The Minnesota Divestment Coalition recognizes the State Board of Investment for taking climate change seriously and issuing the Meketa Capital Markets Outlook and Risk Metrics Report at the February 24th SBI meeting. This shows a genuine commitment to reviewing the climate risks of portfolio investments. That said, we hope that the next report contains a strong set of explicit instructions for SBI to take bold action to divest from companies that are fueling climate destruction. We also regret that the SBI recently approved the signing of contracts with private equity firms before developing a policy for scrutiny of the firms’ fossil fuel holdings as recommended in our February briefing.
This March briefing covers 1) Climate finance resolutions for banks; 2) Socially responsible investing practices in other states, and 3) The MN legislature’s call for divestment from Russian fossil fuel companies.
1) Climate finance resolutions for six banks The SBI has an opportunity as a shareholder of six of the largest US banks to support nine climate finance resolutions that will ensure that banks’ financing practices are consistent with their stated commitment to achieve net-zero. The six banks are: Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo.
While most of the banks have adopted a net-zero commitment, none has committed to halt financing for new fossil fuel development as is required by a net-zero commitment. In the meantime, natural disasters continue to mount, temperatures soar and the future of our children hangs in the balance. To address the gap between the banks’ stated objectives and actual financing practices, six of the proposed resolutions ask each bank to ensure their financing does not contribute to new fossil fuel supplies as required by the International Energy Agency (IEA) Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario. Another resolution, the Audited Report on Impact of IEA Net-Zero Emissions by 2050, asks for an audited report on whether and how the fulfillment of the IEA Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario could affect underlying assumptions in financial filings.
As responsible shareholders and public leaders, the SBI should support these resolutions at the upcoming spring shareholder meetings to compel these six banks to commit to protecting our environment, livelihoods, and all who inhabit planet earth.
2) Socially responsible investing of public treasury and employee pension funds in other states The Divestment Coalition has been examining best practices in Socially Responsible Investing by public employee pension and state treasury funds in other states. The management of Illinois public funds recently came to our attention. Under their Sustainable Investing Act (2019) considering ESG sustainability factors in administering their portfolio is a fiduciary responsibility,
“Prudent integration” of sustainability factors by all public agencies or governmental units into “investment decision-making, investment analysis, portfolio construction, due diligence and investment ownership” towards the end of maximizing anticipated financial returns, minimizing projected risk, and more effectively executing fiduciary duty.”
Members of the Minnesota Alliance for Sustainable Pension Investment (MASPI) and the MN Divestment Coalition met with Laura Williams and Max Dulberger of the Illinois Treasurer’s Offices on March 17 for a rich and productive discussion of how ESG sustainability factors are being integrated into their policies, practices, and investment decisions.
Treasury staff emphasized that by working with coalition partners like Climate Action 100+, unions and other public employee pension funds they have been able to pressure corporations to address some ESG issues. At the same time, they acknowledged that with only two staff dedicated to corporate engagement, the level of engagement they can do is not at the level necessary to do the work. They estimated they would require at least 8 additional staff to effectively enter into discussions with company management and influence the ways in which companies are run. This observation confirms our assessment that MN SBI staff is also under-resourced in terms of staff dedicated to ESG engagement. Lastly, they acknowledged the challenge of holding corporations to their stated climate commitments and emphasized the importance of monitoring company capital expenditure and integrated resource plans.
New York is making progress toward divesting from 21 shale oil and gas companies that have continued to invest heavily in high risk and high cost assets. They are continuing to invest in 21 other shale oil and gas companies that “have shown they are ready to move to a low emissions economy.” This is not the full divestment we want to see but it is a positive move that the MNSBI could initiate immediately.
A recent Impax Asset Management report shows that investing in climate mitigation can be profitable for investors. Those companies that were more cognizant of climate risks and invested in mitigation efforts were more profitable than those companies that did not. The report concludes,
“Political actors may be able to portray climate change as a partisan issue or a special interest without any pecuniary impact — but financial markets do not have that luxury. The evidence is mounting that climate change poses a great many risks, and financial markets are pricing those risks into securities markets today. Investors that ignore this suite of risks are increasingly likely to have a series of unpleasant and more frequent surprises.”
We applaud the development of filters and metrics like the ones described in the Impax report. But in our opinion many of the studies are dancing around the edges of the real threat we face. The real measure should be a comparison between portfolios that have divested or are in the process of divesting from fossil fuels and those that remain fully invested in fossil fuel companies. Isn’t it magical thinking to imagine that fossil fuel companies will become renewable energy companies, as they continue to fight against climate solutions?
3) The MN legislature’s call for divestment from Russian fossil fuels We applaud the recent bill introduced into the legislatures to divest from Russian gas and oil companies following Governor Walz’s Executive Order 22-03 and subsequent letter to legislative leaders. As of June 30, 2021, the SBI portfolio showed at least $82 million invested among five Russian gas or oil companies. As Bill McKibben recently stated, the most powerful way to defeat Putin is by getting off of gas and oil: “In the last decade, scientists and engineers have dropped the cost of solar and wind power by an order of magnitude, to the point where it is some of the cheapest power on Earth. The best reason to deploy it immediately is to ward off the existential crisis that is climate change, the second best is to stop the killing of nine million people annually who die from breathing in the particulates that fossil fuel combustion produces. The third best reason is that it dramatically reduces the power of autocrats, dictators, and thugs.” Ukrainian activists powerfully spell out the role of the fossil fuel industries in fueling Putin’s war. One sentence in their sign-on letter reads: this war has been funded, fed and fueled by the coal, oil and gas industries that are driving both the invasion that threatens Ukraine and the climate crisis that threatens humanity’s future.”
The clarion call to thwart Russian aggression against Ukraine by starving the Russian gas and oil industry highlights the imperative of moving with all speed to a renewable energy future, critically for Europe but also for the United States. The $82 million in MNSBI holdings, if redirected away from Russia and towards renewables, could make a small, but more than symbolic, advance towards this future.