While the Federal Government Leaders Poo-Pooh Climate Change, the Sovereign State of California Continues to Set the Pace for America and the World!
Focus on The State of California – the America’s Sovereign State of Superlatives Including in the Realm of Societal Sustainability…
By Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist – G&A Institute
We are focusing today on the “Golden State” – California – America’s sovereign state of sustainability superlatives!
The U.S.A.’s most populous state is forceful and rigorous in addressing the numerous challenges of climate change, ESG issues, sustainable investing and other more aspects of life in this 21st Century.
Think about this: California is by itself now the fifth largest economy in the world. The total state GDP (the value of goods & services produced within the borders) is approaching US$ 3 trillion. The total U.S.A. GDP is of course the largest in the world (it includes California GDP) and then comes China, Japan, Germany… and the state of California!
The California population is about 40 million people – that means that roughly one-in-eight people in the U.S.A. live in the Golden State.
Stretching for 800+ miles along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, California is third largest in size behind Alaska (#1) and Texas and takes the honor of setting the example for the rest of the U.S.A. in societal focus on sustainability.
Most investors and public company boards and managements know that the large California pension fund fiduciaries (institutional investors) often set the pace for U.S. fiduciary responsibility and stewardship in their policies and activities designed to address the challenges of climate change, of global warming effects.
The state’s two large public employee pension funds — CalPERS (the California Public Employees’ Retirement System) and CalSTRS (the California State Teachers’ Retirement System) have been advocates for corporate governance reforms for public companies whose shares are in their portfolios.
CalPERS manages more than US$350 billion in AUM; CalSTRS, $220 billion.
A new law in California this year requires the two funds to identify climate risk in their portfolios and to disclose the risks to the public and legislature (at least every three years)
CalSTRS and CalPRS will have to report on their “carbon footprints” and progress made toward achieving the 2-Degrees Centigrade goals of the Paris Accord.
Looking ahead to the future investment environment — in the emerging “low carbon economy” — CalPERS is pointing more of its investments toward renewable energy infrastructure projects (through a direct investment program). The fund has invested in two solar generation facilities and acquired a majority interest in a firm that owns two wind farms.
Walking the Talk with proxy voting: long an advocate for “good governance,” CalPERS voted against 438 board of director nominees at 141 companies this year in proxy voting. CalPERS said this was based on the [companies’] failures to respond to it effort to engage with corporate boards and managements to increase board room diversity.
CalPERS’ votes including “no” cast on the candidacy of numerous board chairs, long-term directors and nominating & governance committee chairs. This campaign was intended to “create heat” in the board room to increase diversity. CalPERS had solicited engagements with 504 companies — and more than 150 responded and added at least one “diverse” director. CalSTRS joins its sister fund in these campaigns.
During the year 2018 proxy voting season, to date, CalPERS has voted against executive compensation proposals and lack of diversity in board room 43% of the time for the more than 2,000 public companies in the portfolio.
Other fiduciaries in the state follow the lead of the big funds.
The San Francisco City/County Employee Retirement Fund
The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) with US$24 billion in AUM recently hired a Director of ESG Investment as part of a six-point strategy to address climate risk. Andrew Collins comes from State Street Global Advisors (SSgA) and the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB – based in SFO) where he helped to develop the ESG accounting standards for corporations in 80 industries.
The approach Collins has recommended to the SFERS Investment Committee:
- Engagement through proxy voting and support for the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) proxy resolutions.
- Partnerships with Climate Action 100+, Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), Ceres, Council of Institutional Investors, and other institutional investor carbon-reducing initiatives.
- Active ESG consideration for current and future portfolio holdings.
- Use of up-to-date ESG analytics to measure the aggregate carbon footprint of SFERS assets; active monitoring of ESG risks and opportunities; continued tracking of prudent divestment of risky fossil fuel assets.
The staff recommendations for the six point approach (which was adopted) included:
- Adopt a carbon-constrained strategy for $1 billion of passive public market portfolio holdings to reduce carbon emissions by 50% vs. the S&P 500 Index.
- Hire a director of SRI to coordinate activities – that’s been done now.
As first step in “de-carbonization” the SFERS board approved divestment of ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron (September 2018) and will look at other companies in the “Underground 200 Index”. The pension fund held $523 million in equities in the CU200 companies and a smaller amount of fixed-income securities ($36MM).
Important background is here: https://mysfers.org/wp-content/uploads/012418-special-board-meeting-Attachment-E-CIO-Report.pdf
There are 70,000 San Francisco City and County beneficiaries covered by SFERS.
At the May 2017 SFERS board meeting, a motion was made to divest all fossil fuel holdings. An alternative was to adopt a strategy of positive investment actions to reduce climate risk. The board approved divestment of all coal companies back in 2015.
California Ignores the National Leadership on Climate Change
In 2015, the nations of the world gathered in Paris for the 21st meeting of the “Conference of Parties,” to address climate change challenges. The Obama Administration signed on to the Paris Accord (or Agreement); Donald Trump upon taking office in January 2017 made one of his first moves the start of withdrawal from the agreement (about a three year process).
American states and cities decided otherwise, pledging to continue to meet the terms previously agreed to by the national government and almost 200 other nations – this is the “We are still in movement.”
The State of California makes sure that it is in the vanguard of the movement.
This Year in California
The “Global Climate Action Summit” was held in San Francisco in September; outgoing Governor Jerry Brown presided. The meeting attracted leaders from around the world with the theme, “Take Ambition to the Next Level,” designed to encourage collaboration among states, regions, cities, companies, investors, civic leaders, NGOs, and citizens to take action on climate change issues.
Summit accomplishments: there were commitments and actions by participants to address: (1) Healthy Energy Systems; (2) Inclusive Economic Growth; (3) Sustainable Communities; (4) Land and Ocean Stewardship; and (5) Transformative Climate Investments. Close to 400 companies, cities, states and others set “100 percent” renewable energy targets as part of the proceedings.
New “Sustainability” Laws
The California State Legislature passed the “100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2018” to accelerate the state’s “Renewable Portfolio Standard” to 60% by year 2030 — and for California to be fossil free by year 2045 (with “clean, zero carbon sourcing” assured). Supporters included Adobe and Salesforce, both headquartered in the Golden State; this is now state law.
Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order directing California to achieve “carbon neutrality” by the year 2045 — and to be “net zero emissions” after that.
The state legislature this year passed a “Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) ” measure that is now law, directing the California Energy Commission to create incentives for the private sector to create new or improved building and water heating technologies that would help reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions.
Water Use Guidelines
Water efficiency laws were adopted requiring the powerful State Water Resources Control Board to develop water use guidelines to discourage waste and require utilities to be more water-efficient.
About Renewables and Sustainable Power Sources
Walking the Talk: Renewables provided 30% of California power in 2017; natural gas provided 34% of the state’s electricity; hydropower was at 15% of supply; 9% of power is from nuclear. The state’s goal is to have power from renewables double by 2030.
California utilities use lithium-ion batteries to supplement the grid system of the state. PG&E is building a 300-megawatt battery facility as its gas-generating plants go off-line.
Insurance, Insurers and Climate Change Challenges
There are now two states — California and Washington — that participate in the global Sustainable Insurance Forum (SIF); the organization released a report that outlines climate change risks faced by the insurance sector and aims to raise awareness for insurers and regulators of the challenges presented by climate change. And how insurers could respond.
The Insurance Commissioner of California oversees the largest insurance market in the U.S.A. and sixth largest in the world — with almost $300 billion in annual premiums. Commissioner Dave Jones endorsed the 2017 recommendations of the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (the “TCFD”) and would like to see the now-voluntary disclosures be made mandatory by the G-20 nations. (The G-20 created the Financial Stability Board after the 2018 financial crisis to address risk in the financial sector).
In 2016 the Insurance Commissioner created the requirement that California-licensed insurance companies report publicly on the amount of thermal coal enterprise holdings in portfolio — and asked that the companies voluntarily divest from these enterprises. Also asked: that insurers of investments in fossil fuel companies (such as thermal coal, oil, gas, utilities) survey or “data call” on these companies for greater public financial disclosure.
What About a Carbon Tax for California?
The carbon tax – already in place. California has a “cap and trade” carbon tax adopted in 2013; revenues raised go into a special fund that finances parks and helps to make homes more energy efficient. The per ton tax rate in 2018 was $15.00. The program sets maximum statewide GhG emissions for covered entities in power and industrial sectors and enables them to sell allowances (the “trade” part of cap & trade). By 2020, the Cap and Trade Program is expected to drive more than 20% of targeted GhG emissions still needed to be reduced.
As we said up top, the “Golden State” – California – is America’s sovereign state of sustainability superlatives!
There is more information for you at G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” management briefing platform:
Brief: California Leads the Way (Again) – State’s Giant Pension Funds Must Now Consider Portfolio Climate Risks & Report on Results – It’s the Law