In my most recent blog in the lead-up to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit, I reflected on feeling energised, a sentiment shared with many others arriving in New York. There was a distinct impression that momentum for change was growing, particularly following the success of the worldwide climate strikes. Like many others, however, I left the week feeling slightly despondent, wondering whether many people in positions of authority — in politics, business and finance — are listening.
That’s not say there wasn’t progress and positive initiatives coming out of the week. Among them, the PRI and UNEPI launched the Asset Owner Alliance, a leading group of institutional investors which have come together and committed to net-zero targets by 2050. The finance sector also announced and supported other initiatives including the new Principles for Responsible Banking.
Seventy-seven countries have now set net zero targets, although the largest emitters are noticeably absent from the list. But these individual activities do not get us where we need to go. The finance sector, investors and business must move further, faster.
Last week Climate Action 100+, the five-year investor engagement program with the world’s largest corporate emitters, of which PRI is a part, published its annual progress report, and there was plenty to be pleased about. CA 100+ is continuing to grow with over 370 investors now taking part, representing $35 trillion in AUM and focussing on 161 companies across 33 markets.
The CA100+ report highlights many examples of successful engagements, such as Equinor and BP committing to deliver strategies consistent with the Paris Agreement, Shell linking remuneration to the energy transition and Rio Tinto exiting coal. Net zero directions have emerged from corporates including Nestle, Thyssenkrupp, ArcelorMittal and BHP.
The report also focusses on Asia, the source of nearly half of all global emissions, and the deepening of frameworks and practices for investor-to-company engagement. We are starting to see some success here. One example is Petro China disclosing a climate change strategy and a plan to align with the Paris Agreement.
Again, we see good individual outcomes and the investors involved should be pleased with their progress. Yet, when we step back from the individual actions and look at the wider situation, the recent report from the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) provides sobering context. TPI’s analysis shows in the vital energy sector that while 70 per cent of companies have set long term targets for reducing GHG emissions, only 9 per cent have targets aligned with the IEA 2 degree scenarios. Only 40 per cent of companies undertake and disclose climate scenario analysis and disturbingly, less than 8 per cent of companies have alignment between the lobbying undertaken by their association and their stated policy position.
As an industry we must acknowledge that one of the key reasons that the world is so far off the curve in limiting the world to 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees of warming, is that the negative corporate climate lobbying is winning the day with delay, obfuscation and denial. In turn this slows political, financial and business action.
Lobby groups and trade associations should be coordinating their industry sectors and members on TCFD compliance, brown to green transition plans and development of zero carbon business models. My own home country, Australia, provides a telling example. The Australian Prime Minister spoke at the General Assembly, telling world that Australia was taking “real action” on climate change, but was later fact checked in several quarters and found seriously wanting.
Distressingly, one area where Australia is clearly punching above its weight was revealed by the latest Influence Map report on trade groups. It lists the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) as prominent in negative trade associations on climate progress, with the MCA securing a position in the global top ten.
Coming out of New York, it seemed the millions of voices from a week before calling for action by the decision-makers weren’t enough. For every call made for policy-makers, finance and corporations to act to speed the climate transition in markets, investment and capital allocation towards zero carbon, there remains powerful, countervailing voices and obstacles against action. Civil society want these obstacles removed. Long-term investors want climate risks addressed, opportunities grasped and the creation of long-term value.
One of the objectives of CA100+, when it was formed two years ago, was to improve governance and accountability around corporate and board alignment with the Paris goals and to limit warming to below 2 degrees. Our progress report shows that only 8 per cent of the world’s largest corporate emitters have policies in place to ensure their lobbying activity is aligned with necessary action on climate change.
Companies that talk one way on climate, while behind the scenes the industry associations they fund walk the other way, undermining climate action, are increasingly facing public challenge and questions over their social licence to operate. If we are to address the climate emergency, political leaders, business, finance and civil society all need to be working together to overcome the many obstacles to transition.
Negative corporate climate lobbying has long been identified as an obstacle. It remains an obstacle. The message to corporate boards could not be clearer: you have straightforward choices — if you can’t reform these associations you need to resign from them.
Fiona Reynolds is the chief executive of PRI