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ESG roundup: Alphabet ‘should lead on responsible use of AI’, says Hermes

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The parent company of Google will hear investor calls for it to lead the way in the responsible development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) at its annual general meeting on Wednesday.

Mountain View: Google’s headquarters in the US

Christine Chow, director of Hermes EOS, Hermes Investment Management’s engagement arm, will address the meeting to call on the company to strengthen board oversight of its use of AI. Hermes EOS’ clients have more than $5.7bn (€5.1bn) invested in Alphabet.

Hermes EOS also said it would ask Alphabet to “improve the internal governance structure overseeing AI technologies to harness employee/stakeholder ethical insights” and “regularly monitor and report on the human rights impact for content reviewers and provide sufficient support to staff and contractors”.

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Chow said: “The power Alphabet possesses has never been greater, and its responsibilities have never been heavier. Investors are looking to the company and its Board to display leadership in the responsible use of AI and the minimisation of societal risks.”

Alphabet is one of the biggest technology companies in the world with a market cap of $753bn.

Carbon pricing accord at Vatican summit

Major oil and gas companies, asset managers, and asset owners signed an accord on carbon pricing at the conclusion of a two-day gathering held in Vatican City last week.

They agreed that governments should set “reliable and economically meaningful” carbon pricing with the input of the energy sector and investors.

Vatican City

Credit: TravelCoffeeBook

St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

According to Vatican News, the Catholic church’s official news outlet, the Pope said carbon pricing was “essential if humanity is to use the resources of creation wisely”.

The gathering also produced agreement on a statement about transparency in reporting climate risk, encouraging companies to work with investors on the “evolving” recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.

Investor signatories included the chief executives of BNP Paribas Asset Management, Hermes Investment Management and State Street, as well as José Meijer, vice chair of major Dutch pension investor ABP, and Barbara Novick, co-founder and vice chairman of BlackRock.

BP, Exxon and Shell were among the corporate signatories.

Vanguard Group and Japan’s pension reserve fund, the Global Pension Investment Fund, put their names to the accord about climate risk transparency, but did not sign the statement about carbon pricing.

A spokesperson for Vanguard said: “While Vanguard does not seek to prescribe an approach to carbon pricing, we commit to continued monitoring, engagement, and support for constructive and long-term oriented solutions to mitigate the risks of climate change to our clients’ investment success.”

Investors still calling for better environmental reporting 

More investors have backed a campaign targeting several hundred companies in a bid to get them to change how they report on their environmental impact.

This year 88 investors – including asset managers such as Candriam and asset owners such as the Environment Agency Pension Fund – are targeting 707 companies for not reporting certain information with regard to climate change, water security and deforestation.

The companies targeted include ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Amazon. They are being asked to report the requested information through CDP, an non-governmental organisation that runs an environmental disclosure platform used by investors.

CDP said this was the first year it had reported publicly on its disclosure campaign, which had been running for four years and had been successful in driving more transparency from companies.

Last year 75 investors took part in the campaign, and 57 took part in 2017. More companies were targeted this year than in previous years: 707, compared with 622 in 2018 and 416 in 2017.

Companies targeted in last year’s campaign were more than twice as likely to disclose to CDP than those that were not included in the campaign, according to CDP.

Emily Kreps, global director of investor initiatives at CDP, said that although some companies might point to their sustainability reports as disclosure, investors wanted “transparency in the form of consistent, comparable and relevant metrics that are easy to access, compare and benchmark”.

“And as for companies that say their investors do not care about these issues, this campaign demonstrates that is simply not the case,” she added.

 

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  • Mountain View: Google’s headquarters in the US

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