THE COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November “simply has to deliver”, because investors cannot transition to a green economy without changes in policies from world governments, the First Church Estates Commissioner, Loretta Minghella, told the General Synod on Friday afternoon.
Ms Minghella was giving a presentation to update the Synod on the approach to climate change by the national investing bodies (NIB), three years since the Synod passed a motion urging the NIBs to disinvest from companies that did not take seriously their climate obligations (News, 13 July 2018). It was her final speech to the Synod as Commissioner before she steps down to take up the post of Master of Clare College, Cambridge, in October (News, 13 November 2020).
“Even with one degree of warming, people are suffering; and with extreme weather events becoming more and more frequent, it’s the poor, who did least to cause the problem, who are suffering the most,” she said. “It is an emergency — of that there can be no question.”
The transition to a green economy was, however, “not easy”: it was “a multi-decade, challenging transition that requires the global economy to change completely. It also requires governments to match what we can do as investors and what we can do as a Church.”
This was why the NIBs had “been public advocates of the policy we need from governments to deliver on the commitments of the Paris Agreement”, and had supported initiatives such as the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which seeks commitments from governments to phase out the use of coal.
“We can’t transition in a vacuum as investors: we need enabling regulation,” Ms Minghella said. “And governments across the world need to change their policies if we’re going to be able to deliver ourselves. So all eyes are on the COP in Glasgow in November — it simply has to deliver.”
The chairman of the Pensions Board, Clive Mather, told the Synod that the foundation of the NIBs’ approach to pressuring companies to tackle climate change was “the world-leading” Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI). “Quite simply, it involves a rigorous, comprehensive and independent assessment of companies, which tracks their transition to net-zero and guides our decision-making as investors,” he said.
Supported by more than 100 investors, representing US$29 trillion in assets under management, it was “a mighty weapon in the global battle against climate change”, he said.
“In short, TPI enables us to differentiate between companies that are changing and those that aren’t. When a company doesn’t meet our hurdles, we will disinvest.”
The TPI tracked not only fossil-fuel companies, but companies “right across the economy”, Mr Mather said.
“Disinvesting from one company or industry does send a strong message,” he continued. “But that doesn’t mean that the challenge has gone away, which is why we’re working with investors internationally, with the support of TPI, to address the systemic causes of climate change, to challenge and change the operations of individual companies, and, from their example, to change the sector and other sectors, too. Because, ultimately, all parts of the global economy are interconnected.”
Ms Minghella had a strong message for fossil-fuel companies in which the NIBs invest: “As responsible investors, we will walk with you, we will help you, we will support you if you commit to the changes we ask for. However, be under no illusion that if you do not meet our requirements, by 2023 at the latest, we will sell our holding.”
In an answer to a formal question at the end of Friday, Mr Mather gave a snapshot of the Pension Board’s relative holdings in fossil fuels and renewables: “The Board holds approximately £125 million in renewable, clean, or climate solutions across asset classes, which represents 4.1 per cent of the overall portfolio. This represents a significant ‘tilt’ relative to our holdings in oil and gas which total £8.9 m, approximately 0.3 per cent of the overall portfolio.”