Scientific Beta is lagging behind on one of the most important green finance developments in recent years, an independent member of the technical expert group (TEG) whose EU climate benchmark proposals were scathingly criticised by the smart beta index provider last week has said.

One of a barrage of criticisms made by Scientific Beta was of the carbon exposure metric proposed by the TEG, whereby carbon intensity is calculated on the basis of a company’s Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions divided by its enterprise value, including cash (EVIC).

Criticisms of the metric included that it creates sector biases, is volatile and may render unworkable the self-decarbonisation requirement TEG has proposed for the climate benchmarks, and “does not do justice to issuer-level climate change efforts”.

Describing the metric as “exotic”, Scientific Beta argued there was “no scientific or business basis” to use it instead of a widely-used version of weighted average carbon intensity (WACI) based on Scope 1 and 2 emissions and using revenues as the denominator.

Scientific Beta said self-reported Scope 3 emissions data is too scarce and lacking in quality and consistency to support portfolio decision-making and that requiring Scope 3 emissions to be included in the carbon intensity calculation could lead to “disregarding the efforts made by companies to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions”.

Scope 3 emissions are all of an entity’s indirect emissions except those from purchased energy – for example, in the case of fossil fuel companies they include emissions produced when an individual drives an internal combustion engine car.

‘Commercial self-interest’

Andreas Hoepner, professor of operational risk, banking and finance at University College Dublin, is one of two members of the European Commission’s sustainable finance TEG who was appointed in a personal capacity and the only such individual on the benchmarks sub-group.

Hoepner said: “It is stunning that Scientific Beta can write over 70 pages with 99 footnotes on EU green finance policy and fail to even mention the EU’s net zero 2050 aim, which was adopted last year.”

“If they had taken the EU’s net zero 2050 aim as their starting point instead of their commercial self-interest, they might have come to a different conclusion on crucial aspects such as the Scope 3 emissions of the fossil fuel sector.”

Asked what the TEG’s starting point was with regard to its work on the EU climate benchmark categories, Hoepner told IPE it was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5°C warming trajectory with no or limited overshoot, which effectively meant carbon neutrality by 2050.

The European Commission agreed on a 2050 net zero ambition in November 2018, with EU member states, except Poland, endorsing this goal late last year

Andreas Hoepner

“It is crucial for Scientific Beta and others to understand that fossil fuel Scope 3 emissions are the primary cause of climate change.”

Andreas Hoepner, professor of operational risk, banking and finance at University College Dublin and member of the TEG 

Hoepner said: “Given the EU’s aim of achieving net zero by 2050, it is crucial for Scientific Beta and others to understand that fossil fuel Scope 3 emissions are the primary cause of climate change. They are the patient zero, to use a coronavirus metaphor.

“Hence,” he continued, “fossil fuel scope 3 emissions have to be downsized significantly for the EU to achieve net zero by 2050. Repsol and possibly also BP seem to understand this, as do many asset owners and asset managers.

“Scientific Beta has to understand this scientific reality too, if they want to gradually transform themselves into a leader in environmentally responsible investing.”

EVIC denominator

Hoepner said using revenue as the denominator for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions biases the GHG intensity figure in favour of sectors such as coal, which are exposed to stranded assets when compared with market valuation-based denominators.

“In my personal view, this can be considered greenwashing in favour of polluting sectors and is not aligned with the EU’s net zero 2050 objective,” he said.

“The recent launches of EU Climate Transition or EU Paris-Aligned Benchmark concepts by index providers that were not part of TEG, such as Dow Jones S&P or Solactive, show that many of Scientific Beta’s competitors can work with our proposed denominator of EVIC.”

“Scientific Beta appear rather desperate to avoid the costs of switching from revenue to EVIC,” he continued.

The TEG’s final report on benchmarks is meant to provide the basis for the European Commission’s drafting of delegated acts specifying more detailed requirements in relation to the EU climate benchmark categories.

Scientific Beta’s report can be downloaded here.

GHG emission scopes

The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard classifies a company’s GHG emissions into three scopes:

1. Direct emissions from owned or controlled sources

2. Indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy

3. All indirect emissions not included in scope 2 that occur in the value chain of the reporting company, including both upstream and downstream emissions