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Greenest Dutch schemes 'falling short of climate target'

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Even Dutch pension funds with the best environmental credentials won’t achieve the Paris Climate Treaty targets with their current investment policy, a local pressure group has claimed.

Lobby group Fossil Free NL, which surveyed 180 schemes, said that pension funds with a highly acclaimed environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy still had “significant” stakes in companies with plans for new coal plants and large reserves of fossil fuels.

It found that the pension funds still had combined investments of €13.4bn in equity and bonds of companies on a list of 200 fossil fuel firms at the end of 2016. This amount had increased by €2.6bn since 2015, the group said.

“To meet the Paris target of limiting the worldwide rise in temperature to 2°C, the currently proven reserves of fossil fuels must remain largely where they are,” argued Liset Meddens, director of Fossil Free NL.

The pressure group said that the €46bn metal scheme PME still had a 3.3% stake in fossil fuel firms, while the allocation of BPL – the €16bn scheme for the agricultural sector – was 1.8%, following a decrease.

Fossil fuel investments of the €186bn healthcare scheme PFZW remained stable, the lobby group said, while two other large funds, ABP and PME, had increased their exposure.

According to Fossil Free NL, pension funds usually did not factor in the carbon emissions of produced fuel when calculating the carbon footprint of coal, oil, and gas companies.

“CO2 emissions of an oil firm could seem to be low if a company efficiently produces the oil, but the result of this activity is that the fuel will be burned and cause large emissions,” Meddens pointed out.

In her opinion, fossil fuel firms’ activity was the core of the problem, and therefore all stakes in the top 200 companies should be divested.

The pressure group’s blacklist of carbon-intensive stocks is based on two other lists, including one from the German lobby organisation Urgewald, comprising 120 firms that have planned two-thirds of the 1,600 scheduled new coal plants worldwide.

These companies often have diversified activities, resulting in less than 30% of their turnover derived from coal. Some investors, including Aegon, Allianz and the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, have decided to only divest if companies’ stake exceed 30%.

Fossil Free NL also referred to Carbon Underground 200, a list of 200 firms with the largest potential carbon emissions in their reserves.

Their combined holdings are six times as much as could be burned and still have an 80% chance of limiting the worldwide temperature rise to 2 degrees, it argued.

ABP, PFZW and PME confirmed they only assessed emissions from corporate activities and suppliers, with PFZW adding that emissions from customers were “too complicated” to measure.

ABP and PME have pledged to reduce the carbon footprint of their investments by 25%, while PFZW and BPL have aimed for a 50% reduction.

A number of schemes said they were not yet planning to divest, arguing that fossil fuels would be necessary for some time to come. However, they have urged companies to plan for a transition to sustainable energy.

Fossil Free NL said it had granted BPL the highest rating for the implementation of its fossil fuel policy, including divestment from firms with a profit of more than 5% from coal.

In a response, the Pensions Federation said that the issue required a broader approach than divestment from fossil energy.

“Climate change doesn’t stop at the border and needs international standards that are also adhered to,” it commented.

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