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Global investors urge end of coal burning

Environmental activists protest against fossil fuel during U.S. panel at the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 10, 2018.
Environmental activists protest against fossil fuel during U.S. panel at the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 10, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Grzegorz Celejewski

Global investors on Monday urged world leaders gathered at UN climate talks in Katowice, to step up action to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement. The first week ended with deep divisions over the findings of a scientific report rejected by the fossil fuel industry.


"Our assets are at risk and will lose out," says New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, one of 400 investors urging governments to strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

"Transitioning our portfolio into this green space makes economic sense," he told RFI.

The desperate call for drastic action is the single largest intervention from investors on climate change, surpassing even the one issued in Paris three years ago.

Together, they represent 31 trillion dollars of assets-under-management.

Investors say they are deeply concerned about the “ambition gap” that exists between governments’ commitments and what is needed to limit the global temperature increase to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels.

Not enough

"What countries are doing is not enough. They are increasing their emissions again with 'The 'Trump Effect,' explains Jan Burck, from the NGO Germanwatch, that released a Climate Change Performance Index.

Carbon emissions in 2018 reached a record high - about 45 percent higher than their preindustrial levels.

"China, where emissions stalled for a couple of years, also increased its emissions again. This is mainly due to cement and also new coal," adds Burck.

"If the two biggest polluters won't turn around then it will be difficult for the 1.5 limit," he told RFI.

In a chilling report in October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that anything warmer than 1.5C would have disastrous consequences for the planet.

Four of the world’s largest oil and gas producers however have dismissed its warnings.

Semantic tussle

The US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia all refused to accept the wording, insisting instead that the conference should simply “note” the findings of the IPCC report rather than "welcome" them.

"Saudi Arabia and the US play a very problematic role here at the COP," Burck comments, on why both countries ranked last in his organisation's Climate Change Performance Index.

Global investors however, still believe that governments can enact policies to facilitate the world’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

"I remember there were a couple of days leading up to the final agreement in Paris, which also looked very dire," New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli recalls.

"We could never get the developing countries and rich countries to agree, and the big players were holding things up. At the end of the day they figured out how to come together, and I would reflect the same optimism on the rule book," he said.

Going green alone

Despite DiNapoli's optimism, Monday's investors' statement was overshadowed by a side event by the US administration yet again declaring its love for coal.

"States in the United States still have the ability to set their own policies," DiNapoli insists, keen to distance himself from the "misguided policies of the Trump Administration."

In September, the New York City's pension funds pledged to double its investments in climate change solutions to 4 billion dollars of the City’s 195 billion dollar pension portfolio over the next 3 years.

Other green initiatives include a low emissions index, where the NYC Fund "overweighs investments to companies that disclose their gas emissions and have plans to reduce them, or underweigh or eliminate from the index companies that do not deal with the greenhouse gas emission question," adds DiNapoli.

Making money

A growing number of investors are going green to make money.

"It's about reducing risk linked to climate change," comments the New York State Comptroller, after the IPCC warned that by 2100, climate change could cost the U.S. up to a tenth of GDP, more than double the losses of the Great Recession.

Yet, he insists his motivations are also ethical.

"We use our role as an investor, as a shareholder to do a better job with being environmental stewards," he says.

"We need to source the deals that get us the returns we're looking for and make sure we're making money. But if we can do something good with how we invest then we can achieve that double bottom line," between profit and sustainability, he concluded.

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