Thursday, April 07, 2016

CalPERS Raises Bar on Corporate Directors’ Role in Tackling Climate Change

Calpers headquarters is seen in Sacramento, California, in this file photo from October 21, 2009. (Credit: Reuters/Max Whittaker/Files) Click to Enlarge.
Last month, the country’s largest pension fund, the California Public Employees Retirement System, updated its Global Governance Principles, which drive its efforts on corporate engagements, proxy voting and investment decision making.  The principles now state that board members of companies that CalPERS owns should have “expertise and experience in climate change risk management strategies.”  They also call on companies to assign oversight responsibility on climate change to “a board member, board committee or full board.”

This move is hugely important, but it it shouldn’t be seen as a surprise.  For the past two years, CalPERS and other major U.S. pension funds have been targeting U.S. companies to adopt proxy access rules that will give large long-term investors the right to nominate directors onto corporate boards.  Among the reasons why is investors want “climate competent” directors on the boards of carbon-intensive companies.

CalPERS’ action is especially noteworthy because it applies to all 10,000 companies in its $300 billion portfolio.  By not linking its expectations on climate competent boards with any specific sector, CalPERS is effectively saying that climate change risks are pervasive and touch all parts of the economy.  Ceres has long taken this position, but the investor community is now catching on. A Jan 2016 bulletin from by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board noted that 72 of 79 sectors they analyzed are materially affected by climate risks.  In other words, it isn’t just oil and energy firms that are affected by climate change.  The risks are ubiquitous and cannot be diversified away.  Efforts to address climate change should therefore be universal and involve all sectors.

By focusing on how all company boards across the economy are managing climate risks, CalPERS has identified a way to jumpstart corporate climate action at the scale and urgency this colossal global threat warrants.  As key influencers of company strategies, board directors are uniquely positioned to ensure meaningful consideration and action on climate risks and opportunities.

Read more at CalPERS Raises Bar on Corporate Directors’ Role in Tackling Climate Change

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