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Investors Who Manage $47 Trillion Pressure Top Polluters to Pursue Transition to Net-Zero Emissions

"Companies across all sectors need to take more ambitious action to ensure otherwise devastating impacts of climate change are avoided while they still can be."

A protester is seen holding a placard during a climate change demonstration. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A protester is seen holding a placard during a climate change demonstration. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As historic, climate change-fueled wildfires continued ravaging the western U.S. on Monday, the investor initiative Climate Action 100+ sent letters to board chairs and CEOs of the top 161 companies responsible for planet-heating emissions, urging them to commit to and set clear goals for rapidly transitioning to net-zero businesses by 2050 or sooner.

"The benchmark will ensure it's clear which companies are acting on climate change as a business-critical issue and embracing a net-zero future."
—Stephanie Pfeifer, Climate Action 100+

"Companies across all sectors need to take more ambitious action to ensure otherwise devastating impacts of climate change are avoided while they still can be," Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change and a member of the Climate Action 100+ Steering Committee, said in a statement.

"Supported by investor engagement, we're seeing encouraging commitments and 'net-zero leaders' beginning to emerge, but a broader step change is urgently required if global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C," she added, referencing a key target of the 2015 Paris accord and research from climate scientists worldwide.

Launched in December 2017, the investor initiative involves more than 500 global investors who collectively manage over $47 trillion in assets. Its Climate Action Steering Committee warned business leaders that their companies' progress will soon be judged based on 30 indicators. Observations about companies' progress—or lack thereof—will be detailed in the Climate Action 100+ Net-Zero Company Benchmark, set to be developed with leading research organizations and released next year.

Indicators will include ambition, targets and goals, decarbonization strategy, capital alignment, climate policy support, governance, just transition, and reporting.

"The benchmark will ensure it's clear which companies are acting on climate change as a business-critical issue and embracing a net-zero future," Pfeifer said. "Investors will be paying particular attention to those shown to be falling short."

The investor group's 161 "focus companies" are from various sectors, including oil and gas, utilities and power producers, transportation, mining and minerals, construction materials, industrials, chemicals, and food, beverages, and forestry. They range from top airlines and fossil fuel giants like BP and ExxonMobil to the chemical company Dow, the food and drink multinational Nestlé, and the retailer Walmart. Over two-thirds of the targeted firms are based in Europe and North America.

The targeted companies have made some strides on climate action, as the initiative's statement outlined:

  • Climate change governance: 120 companies have now nominated a board member or board committee with explicit responsibility for oversight of the climate change.
  • Alignment of value chain GHG emissions with the Paris agreement goals: 50 companies have indicated they will aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
  • Task Force for Climate-related Disclosure (TCFD) reporting: 59 companies have now formally supported the TCFD Recommendations via the official supporter statement

However, "there's an urgency and seriousness with which investors are looking for progress," Pfeifer told Bloomberg, which reported Monday on the letters and benchmark.

"We welcome the progress made so far," she explained, "but we really want to see further progress: when you've made a commitment we want to see the details of how that is going to be implemented, and when you haven't made a commitment yet we want to see that as soon as possible."

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Fellow initiative steering committee member Mindy Lubber, CEO and president of the investor network Ceres, said that "the Climate Action 100+ Net-Zero Company Benchmark is a critical investor engagement tool to make further progress at speed and scale with the world's largest corporate emitters on climate change."

"It will send a strong message to corporate boards and management that companies across sectors have already begun to make the shift to a net-zero emissions business, and it is time for the rest to follow," Lubber continued. "Investors are ready to engage the initiative's focus companies to raise their climate ambition in order to accelerate the global transition to a net-zero emissions economy."

The steering committee also includes representatives from four other investor networks—AIGCC, IGCC, IIGCC, and PRI—who signed on to the letter. PRI's Fiona Reynolds emphasized that "central to achieving climate goals is the setting of clear targets on how companies plan to move to net-zero as well as ensuring that they are transparent and held accountable for actions taken."

Leaders at As You Sow, a nonprofit known for shareholder advocacy and member of Climate Action 100+, welcomed the benchmark, with president Danielle Fugere saying in a statement that "given the short window of time to transition successfully, every company, every industry, and every investor must take an active role in building the safe and economically sound future in which we want to live."

Since its launch, the initiative "has achieved great strides in mainstreaming the climate issue," said As You Sow energy program manager Lila Holzman, "and investor awareness of the material impacts of the climate crisis will only continue to increase."

"This tool will create a standardized means of assessing genuine company progress toward climate goals, helping investors see through the variety of current company claims about Paris alignment and net-zero goals," she added. "We hope that by highlighting the widening differentiation across corporates, more companies will step up."

This post has been updated with comment from As You Sow.

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