French pension investors and asset managers are at the forefront of a call for an indefinite moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Arctic high seas from a international group of institutional investors.

Nineteen investors* with more than €5trn in combined assets under management are backing the initiative, led by French pension investors ERAFP, Ircantec and Préfon, as well as Natixis Asset Management and its responsible investment arm Mirova.

The call is aimed at oil and gas companies that have been involved in oil exploration in the Arctic, as well as members of inter-governmental forum the Arctic Council (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US).

It will also be sent to Council permanent participants (organisations representing Arctic indigenous peoples) and observers (open to non-Arctic states and inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations).

A statement about the initiative describes it as “an urgent call to protect the Arctic from future oil exploration activities and align national climate-change pledges with the future of the region, which hosts significant hydrocarbon resources”.

It says the investors are seeking “an unlimited moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Arctic high seas” and sets out a sub-set of demands that amount to a tightening of the operating environment for oil and gas companies active in, or targeting, the Arctic high seas – “the ultimate Arctic frontier that does not pertain to any single national sovereignty”.

The sub-set of demands includes a call for companies to disclose publicly the licenses they hold in the region and how their plans to use these licences “fit with their broader climate-change mitigation commitments”.

The initiative was announced yesterday, 3 November, seemingly to coincide with a high-level international event on climate finance being held in Casablanca today, which is also the day the December 2015 UN-brokered Paris Agreement on climate change enters into effect.

Philippe Zaouati, chief executive at Mirova, said: “On the eve of Climate Finance Day in Casablanca, we would like to involve both companies and policymakers so as to take the Arctic issue to the next level and seek greater protection for the region.”

Today’s entry into force of the Paris Agreement, which commits signatories to take action to keep global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, has generated a flurry of comments and announcements from a range of organisations and companies.

The corporate group Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), for example, today announced an intention to invest $1bn (€900m) over the next 10 years “to develop and accelerate the commercial deployment of innovative low-emissions technologies”.

And in a tweet, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change said: “On 4 Nov, institutional investors will celebrate both hope & opportunity as the #ParisAgreement enters into force!” 

*Actiam, AXA Group, Bank J. Safra-Sarasin, BNP Paribas Investment Partners, Boston Common, Church of Sweden, Danske Capital, EdenTree, ERAFP, Friends Fiduciary Corporation, Ircantec, Mirova, Natixis Asset Management, Nei Investments, Pax, Préfon, Skandia, Trillium and Zevin