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.

Business won’t back down on clean energy future

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFMore than 530 companies and 100 investors signed the Low Carbon USA letter to President-elect Trump and other U.S. and global leaders to support policies to curb climate change, invest in the low carbon economy, and continue U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement.  It’s a powerful message from business leaders connecting the dots between prosperity and a low-carbon economy and confirming their commitment to continue to lead the way.

The private sector call for continued leadership on climate cannot be ignored. 

“All parts of society have a role to play in tackling climate change, but policy and business leadership is crucial,” said Lars Petersson, president of IKEA U.S. “The Paris Agreement was a bold step towards a cleaner, brighter future, and must be protected. IKEA will continue to work together with other businesses and policymakers to build a low-carbon economy, because we know that together, we can build a better future.”

Despite the climate uncertainty represented in President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks and campaign rhetoric, business is moving forward, actively building a clean energy future. In recent months, Google, Microsoft, Smithfield Foods, Walmart and others have continued to prove what’s possible through bold, science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets, investments in clean energy and expanded efforts to drive down emissions in their operations and supply chains. Adding to the mounting evidence that corporate America gets it and that momentum for business leadership is here to stay.

  • Google has pledged to operate on 100% renewable energy in 2017.
  • Microsoft recently announced the largest wind power purchase agreement to date with a deal to buy 237 megawatts of capacity from projects in Wyoming and Kansas.
  • Smithfield Farms, the largest pork producer in the world, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2025.
  • Walmart has committed to removing a gigaton of emissions from its global supply chain by 2030.

US investment in solar is on the riseAnd clean energy investment is on the rise:

  • U.S. investment in clean energy soared from an impressive $10 billion to $56 billion between 2004 and 2015.
  • Microsoft-founder Bill Gates and nearly two dozen other business leaders launched a $1-billion fund that will finance emerging energy innovations.
  • A new report shows investors controlling more than $5 trillion in assets have committed to dropping some or all fossil fuel stocks from their portfolios.

These efforts are focused on accelerating the transition to a clean energy future. This might be surprising given the current political climate, but smart business leaders understand that decisions must be driven by long-term economics, not short-term politics. A thriving economy depends on a thriving environment.

"With tens of billions of dollars of U.S. renewable energy investment in the works this year alone, and far more globally, the question for American political leadership is whether they want to harness this momentum and potential for economic growth," said Jonas Kron, senior vice president at Trillium Asset Management.

“Creating jobs, and establishing the United States as an innovative world leader in creating a clean energy economy is a no brainer for the Trump administration,” said Aspen Skiing Company CEO Mike Kaplan.

The list of signatories to the Low Carbon USA letter has doubled since November, and includes some of the world’s biggest and most innovative companies, including DuPont, General Mills, HP Enterprises, Pacific Gas & Electric, Salesforce.com, Unilever, and more. These business leaders and many others know that accelerating climate policy and innovations is a pathway to creating jobs and strengthening the economy.

Solar jobs in the U.S. on the rise

A growing low carbon economy already has created jobs and driven economic growth across the U.S. In fact, over 2.5 million Americans now work in the clean energy industry, making above average wages. With China investing over $360 billion in renewables, the U.S. simply cannot afford to change course on this powerful opportunity for environmental protection and economic growth while other countries capitalize.

Business is ready to lead the way and accelerate the path towards a low carbon economy. Business has spoken. Will the President-elect and his new administration listen?


Additional reading:

China Is Going All In On Clean Energy As The U.S. Waffles. How Is That Making America Great Again?

With a record $1.4 trillion in sustainability assets, investors bail on fossil fuels


Follow Tom Murray on Twitter, @TPMurray


3 Keys for the American Petroleum Institute’s New Climate Task Force

The climate change discussion is percolating even in surprising places. The latest sign: the American Petroleum Institute’s recent formation of an internal task force on climate change. Reportedly the new task force’s mandate is to revisit API’s approach to this crucial issue, going into an election year and with ever greater scrutiny on fossil fuels.

AdobeStock_56840116It is too soon to know whether the task force will rubber stamp a business-as-usual approach defined by glossing over climate concerns and attacking policy measures, or chart a new path instead.

But if the task force is serious about a fresh look at the issue, here are three keys for the task force to consider as it ponders the future of API on climate. Read more