FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 29, 2015
Panel of Experts at Carbon Risk Forum Agrees: Shareholder Advocacy Not Enough, Divestment the Way Forward on Climate Change and Carbon Liabilities
Montpelier: Over 150 people, including a dozen legislators, state employees, Vermont Pension Investment Committee Members and divestment supporters listened to a panel of experts discuss the financial and environmental imperative of pension divestment at Tuesday’s Carbon Risk Forum at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier.
Panelists included Bill McKibben of 350.org, Matthew Patsky of Trillium Asset Management, Eric Becker of Clean Yield Asset Management, and Beth Sawin of Climate Interactive.The panelists agreed that legislators and fiduciaries need to act quickly and boldly to cut carbon emissions and protect pensions from the looming, financially catastrophic “carbon bubble.” 350 Vermont and the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club presented the event as part of an active campaign to divest Vermont’s three pension funds from fossil fuels.
Panelist Beth Sawin, co-director of Climate Interactive, told decision-makers that “a global pivot, starting now, that shifted investments from dirty fuels to clean energy could keep temperatures very close to that 2 degree Celsius target,” avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
Eric Becker, Chief Investment Officer of Norwich-based Clean Yield Asset Management, described how public divestment from fossil fuels by prominent institutions - like the Rockefeller Foundation or Vermont’s pensions - creates the political space needed to change policy and make necessary carbon cuts.
Matthew Patsky of Trillium Asset Management stated that “Trillium has a long history of almost 20 years of managing portfolios that are “fossil fuel free”. We have seen minimal difference in the volatility of these portfolios versus those with fossil fuel exposure. Over full market cycles, the fossil fuel free portfolios have experienced a slight outperformance of 0.35% annually.”
In a recent press release announcing the Vermont State Treasurer Office’s Sustainability Report, Treasurer Beth Pearce highlighted four recent examples of how “Vermont has used its position as an investor to engage with national and global businesses on the critical issues related to climate change.”
While 350 Vermont and the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club commend her for supporting a proposed Securities and Exchange Commission rule change requiring increased transparency of political contributions, and for helping prompt Krispy Kreme to sustainably harvest palm oil, they criticized the office’s shareholder engagement with ExxonMobil and BP as too indirect and weak to have impact.
“The BP resolution only commits the company to disclosing more information and further study of emissions scenarios, rather than setting firm emissions caps,” said 350 Vermont Divestment Organizer Jillian Mayer. “The ExxonMobil proposal rests upon the company’s willingness to set voluntary emissions caps. Both of these proposals illustrate the limits of shareholder engagement with companies that are unwilling to admit there is a problem with their business model.”
“More importantly,” Mayer said, “the Treasurer should commit to divesting the state’s pension fund of fossil fuel holdings within five years. There is simply no evidence to date that the fossil fuel industry has any intention of changing its core business model. By continuing to invest in fossil fuels, the Vermont Treasury profits from climate change and endangers the pensions of thousands of hard-working Vermonters.”
"There are many times when shareholder engagement is the right thing to do. This isn't one of them," stated Bill McKibben. Unless it divests, McKibben continued "Vermont will be an embarrassment." McKibben cited the Rockefeller Foundation and Prince Charles as recent high-profile examples who are divesting their investment portfolios.
“We are calling on the state to divest its approximately $4 billion pension fund portfolio from fossil fuel holdings. Divestment bills have been introduced in both chambers of the Vermont Legislature. The time to act is now,” said Nate Hausman, the Energy & Climate Committee Chair of the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Treasurer Pearce was invited to speak at the Carbon Risk Forum, but declined.