COP24: Tackle climate or face financial crash, say world's biggest investors

COP24: Tackle climate or face financial crash, say world’s biggest investors

Major global investors have urged the United Nation’s COP24 summit in Poland to end all coal burning and introduce substantial taxes on emissions.

The group of investors which manage more than $32tn in assets have called for urgent cuts in carbon emissions without which, it warns, the world faces a financial crash several times worse than the 2008 crisis.

The investors include some of the globe’s largest pension funds, such as Calsters and ABP, and insurers, including Aviva, AXA and Zurich. They say fossil fuel subsidies must end and substantial taxes on carbon be introduced.

The IMF estimates subsidies for coal, oil and gas at $5tn per year and which the G20 has been promising to tackle for a decade. This measure alone could cut global CO2 emissions by 10% by 2030, according a UN report released for the Poland summit.

National Plans insufficient

The investors said current national pledges to cut carbon would lead to a catastrophic 3°C of global warming and that plans must be dramatically increased by 2020. For developing countries, ”finance is the critical enabler of increasing ambition,” said Niranjali Amerasinghe, of the World Resources Institute.

“The long-term nature of the challenge has, in our view, met a zombie-like response by many,” said Chris Newton, of IFM Investors which manages $80bn and is one of the 415 groups that has signed the Global Investor Statement. “This is a recipe for disaster as the impacts of climate change can be sudden, severe and catastrophic.”

Investment firm Schroders said there could be $23tn of global economic losses a year in the long term without rapid action. This permanent economic damage would be almost four times the scale of the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis. Standard and Poor’s rating agency also warned leaders: “Climate change has already started to alter the functioning of our world.”

Thomas DiNapoli, of the $207bn New York State Common Retirement Fund, another signatory, said taking action on global warming not only avoided damage but could boost jobs and growth. “The low-carbon economy presents numerous opportunities and investors who ignore the changing world do so at their own peril.”

Lord Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics said: “The low-carbon economy is the growth story of the 21st century and it is inclusive growth. Without that story, we would not have got the 2015 Paris agreement, but the story has grown stronger and stronger and is really compelling now.”

End to coal-fired power

A key demand of the Global Investor Statement is to phase out coal-fired power stations across the world. Peter Damgaard Jensen, the CEO of Danish pension fund PKA, said: “Investors, including PKA, are moving out of coal in their droves given its devastating effects on the climate and public health, compounded by its poor financial performance.”

Another investor demand on governments is to introduce “economically meaningful” taxes on carbon. Most are below $10 per tonne, but needed to rise to up to $100 in the next decade or two, the investors said. The French president Emmanuel Macron’s botched attempt to increase fuel taxes and the gilets jaunes protests that followed were a model of how not to do it, said observers in Poland.

“It failed to take people along with them, accompanying the policy with social measures to allow citizens to embrace the opportunities of the transition and ride out the challenges,” said Camilla Born, of advisers E3G. The host government of the climate summit, Poland, is heavily reliant on coal and is stressing the need for a “just transition” for workers in the fossil fuel industry.

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December 11, 2018
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