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ABP's fossil fuel stake said to grow by €2bn despite carbon pledge

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ABP’s holdings in fossil fuel companies increased by €2bn to €10.4bn last year, despite the scheme’s pledge to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% by 2020, a pressure group has claimed.

Responding to ABP’s annual report on responsible investment, ABPfossilfree – which includes participants of the Dutch civil service scheme – suggested that the increase could not be attributed just to rising equity markets.

It said that it had based its conclusions on ABP’s quarterly statement of its holdings of equity, bonds and convertible bonds.

The action group said the value of equity and convertibles in coal-related firms dropped by €77m, but ABP’s credit investments in the sector rose €304m in the same period.

It also argued that 7 percentage points of the 31% growth of the scheme’s stakes in oil and gas could not be explained by rising valuations.

ABPfossilfree further noted that the approximately 80 coal-related companies still in ABP’s portfolio had plans for the construction of coal-fired power stations with a combined capacity of more than 50 times the that of coal-fired plants in the Netherlands.

The €389bn civil service scheme still had a €4bn stake in the coal industry, the campaign group said. It argued that the coal sector was “the largest climate polluter”.

“By remaining invested in the fossil fuel sector, new coal mines, pipelines and power stations will be added and subsequently kept in use for decades,” said Chris Roorda of the pressure group. “Large energy companies pay lobbyists enormous amounts to block climate policy and spread disinformation. If we keep investing in fossil fuels, we will never get rid of them.”

In a response to the pressure group’s claim, Asha Khoenkhoen, spokeswoman for ABP, indicated that it was likely that the scheme’s stake in fossil fuel companies had increased last year thanks to improving equity markets.

However, she could neither confirm nor deny whether the pension fund had also made new investments. “Based on the currently available data we can’t untangle this,” she said. ABP’s investments are managed by APG.

Khoenkhoen emphasised that ABP’s policy was focused on reducing carbon emissions across its entire investment portfolio, including property.

She added that the pension fund had only gained a clear view on carbon emissions halfway through last year, when APG introduced a tool for measuring carbon output from the portfolio.

“Only then could we start steering properly, and therefore it is possible that our investments at 2016-end were not reduced relative to the previous year,” Khoenkhoen said. “Because of our scale, we are a kind of supertanker which responds slowly to input. Moreover, we are still refining the measurement tool for emissions.”

She added that ABP’s primary goal was not to divest from fossil fuel firms, “as other players would step [in] after we have left”. Instead, the pension fund prefers to reduce its carbon emissions through engagement Khoenkhoen said: “After all, it is the fossil fuel companies that must make the energy transition work.”

In its sustainability report, the pension fund said it had reduced annual carbon emissions from its equity portfolio by 7m tonnes last year, and that it had increased its stake in renewable energy by one-quarter to €2.8bn through investments in local wind farms and solar panels in India and the US.

It also claimed to have decreased its carbon footprint by 16% in 2016 relative to 2014, thanks to energy firms RWE and Eon largely divesting their fossil fuel subsidiaries, as well as significantly reducing CO2 emissions from its property holdings.

Since the pension fund announced that it would double its target investments against social and environmental problems to €58bn in 2020, it has raised its actual allocation to €41bn.

New investments largely comprised green bond and sustainable property, ABP said, and it recently added investments in mortgages for energy-efficient residential property in the Netherlands.

ABP said it would keep engaging with companies on environmental, social, and governance issues and said it was fleshing out an “inclusion policy”, aimed at assessing and selecting the most sustainable firms.

In an interview with financial news daily Het Financieele Dagblad, Corien Wortmann-Kool, ABP’s chair, recently said the pension fund would hold back on exclusion, “as returns remain key and we want to keep our investment universe as large as possible”.

Recently, ABP was ranked in fifth place in the Global Climate 500 Index of the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP).

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