Investors Want Companies to Disclose Environmental Risk
There's a growing push from large investors in publicly traded companies to hold the companies accountable for the environmental impact of their practices. In the latest salvo, global companies worth more than $10 trillion are urging companies to disclose their environmental impact to investors, as Forbes reported.
Activist campaigns have proven remarkably effective recently, as major investment firms have divested from fossil fuels and refused to support coal or Arctic drilling. Investor activism has also been credited with securing a series of net-zero emissions pledges from a number of companies, including energy and mining companies.
The Non-Disclosure Campaign organized by CDP, a non-profit global environmental disclosure platform, is composed of more than 100 investors, holding assets worth upwards of $10 trillion, from 23 different countries. They issued a letter to 1,051 countries, including Facebook, Amazon, Domino's and Exxon, insisting that the companies make a more complete disclosure of their environmental impact and risks to their business from the climate crisis, as The Economic Times reported.
The 1,051 companies targeted for lobbying have a combined market value of more than $8 trillion and emit the equivalent of more than 4,800 megatons of CO2. That's equivalent to the amount of CO2 emitted by the U.S. in 2017, according to Forbes.
The companies that the CDP wrote to declined to provide relevant information on their environmental impacts to investors in the past. While nearly 20 percent do disclose some information about information on their greenhouse gas emissions, climate strategies, and policies relating to water use and deforestation, even those companies have been asked to disclose other issues that are germane to their business.
CDP said publicly naming companies helped to improve engagement with investors, as Business Green reported. The CDP found that when 88 large investors pinpointed 707 companies through the campaign, the companies were more than twice as likely to offer up new information.
"The importance of investor engagement to drive disclosure cannot be overstated," said Emily Kreps, global director of capital markets at CDP, as Business Green reported. "Climate change, water security and deforestation present material risks to investments, and companies that are failing to disclose their impact risk trailing behind their competitors in their access to capital.
"As the growth of this campaign shows, investors require decisive data that is consistent, comparable and comprehensive. To make this possible, they expect companies to wholeheartedly engage with TCFD-aligned standards on environmental disclosure and reporting. With business resilience and adaptation to unexpected, systemic risks exposed by the recent public health crisis, the tide is rapidly turning against companies not taking note of investor demands."
The 105 institutional investors who joined the Non-Disclosure Campaign marks a 20 percent increase over last year. They range from the New York State Common Retirement Fund to Trillium Asset Management to Legal and General, one of the UK's largest investors. The investors echoed Kreps.
"Climate change, deforestation and water security have become material issues to many industries. Investors require more comprehensive information and scientific analysis to address risks and opportunities derived from these issues," said Sophia Cheng, chief investment officer at Cathay Financial Holdings, as Forbes reported.
Katarina Hammar, head of active ownership at Nordea Asset Management, said her investment company believes "that increased transparency around companies' environmental performance is a key enabler to improve company performance and to create a more resilient economy," as Business Green reported.
"Consistent and comparable data is key in our company analysis and in particular in the climate risk and opportunity analysis," she added.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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