The Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP) has slammed global pension funds, saying they failed their “first post-COP 21 test”, a climate risk-related shareholder resolution at ANZ Bank.
A sovereign wealth fund that voted against the resolution has set out its defence to IPE.
The AODP and Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) proposed the resolution, which asked the bank to report on its exposure to climate change risk and carbon-intensive businesses and to set reduction targets.
A separate resolution was lodged calling for greater shareholder rights.
The resolutions were voted on at ANZ Bank’s AGM in Adelaide, Australia, on 17 December and were defeated.
The climate risk-related resolution drew only 5.4% of votes.
It had been the focus of a shareholder campaign in Australia, with superannuation fund members encouraged to urge their funds to vote for the resolution.
CalPERS, the Californian public sector pension fund, and two Australian institutions – Vision Super and Australian Ethical Investment – are reported to have supported the motion.
The outcome of the vote triggered scathing criticism from the AODP, which said institutional investors were failing to follow through on their climate change commitments, and so soon after the global agreement reached in Paris.
Julian Poulter, chief executive at the AODP, said: “With the ink not yet dry on the investor commitments from COP21, I imagine UNFCCC and the investor groups are scratching their heads.
“COP21 was packed to the rafters with investors talking up climate risk, but, give them their first chance to prove they can actually follow through, and they fall dramatically short.”
He went on to refer to a “major accountability problem” for pension funds and “an even worse climate risk issue”, and called for “a complete overhaul” of how pension and superfunds disclose their voting intentions.
“Regulators can’t allow them to deceive their members over climate change by creating promises and then voting in the other direction or, worse still, making poor excuses for the banks,” said Poulter.
New Zealand sovereign wealth fund NZ Super was one of the ANZ Bank shareholders to vote against the resolution.
BlackRock, Northern Trust and State Street Global Advisers manage the superannuation fund’s global equity holdings, and all three opposed.
NZ Super Fund does not have members but set out to IPE its reasons for not supporting the motion.
A spokeswoman for the superannuation fund said that, when selecting managers, it places a strong emphasis on responsible investment and engagement capabilities.
“We note that ANZ has been reported as a leader in climate change disclosure according to the Carbon Disclosure Project, to which we are a signatory,” she said.
“We prefer to focus our engagement efforts on companies that are not so transparent, encouraging them to improve their disclosures.”
NZ Super has a long-term strategy to increase its exposure to alternative energy and energy with low carbon intensity, she pointed out.
The fund is part of the Carbon Disclosure Group and Investor Group on Climate Change and has directly invested $305m (€281m) in alternative energy over the last two or so years.
It disclosed why its external managers voted against the resolution.
BlackRock and Northern Trust both said it called for reporting already provided by the company, so its approval would lead to “unnecessary duplication of legal and voluntary disclosures”.
State Street Global Advisors, meanwhile, voted against the shareholder proposal “based on our assessment and understanding of ANZ’s current approach to climate change”.
The manager came to the decision after engaging with ANZ on the matter of the resolution.
It also noted that “a global taskforce on climate-related financial disclosures is expected to issue recommendations and best practices for financial institutions at the end of 2016”.
This appears to be a reference to the taskforce announced by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) on 4 December.
IPE understands that the scope of its work is likely to be larger than just financial institutions’ reporting and to include non-financial companies’ disclosure, but this has not yet been decided.