Global investment funds overseeing US$32 trillion in assets gave a stark warning to governments Monday: cut carbon emissions and phase out coal mines or face a financial crisis several times worse than the 2008 market crash.
On Monday, 415 institutional investors from across the world (including several from Canada) released a statement demanding urgent action on the Paris Agreement as policymakers meet for the second week at the UN climate summit in Poland.
“The reality is that the long-term nature of the challenge has, in our view, met a zombie-like response by many,” said Chris Newton of IFM Investors.
“This is a recipe for disaster as the impacts of climate change can be sudden, severe and catastrophic.”
The investment managers said they have a responsibility to “manage and protect the assets of millions of savers and individuals worldwide, including from the effects of climate change,” citing their concern with the lack of implementation of the Paris Agreement, which world leaders are currently trying to finalize at the summit.
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The agreement was signed in 2015 and since then the U.S. has pulled out of it, with U.S. President Donald Trump arguing the accord would hurt the economy and provide little tangible environmental benefit.
The group of pension and investment funds said world leaders are falling short of the goal to slow global warming to below 2 C above pre-industrial levels.
Failure to act and lower carbon emissions could lead to permanent economic damage three or four times the scale of the impact of the 2008 financial crisis, British investment firm Schroders said, adding that it could cost $23 trillion of global economic losses a year in the long term without rapid action.
“The global shift to clean energy is underway, but much more needs to be done by governments to accelerate the low carbon transition and to improve the resilience of our economy, society and the financial system to climate risks,” the statement said.
The warning also comes almost a few weeks after the release of a U.S. government report that warned climate change will cost the American economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, damaging everything from human health to infrastructure and agricultural production.
Phase-out coal by 2050
The group of investors called for governments to phase out thermal coal, put a “meaningful” price on carbon emissions and get rid of subsidies for fossil fuels.
Peter Damgaard Jensen, the CEO of PKA, a Danish pension fund with $41 billion in assets, said: “there is no place for coal in the clean energy future.”
“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,” he said.
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The group recommended that to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting the increase in global temperatures by 2 C, a coal phase-out is needed by 2030 in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and in the European Union; by 2040 in China; and by 2050 in the rest of the world.
This comes after The Trump administration held an event at the UN summit Monday to promote “clean coal,” an energy sector the U.S. president has been pushing for since he was elected.
Trump and several members of his cabinet have also repeatedly cast doubt on the science of climate change, arguing the causes and impacts are not yet settled.
Preston Wells Griffith, a Trump administration adviser speaking at the UN summit, said the U.S. will continue extracting fossil fuels going forward, including through hydraulic fracking, and warned against “alarmism” over climate change.
The panel’s premise — that fossil fuels can be made “clean” through innovation — stands at odds with recommendations from scientists and investors that countries should shift their energy generation to renewable sources as soon as possible or risk catastrophic levels of global warming by the end of the century.
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Lord Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics told the Guardian that Trump’s suggestion that action on climate change was a jobs killer was “dead wrong,” adding, ”you don’t create jobs for the 21st century by trying to whistle up jobs from the 19th century.”
— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press