We Are “Out” of the Paris Accord — Really? What a Year! Signs of Great Progress in the Trump Denial Era

June 1, 2018

By Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

It was just one year ago – ah,, but it seems much longer…

WASHINGTON — The New York Times – June 1, 2017: “President Trump announced on Thursday that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, weakening efforts to combat global warming and embracing isolationist voices in his White House who argued that the agreement was a pernicious threat to the economy and American sovereignty.

In a speech from the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump said the landmark 2015 pact imposed wildly unfair environmental standards on American businesses and workers. He vowed to stand with the people of the United States against what he called a “draconian” international deal.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the president said, drawing support from members of his Republican Party but widespread condemnation from political leaders, business executives and environmentalists around the globe.”

What was to follow?

A Year of Significant Progress!

Today — interesting perspectives are shared in The Washington Post on where we are one year after President Donald Trump “withdrew” from the Paris Climate Accord. The United States of America is the first – and perhaps will be the only – nation to join and then withdraw the Agreement. Sort of.

Participation in the agreement for the USA runs to year 2020 so we are “still in” (officially).  The withdrawal process will take the next three years.

By that time, there might be a new occupant in the White House. 

This nation is still in by examination of various other factors that are explained by writer Chris Mooney in the WaPo. (He covers climate change, energy and the environment, reported from the Paris negotiations in 2015, and has published four books on the the subjects he covers.)

The key points we took away from Mooney’s excellent wrap up today:

  • The Trump Administration still has no consistent message about climate change,  and no clear policy, except for the antics of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, with his slash & burn attacks on environmental and climate-related regulations.
  • There is a positive development: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine embraced climate science.  (See notes at end.)
  • There has been unrelenting attack on President Barack Obama’s skilled moves to protect the country – and the planet! – such as the Clean Power Plan.
  • But, while the White House is the cheerleader for the coal industry, market forces reward renewable energy and natural gas as powerful drivers for change.
  • Other countries are sticking with the Paris Accord, but some of those countries may find it challenging to stay the course without U.S. leadership (says John Sterman of MIT).

BackgroundThe Obama Administration agreed in Paris with many other nations to the goals of a 26%-to-28% reduction of emissions below the 2005 levels — and today the U.S. and the whole world is off that metric, writes Chris Mooney.

Even if the commitments were realized, there would be a temperature rise of 3.3 degrees Celsius (almost 6% F) over time (according to MIT’s Sterman). So the USA would have to do even more than agreed-to in Paris. (The USA is the world’s second largest GhG emitter.)

Where are we? According to the Climate Action Tracker produced by NewClimate Institute and Ecofys, the USA is on track for an 11% to 13% decrease by year 2025, which is about halfway to the Obama Administration pledge.

What may interfere: the move to rollback auto fuel efficiency standards; an analysis by Rhodium Group projects adding 100 million tons (annually) by year 2035 for auto emissions alone if the rollbacks move forward.

The good news – from the “We Are Still In” front: the states of Virginia and New Jersey are making moves to cut emissions and the states of Colorado and California are developing new electric vehicle policies.

Vicky Arroyo (director of the Georgetown Climate Center is quoted:   At least we are not losing the momentum that was feared (one year ago today).

Kate Larsen, who directs climate change research at the Rhodium Group, thinks that the country is on track to meet or even exceed the Obama-era Clean Power Plan goals — thanks to the use of lower-cost renewable fuel sources and natural gas.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States are “hardly set to explode” and the country is moving toward lower GhG emissions over time, writes Mooney.

But. What the Trump announcement did last year on June 1 was to create fog about US national policy regarding climate change. The thing we all have to face: the slow progress exhibited and achieving climate change goals (those coming out of Paris) are not compatible.

The WaPo commentary is at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/06/01/trump-withdrew-from-the-paris-climate-plan-a-year-ago-heres-what-has-changed/?utm_term=.782d3cb38b3f&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Counterpoint!

The EDF – a/k/a Environmental Defense Fund – today trumpeted the Year of Climate Progress (since June 1 2018).

EDF members and environmentalists immediately began the counter-attack in June 2017 and in EDF’s words, that led to a year of extraordinary climate progress. The organization presents a timeline on line.  Highlights:

  • June 5, 2018 – EDF helps launch a coalition of organizations, businesses and state and local civic and political leaders to pledge “We Are Still In!” – today there are 2,700 leaders participating.
  • On to July 2017 – California Governor Jerry Brown signs into law an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program out to 2030.  The state is the sixth largest economy in all of the world!
  • September – North of the border, Ontario Province links its cap-and-trade program to the California-Quebec carbon market, creating a huge market covering 580 million tons of emissions. Sister province British Columbia intends to increase its carbon tax for April 2018 through 2021.
  • Nine Northeastern US States in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative complete their second program review and agree to reduce emissions by 30% from 2020 to 2030.
  • Halfway around the world in December 2017 China announced its national carbon market (to be largest in the world); this will start with electric power and expand to seven other industrial sectors. (So much for the Trumpian claim China is doing nothing to meet Paris Accord conditions.)
  • We move further into 2018 and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejects the DOE coal and nuclear proposal.
  • Despite shouts and threats and Trumpian boasting, the U.S. Congress adopts the 2018 budget in March 2018 that leaves the EPA budget mostly intact (EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wanted to cut the agency’s budget by 30%. Other environmental / energy agencies see budget increases.)
  • April – the UN’s International Maritime Organization adopts a climate plan to lower emissions from container ships, bulk and oil carriers, by at least 50% below 2008 levels by 2050.
  • Also in April — In the key industrial State of Ohio, the Public Utilities Commission approves AEP’s Electric Security Plan – this, EDF points out, will enhance and diversify the state economy, unlock millions in funding, provide customers with clean energy options and overall, will reduce pollution.
  • Next door, in April, the Illinois Commerce Commission approves the state’s Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan to have a pathway for electric utilities to produce 25% of power from renewable sources by 2025 and put incentives in play for development of wind and power.
  • April — EDF President Fred Krupp gives a TED Talk, outlining the plan to launch methane-detecting satellites in orbit above Earth to map and measure oil and gas methane emissions. The data and information gathered will help countries and companies spot problems, identify savings opportunities and measure progress.
  • April sure was a busy month – Canada issued policies to cut oil and gas emissions by 40% to 45% at new and existing facilities. This was part of a pledge made in 2016 (when President Obama was in office) for the USA, Canada and Mexico to decreased such emissions in North America by that amount by 2025.
  • On to May – and recently-elected New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy – a former Goldman Sachs exec – signed into law the plan to cut GhG emissions by almost half by 2030 (hey, that’s twice what the Clean Power Plan would have required!). The Garden State will require 50% of NJ electric needs to be met from renewable sources.
  • And on to May – ExxonMobil announced plans to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by 15% and flared gas volume by 25% — worldwide – by 2020.

Yes – a remarkable year, kicked off on June 1st 2017 by a vindictive head of state set on reversing the significant progress made under his predecessors.

But many individuals, companies, investors, civic organizations, NGOs proclaimed: We are still in.  The movement represents city halls, board room, college campuses, investors, and more…interests representing US$6.2 trillion (one-sixth of the entire American economy) have signed on to the We Are Still In declaration — https://www.wearestillin.com/we-are-still-declaration

Have you?

Notes:

The New York Times story by Michael Shear, June 1 2017 is at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/trump-paris-climate-agreement.html

The American Institute of Physics info on NASA, embrace of climate change consensus: https://www.aip.org/fyi/2018/bridenstine-embraces-nasa-science-climate-change-consensus

We Are Still In information at: https://www.wearestillin.com/

Pension Fund Activists Focus on Climate Change, Diversity, Director Nomination Process — with New York City Funds in the Lead

by Hank Boerner– Chairman, G&A Institute

Leading and influential activists in the sustainable & responsible investment community are focusing on the filing of their 2015 corporate proxy ballots with ESG issues top-of-mind. Let’s take a look at the actions of the New York City (5) pension funds (with US$160 billion in Assets Under Management).

The city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, was elected in November 2013, along with the new high-visibility mayor (Bill DeBlasio).  Under Comptroller Stringer’s direction, the fund(s) are filing proxy proposals with 75 companies to demand a greater voice in the nomination of boards of directors.  This is the characterized as “giving shareowners a true voice in how boards are elected.” .

This campaign is designed to roll out proxy access demands across the broad public company universe in the United States.  Back in the 1800s, one of the corrupt big city political bosses was William M. “Boss” Tweed.  Said Comptroller Stringer:  “The current ]corporate] election procedures would make Boss Tweed blush. We are seeing to change the market by having more meaningful director elections through proxy access, which will make boards more responsive to shareowners.  We expect to see better long-term performance across our portfolio…”

(As local point of reference, Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall was a member of Congress and director of the Erie Railroad Company and 10th National Bank.  He was convicted of corruption and died in jail in 1878.  His name is synonymous with corruption, cronyism, political back slapping.)

The NYC comptroller serves as investment advisor to, and custodian and trustee of the 5 funds, which are for city employee beneficiaries — teachers, police, fire department, board of education, city employees.

Proxy access” is the ability for owners to nominate directors in addition to — or in opposition to — the company’s slate of directors (in the proxy statement).  Comptroller Stringer wants to give shareholders with (1) 3% of shares and (2) holding the shares for 3 years the “threshold” of being able to nominate candidates for board service, up to (3) 25% of the total board membership.  Those companies not agreeing to the proposal received the NYC fund ballot initiative.

And big corporate names are involved; the resolutions are being filed at:

  • 33 carbon intensive coal, oil & gas, and utility companies (such as Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Apache, AEP (power), Southwestern Energy, ConocoPhilipps, Peabody Energy);
  • 24 companies with few / or no women on the board, and “little or no” racial or ethnic diversity – including eBay, Priceline, Level 3 Communications, Urban Outfitters, Alexion Pharma;
  • 25 companies that received “significant” opposition to 2014 shareholder votes (advisory, not binding) on their executive compensation plans.

In focus: :”Zombie directors”  – of 41 corporate directors receiving less than a majority vote in 2013, 40 remain on their boards.  As Comptroller Stringer described them, “unelected, but still serving…

“This is all part of what the pension fund leaders call their “Boardroom Accountability Project,” designed to call attention to as boards of directors and their perceived failure to address critical issues — climate risk, excessive compensation and lack of diversity in the board room.

Note that under “”plurality” voting in un-contested elections, a director who receives just one vote (his or hers counts if shares are owned) is re-elected…even if every other vote is cast against him.  The project seeks to have companies amend their bylaws to change that situation.

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was re-elected by an overwhelming statewide majority in November; he enthusiastically endorsed the city funds’ project (he is the sole trustee of the US$180 billion New York State Common Fund). He described the Board Accountability Project as a wake-up call to boards of directors to change the way business in the board room is done.

Also in support:  Anne Stausboll, CEO for California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) — the nation’s largest public employee pension fund with US$ 300 billion in AUM.

Her colleague, Anne Sheehan, corporate governance director at the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) termed the board accountability project “long overdue for our country,” voicing her support.  The fund has US$186 billion AUM.

This is not just a “New York City” liberal-leaning thing — voicing support for the project were other public sector fiduciaries:

  • William R. Atwood, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Investment. (US$5 billion AUM)
  • Francis X. Bielli, executive director of the Philadelphia Board of Pensions & Retirement.   (US$4.5 billion AUM)
  • Travis Williams, chairman of the Firefighters Pension System of Kansas City, Missouri (US$460 million AUM)
  • Alex Fernandez, chairman of the Miami (Florida) Firefighters Relief and Pension Fund.( US$1.5 billion AUM)

Comptroller Scott Singer explained that the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) first proposed “universal proxy access” (for all shareholders) back in 2003 as a “way to end the Imperial CEO,” as Enron, WorldCom and other large-caps imploded and many went out of business.  In 2010, the SEC approved a universal policy access rule in response to the financial crisis.” In a federal district court case, the rule was set aside; the SEC still allows “private ordering,” the ability for shareowners such as pension funds to file resolutions to be placed on the annual voting ballot.

And so the battle lines are being drawn for 2015 corporate engagements.  Many of the public companies named by New York City funds are seen as leaders in sustainability, responsibility and accountability.  The proxy resolutions would seem to state otherwise.

It will be interesting to see how the Board Accountability Project progresses, and how corporate boards and C-suites see the demands presented for greater “Corporate Democracy.”