the oil and gas industry. We invest in oil and gas companies worldwide. A year ago, we started engaging them, specifically on climate change – and within that the methane issue is included.

In the past, methane was viewed as a U.S. shale gas issue, but more recently it has become important in Europe as we learned that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. So in that sense, we learned a lot from the U.S. discussions and we still do.

I would like to stress that we see the methane issue more as a business opportunity than a risk. What we often say to companies is that methane is a potential revenue source. It would be a waste if companies do not use it. 

Wright: The scope of PRI’s initiative is global, with investors from 3 different continents as far away as Australia and New Zealand, and a plan to engage with companies from the Latin America, Europe, North America and Asia-Pac. What does this level of global collaboration convey about methane emissions? 

van Waveren: I am happy and it is good to see that others have taken up the seriousness of this issue, as well.  Methane is no longer a U.S. only problem. The issue is being raised and discussed in all kinds of geographies.

I’m a firm believer in collective engagements. They can be a powerful force when the issue is not contained within borders. That is the case with greenhouse gases. So yes, I’m happy to see the PRI initiative taking off and I am an active believer in getting this solved and bringing attention to this subject.  

Wright: In your conversations thus far with companies about methane, what resonates best when making the business case for improving methane management and disclosure?

van Waveren: When we talk about motivation at the company level, I have to be honest, it’s still early days. The European companies are talking in general terms and just now conceptualizing methane policies. If we’re lucky, they have calculated how much methane is part of their greenhouse gas emissions. And if we’re more fortunate, they are producing regional and segregated figures from carbon, but it’s really very meager how motivated the companies are and what triggers them most.

I really feel we should emphasize more with companies to get them motivated and to really look at the seriousness of methane. One issue that is particularly bothersome is that many companies do not know how to calculate, estimate and set targets to reduce methane. It is still a mystery to many of them. That’s why we come in with engagements. We need to keep them sharp on this issue and ask them for their actions, calculations and plans. 

Wright: Who are other important allies that have a role in solving this problem, and why?

van Waveren: We always would like to have an ally in the government. For example, carbon pricing or carbon fixations are all topics that we look for from the government. But in practice, that doesn’t work. Governments sometimes need more time. So we do not always wait for the government. When companies say they will wait for government, we say, “You should take a proactive approach.”

We rely very much on our knowledge that we get from within the sector. We review data analyses and make intermediate reports of scoring. We find best practice solutions and we hold companies accountable. There are also times when we name names. So in that sense, that is how engagement works. The data providers and other organizations with good knowledge and good content on methane – and EDF is certainly one of them – are very instrumental to get the knowledge that we need.

Wright: Can you give me an example of a widespread financial risk facing an industry in the past that was proactively improved by investors leading the charge – similar to this initiative?

van Waveren: More than 20 years ago, we had a greenhouse gas issue – acid rain. Investors helped solve that problem. Because of this, I’m hopeful that investors can also play a positive role in reducing methane.

I would also say the issue of Arctic drilling. Not so long ago, this was top of mind when we talked to our portfolio companies. A lot of companies have now withdrawn from Arctic drilling, especially from offshore Arctic drilling. I think investors were quite successful in sending a clear signal to the industry in a collective way that we didn’t see Arctic drilling as a good process. Maybe profitable – if at all – to the companies, but certainly not for the environment.

Wright: Thank you, Sylvia. We really appreciate your time and your thoughtful answers showing how investors can be part of the solution on methane.

Careful what you wish for: Trump’s environmental attacks will harm industry

In the same week Apple raised $1 billion through green bonds to invest in clean energy, and Amazon put solar panels on a million square foot processing facility, the Trump administration – at the urging of the worst elements in the oil and gas industry –proposed a two-year delay of sensible rules that would limit emissions of methane and other air pollutants. While a federal court since struck down a previous 90-day delay as unlawful, the two-year delay is still subject to public comment, and many expect the administration’s attacks on methane safeguards to continue through other means.

Natural gas, which is mostly methane, has been put forward as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels and as an energy resource that can play a key role in the transition to a lower-carbon future. But now more than ever, that proposition is now called into serious question.

How will natural gas compete in a changing world?

Every year, oil and gas operations around the country emit some 8-10 million metric tons of methane into the air. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, responsible for about a quarter of the climate warming we’re experiencing today – and those emissions come mingled with a host of other smog-forming and carcinogenic pollutants.

There are cost-effective, proven ways to reduce these emissions, and leading companies are already implementing them. The problem is, many companies refuse to address the problem on their own. And now they’re looking to the Trump administration for a free pass to pollute.

When trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute attack cost-effective policies that protect public health and the climate, it sends a signal that the natural gas industry will do everything it can to maximize short-term profits – even at the risk of damaging the reputation of the industry in the eyes of the public and jeopardizing its ability to operate over the long term.

The question is: In an increasingly carbon constrained world, what is the natural gas industry’s plan for the future?

We’re not arguing that gas is at risk of going away tomorrow. The United States leads the world in natural gas production, as new technologies and processes have unlocked massive, cheap reserves. But make no mistake, the transition to cleaner energy in the U.S. and across the globe is irreversible and accelerating. In this context, fighting reasonable and necessary emissions rules only magnifies risk for the natural gas industry and its investors. It’s a head-in-the-sand approach that ignores the realities of what consumers, communities and markets demand.

Capital markets shifting to cleaner companies and forms of energy

The Trump administration’s recent moves come at a time when environmental concerns informing investment decisions are reaching record highs. For example, investors with $10 trillion in assets under management have committed to the Montreal Carbon Pledge to reduce the carbon footprint of their portfolios, with an eye towards portfolio de-carbonization in the long run.

As part of the shift to assets in lower emitting companies and industries, investors are demanding better carbon and methane disclosure as well as proactive environmental management. The recent watershed Exxon vote, in which 62% of investors (including industry titans like BlackRock and Vanguard) demanded better climate risk disclosure from Exxon management, showed that carbon risk considerations have hit the mainstream.

Increasingly, investors see methane simply as a form of carbon risk in need of management, not neglect. And methane waste can be cost-effectively managed – as proven in states like Colorado where production has continued apace even as strict methane rules have come on the books.

On top of investors’ efforts to shift portfolios towards cleaner companies, the divestment movement also continues to grow, driven by a range of environmental risks of owning fossil fuel stocks. Just recently mainstream investor CalSTRS divested from coal. Going forward, increasing numbers of investors will look carefully at the environmental record of oil and natural gas companies in determining their comfort level in continuing to invest.

Some companies lead but no substitute for commonsense rules

Companies like Southwestern Energy, Noble, Shell and others have led on methane emissions by setting methane targets, supporting state-based regulations, and working with the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership to disclose methane emissions. Their efforts certainly deserve recognition, and are supported by some investors who factor strong methane management into investment decision.

Still, voluntary actions by the few are no substitute for rules and oversight that require responsible operations by the thousands of oil and gas companies operating in the United States. Some of these companies simply lack a commitment to sustainability and to operating over the long-term, and will not rein in emissions unless they are required to do so by law.

Methane safeguards serve the long-term interests of industry and investors

As the scientific reality of climate change and consumer demand steer the world toward a cleaner energy future, will attacks on environmental protections inflict lasting damage on the oil and gas industry? Only time will tell. It’s likely, however, that if the loudest industry voices continue to oppose rules that could guide it toward a cleaner future, the industry as a whole will suffer.  Unfortunately, that will include the more forward-leaning companies, which will be dragged down by their intransigent peers. This outcome will become all the more likely thanks to the Trump administration’s erosion of environmental safeguards that are fundamental to responsible development.

It’s time for oil and gas operators and mainstream investors with a long-term view to take a look at what rules and regulations are needed to rein in methane emissions in their industry. And they also need decide if they want to align themselves with an administration whose policies may be unwittingly handicapping the very industry it attempts to serve.

Investors Can’t Diversify Away from Climate Risk

With the U.S. role in the Paris Climate Agreement hanging in the balance, over 280 investors managing a collective $17 trillion in assets spoke up in support of the agreement:

As long-term institutional investors, we believe that the mitigation of climate change is essential for the safeguarding of our investments. . . . . We urge all nations to stand by their commitments to the agreement.

Why do investors care?  As pointed out in a blog earlier this year, for investors, it all comes down to risk and return. And, where climate change is concerned, this is a risk that is omnipresent.

Simply put, investors cannot diversify away from the risks of climate change. Unlike other risks such as currency fluctuations or new regulations, the disruptive impacts of climate change on the global economic system are so pervasive they cannot be offset by simply shifting stock portfolios from one industry to another.

A study from Cambridge University found equity portfolios face losses of up to 45% from climate shocks, with only half of these losses being “hedgeable.” Likewise, The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that investors are at risk of losing $4.2 trillion by 2100, with losses accruing across sectors from real estate to telecom and manufacturing.

Because investors recognize that climate risk is unavoidable, they support a coordinated global effort as envisioned in the Paris Agreement. It is also why investors have already expressed such strong support for regulatory limits on carbon and methane emissions.  Governments globally will need to take further proactive action to limit greenhouse gases, and incentivize technology shifts towards lower-carbon energy.

Seizing opportunities in a low-carbon economy

Technology changes will require significant adjustments in how global capital is allocated, which is an opportunity investors are eager to seize because of the promise of risk-adjusted returns in the space.

It is estimated that a shift to a clean-energy economy will require $93 trillion in new investments between 2015 and 2030 and the rise of impact investing shows markets are starting to respond to opportunities in renewable energy, grid modernization, and energy efficiency among others.

For example, the green bond market has grown from $11 billion to $81 billion between 2011 and 2016 with projections for 2017 as high as $150 billion. On top of this, leading global investment banks have already pledged billions towards sustainable investing.

And where capital flows, so do jobs.

As we’re seeing in the US, renewable energy jobs grew at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 6% between 2012 and 2015 and the solar industry is creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.  Similarly, the methane mitigation industry is putting Americans and Canadians to work limiting highly potent emissions from oil and gas development.

Technology and capital changes are already happening, but are unlikely to happen quickly enough on their own.  Government policies and frameworks that speed this transition, like a price on carbon, will be critical.

Which brings us back to the importance of the Paris Agreement…

The Paris Agreement is crucial to addressing climate change

Investors vote with their dollars, and are strongly backing U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement. Global investors understand the risk of climate change and see the Paris Agreement as a good return on investment, with an optimistic $17 trillion nod to the power of capital markets to provide the innovation and jobs we need if the right policies are in place. The U.S. administration should ensure it is considering the voice of investors and the capital they stand ready to put to use as it makes its decision.

To make its climate commitment a success, BlackRock must focus on methane

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with over $5 trillion in assets, recently announced a new commitment to focus on the financial risks of climate change, with a specific eye towards the disclosure and governance of climate risk. The company also signaled a potential greater willingness to support shareholder resolutions on climate issues.

Considering Blackrock’s massive size and influence, the significance of these announcements should not be understated. The development has the potential to drive increased attention among corporate executives in all industries on the need for more action on climate.  The move is also another welcome sign that mainstream institutional investors are taking climate risk seriously.

BlackRock’s announcement puts them in-line with other investors already doing good work on climate risk. A robust effort to limit oil and gas methane will be essential to their success, and provides a number of opportunities for BlackRock to truly lead.

Why Methane Matters to Investors

As EDF has previously highlighted, methane is a highly potent form of carbon, and therefore a significant climate risk. In fact, methane is 86 times more harmful to our climate than carbon emissions, and is responsible for a quarter of the warming we are already experiencing today.  The oil and gas industry is the largest industrial source globally, and emissions occur across the entire value chain.

From an investor’s perspective, methane poses distinct risks. As the primary component of natural gas, methane represents lost product. All told, the oil and gas industry loses $30 billion a year on otherwise saleable product.  As such, smart investors should look at proactive methane management as a proxy for executive leadership and operational excellence.  In an increasingly carbon-constrained world, unmanaged methane emissions also invite regulatory scrutiny. Smart companies will be prepared. Lastly, methane undercuts the reputation of natural gas being cheaper and cleaner, and jeopardizes its opportunity to play a role in a transition to a lower-carbon economy. This has negative long-term demand implications.

Leading investors, including Legal & General, BMO Global Asset Management, and CalSTRS already understand that methane poses a significant risk, and BlackRock should too.

How Investors Can Engage Industry

To help investors manage methane risk through engagement, EDF, in partnership with Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), released An Investor’s Guide to Methane.  The publication highlights best practices for measuring and reducing emissions while equipping investors with suggested questions to guide constructive dialogue.

The Guide also focuses on improving disclosure, given recent research from EDF has shown that current methane disclosure is inadequate to meet investor needs.  The methane metrics highlighted in the Guide were designed to provide investors with actionable methane data, and align with The Task Force for Climate-Related Disclosure’s framework and its focus on metrics and targets companies should use to manage climate risk, for which BlackRock prominently highlighted its support recently.

In response to growing investor concerns around methane, PRI is launching a collaborative engagement on methane, and is currently recruiting investors. BlackRock should join this effort to engage with oil and gas companies globally to reduce methane risk and improve disclosure. This is an opportunity for global leadership on climate.

Shareholder Resolutions – An Opportunity for Near-Term Action

As mentioned, BlackRock indicated it is more open to using its voting power on shareholder resolutions to manage climate risk. Currently, there are 8 methane-related shareholder resolutions up for vote this spring, and BlackRock appears to be a top shareholder for 6 of these companies.  The resolutions urge companies to provide better disclosure on methane management, and similar resolutions have earned the support of both ISS and Glass Lewis, the two major proxy advisory firms in the US. They deserve BlackRock’s vote.

New Products – An Opportunity to Innovation and Leadership

One way BlackRock could raise the bar on methane and be a global leader would be to use its platform to develop products to incentivize comprehensive emissions management.  BlackRock has already launched low-carbon exchange traded funds (ETF) that over-weight (i.e. reward) less-carbon intensive companies. Could BlackRock launch a low-methane index that screens in methane leaders and locks out methane laggards, thereby rewarding effective methane management with relatively higher share prices?

So, What is Success?

BlackRock is right to focus on climate risk as a key priority for its engagements over the next two years. If BlackRock is successful, effective methane risk management will be appropriately rewarded in the public markets, and will be par for the course for oil and gas companies who want BlackRock’s significant investment dollars. EDF stands at the ready to help BlackRock in making their important work on climate risk a success.

Managing the Rising Risk of Methane, What Investors Can Do

sean-headshotIn a recent blog post, I discussed three ways investors can have a positive impact on the environment.  One of those levers is engagement, or using your influence with the companies you invest in to help ensure those companies are being managed both profitably and sustainably.

Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) is a recognized global authority on how investors can engage with companies to manage environmental risks. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is partnering with PRI to release a new how-to guide for engaging with oil and gas companies globally on methane emissions.

As investor scrutiny ramps up on all forms of climate risk, investors globally are becoming more aware of and concerned about the material risks that methane poses to portfolios, detailed in EDF’s Rising Risk report.  That report found methane poses a series of reputational, regulatory and financial risks to operators and their investors.  Methane, 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is a potent form of carbon risk, and left unmanaged it can literally leak away shareholder value.

An Investor’s Guide to Methane responds to growing demand from investors globally for practical guidance on how to not only manage these risks through company engagement, but surface opportunities as well.  Investors want to understand how companies should measure their emissions, what they should be reporting, and what kinds of best management practices they should adopt to keep more product in the pipeline.  This guide provides details on what leading methane management looks like.

Just as investors use quarterly earnings to understand who the most profitable companies are, investors can use the performance benchmarking framework included in the guide to help differentiate relative methane performance.  Because methane management is such a powerful proxy for operational excellence, understanding relative performance on the issue can be a helpful insight for investment decision-making. As such, early-engagers will have a first-mover advantage. This framework is also designed to help identify concrete next steps companies can take to improve management, such as using additional emissions reductions technologies or adopting methane reporting metrics.

summary-performance-assessment-toolThe guide also provides detailed questions to help support constructive dialogue.  For example, EDF’s Rising Risk report found that as of early 2016, zero of the leading 65 companies in the US had disclosed a methane reduction target. The guide includes questions such as “What form of a quantitative methane reduction target would work best for your company?” that can help an operator think through how to best set an ambitious but achievable target.

As part of their engagement, investors should expect all operators to measure, report and reduce their emissions:

Measure – We’ve all heard the phrase “what gets measured, gets managed.” Getting accurate information on a company’s methane emissions is the first step in understanding the extent of the problem, uncovering hidden risks, and identifying opportunities to bring more product to the bottom line.  The more accurate the information, the better positioned companies will be to effectively reduce emissions. Expert level methane management requires companies to utilize robust direct measurement, or the process of getting out into the field to measure emissions, as this is more accurate than desk-top estimates.

Report – Investors require actionable methane information in order to understand the relative performance of operators, and leading companies will demonstrate how they are managing methane risk.  Operators should set and disclose a methane reduction target, and report how they plan to meet that target. For example, expert level operators will report the frequency, scope and methodology for their leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs as one best practice to limit emissions.

Reduce – Minimizing methane emissions is highly cost effective, and can be done using proven, off the shelf technologies.  Because methane is both pollutant and product, many of these technologies have a positive payback. Investors should feel confident in encouraging companies to reduce emissions knowing they can do so in a shareholder-friendly manner.  Leading operators will show a declining trend in emissions, frequently inspect assets for leaks, join global voluntary initiatives like the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, and support regulations to reduce emissions.

The key points from these three buckets, as well as related engagement discussion questions, are summarized in a 2-page cheat sheet summary investors can take to meetings with them.

managing methane riskMethane is the next frontier for investor engagement on climate and carbon risk. Unmanaged emissions of methane can directly undermine the natural gas’ ability to play a role in a lower-carbon energy economy, impair social license to operate and be a proxy for operational inefficiency.   Conversely, active methane management can inspire investor and stakeholder confidence, keep product in the pipeline and prepare companies to operate in an increasingly carbon-constrained, regulated world.

Investors should utilize their influence, and this guide, to ensure companies are proactively managing methane risks and leveraging opportunities.

Download An Investor's Guide to Methane


Follow Sean Wright on Twitter, @SeanWright23


Additional reading: Why energy investors need to manage methane as a Rising Risk

 

Three Ways Investors Can Drive Environmental Gains

sean-headshotInvestors can be powerful change agents when it comes to the environment. Investors have capital which they can allocate in ways that either help or hurt the environment. They also have significant influence with the companies they invest in and with policymakers globally, both critical stakeholders when it comes to improving the environment.

While some investors are already working at the nexus of the environment and finance, given the earth’s pressing environmental challenges like climate change, overfishing and deforestation, there has never been a greater need for all investors to engage on sustainability issues. For example, private capital will be essential in order to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change – a recent UN study estimated that it will require roughly $90 trillion dollars, much more than philanthropic or public (i.e., government) investments can fund.

Of course, investors should consider environmental issues not just to do good, but also because the returns often meet if not exceed the performance of more traditional investments. And because investors are interested in risk-adjusted returns, managing environmental risks like carbon and water is critical to any comprehensive investment process.

Below are three levers investors can use to when considering environmental impacts:

  1. Capital allocation – The first decision any investor must make is where to invest their money. Considering sustainability issues can help drive capital towards investments that provide both an environmental and financial dividend.

One way to allocate capital toward more sustainable investments is to integrate environmental criteria into the investment process. Organizations like Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) improve disclosure on issues like carbon emissions and water, enabling investors to gain insight into how efficiently a company operates and manages environmental risk. In this respect, as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) disclosure improves, investors can move from screening out whole sectors to proactively allocating capital toward companies that better manage material environmental issues, an investment trend which is becoming more mainstream in the U.S.  For example, while Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Rising Risk report found methane disclosure in the oil and gas industry to be poor, as methane data improves, investors will be able to shift capital to those operators who are actively managing risk from this powerful pollutant and wasted product.

Investors can also place their money into investments with an explicit environmental component, like green bonds. These bonds are a debt instrument specifically tied to achieving a beneficial environmental outcome like energy efficiency, climate resiliency, or water infrastructure. The market for these double bottom line investments has grown from less than $3b just a few years ago to over $40b in 2015.

Investors are gaining new opportunities to invest in innovative products that help to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and agriculture and improve sustainable fishing practices around the globe. Sustainable investing is also no longer just for sophisticated institutional investors. As financial tech startups are enabling individual retail investors to invest in an environmentally-friendly manner – giving all an opportunity to do well by doing good.

  1. Company engagement – Once their money is allocated, investors can then use their influence as equity or debt-holders to hold corporations accountable for environmental performance, risk management and disclosure. Organizations like Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) act to help investors be effective engagers by coordinating efforts on topics from deforestation and palm oil to water risks, and encourage collaboration where possible.

Engagement can include the ability of asset owners like private equity to work with portfolio companies to become more sustainable. EDF worked with leading private equity companies to design the Green Returns tool, which enables private equity to approach value creation through an environmental lens, and spot opportunities such as energy efficiency and waste reduction initiatives that generate cost-savings. Using this tool, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) was able to add $1.2 billion to the value of their portfolio while avoiding significant greenhouse gases, water use, and excess waste.

Shareholders in public companies also have the ability to file shareholder resolutions to publically encourage better environmental management. In 2016, shareholders filed a record number of climate-related resolutions, which a recent Harvard Business School study has shown to be effective in improving both financial and environmental performance when focused on material ESG issues.

  1. Policy Support – Getting the rules right will be critical in both addressing environmental issues directly and in driving private capital towards environmentally-friendly assets. As Hank Paulson, the former Treasury Secretary and CEO of Goldman Sachs noted in a recent NY Times Op-Ed, we need policies that “include environmental regulations to stimulate clean, sustainable development; incentives and subsidies for clean energy investments; and the pricing of carbon emissions.”

Investors with expertise on business, markets, and finance have an important role to play in the policy process. The next generation of investor leadership on sustainability will require aligning external policy positions with internal sustainability practices and playing a proactive and public role to support legislation and regulations.

Organizations like CERES have been instrumental in activating investors on policy matters. Just this year, CERES played a leading role in getting 76 global investors with $3.6 trillion in assets under management (AUM) to support methane regulations in the U.S. and Canada while working with organizations like Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) in Europe to recruit 130 investors with $13 trillion in AUM to support implementation of the Paris agreement. Such statements of support are meaningful in helping build the business case for environmental policy.  And direct engagement with law and policy makers is a next frontier for investors looking to maximize their impact on supporting sound policy development.

The need for investors to engage on environmental issues has never been greater, and the opportunities to do so profitably have never been more widespread. Investors of all kinds should incorporate the levers of allocation, engagement and policy in their investment process – a move with the potential to benefit both the planet and their portfolios.


Follow Sean Wright on Twitter, @SeanWright23


Why energy investors need to manage methane as a Rising Risk

 

Methane Emissions are Risky Business for Investors

No one likes uncertainty, least of all investors. From changes in interest rates, to supply chain disruptions, the list of risks investors must monitor is long and growing. Good, actionable information is investors’ most important tool for risk management and integral to successful investing. Without proper data, investors are flying blind.

Rising-Risk-coverA new report published by EDF this week  throws the spotlight on a growing risk for investors—methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. As so clearly demonstrated by the ongoing and massive leak at Aliso Canyon, methane emissions pose a multitude of expanding risks, with both short and long-term consequences.

Three key risks from oil & gas methane

At 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short-term, methane emissions represent a potent and fast-emerging form of carbon risk. In a world looking to reduce carbon pollution, methane emissions pose regulatory, reputational and economic risks. Preparedness to comply with forthcoming rules varies across the industry, methane undercuts natural gas’ ability to play a role in a carbon-constrained world, and emissions of methane are lost product amounting to $30 billion a year globally.

Investors should be asking themselves these questions:

  • Do you know how much money your oil and gas companies are losing?
  • Do you know if they have a plan to reduce emissions to limit impacts?
  • Do you know how prepared they are to comply with forthcoming regulation?

It’s difficult to find out, and that’s a problem. Read more

The Best New Job Opportunities in Oil & Gas Might Surprise You

People often think of the energy sector as a great place to find jobs, but some of the best, most stable job opportunities in the sector aren’t what you’d think. They’re not dedicated to resource production, but to minimizing the millions of tons of natural gas and associated pollution that leaks as the product is produced and delivered, wasting resources and causing a serious environmental problem.

methaneleaks2_378x235Each year, more than 7 million tons of methane – the main component of natural gas and a powerful pollutant – escapes from oil and gas operations. These emissions pack the same short-term warming punch as pollution from 160 coal-fired power plants, and equal enough wasted natural gas to heat and cook meals for 5 million American homes.

Companies across the country are already harnessing the power of American innovation to solve this problem, creating new job opportunities in the process. And, a growing trend toward stronger state and federal safeguards to standardize methane reduction best practices is putting more wind in the sails of this growing industry.

Many of the positions being created are skilled, high-paying jobs for workers such as engineers and welders, according to a 2014 Datu Research report on the emerging methane mitigation industry. But these companies need a variety of other positions filled too, from sales to accounting to general labor.

Many of these companies have their roots in traditional equipment manufacturing, such as valves and sealing technologies that keep industrial systems running as efficiently as possible. Others, such as makers of optical gas imaging, are on the cutting edge of new technologies that allow users to identify methane leaks that are invisible to the naked eye. Read more