Investors can no longer ignore the impact of climate change, study warns

by Search Gate staff. Published Thu 04 Jun 2016 12:25, Last updated: 2016-06-04
Investment returns are threatened by impacts of climate change
Investment returns are threatened by impacts of climate change

Investors can no longer ignore the potential impact of climate change on investment returns, according to a new report by global consultancy Mercer.

The research reveals investors can manage the risk most effectively by looking ‘under the hood’ of their portfolios and factoring climate change into their risk modelling, which requires a significant behavioural shift for most.

The report, titled “Investing in a time of climate change.” outlines actions for investors to manage key downside risks and access opportunities. It is the culmination of a research project that began in September 2014 and will be launched in London today; ahead of negotiations for a new global climate agreement at the end of 2016 in Paris.

The investment modelling in Mercer’s report estimates the potential impact of climate change on returns for portfolios, asset classes and industry sectors between 2016 and 2050, based on four climate change scenarios and four climate risk factors. The four scenarios represent a rise in global temperature above pre-industrial era temperatures of 2°C, 3°C and two 4°C scenarios (with different levels of potential physical impacts).

Mercer collaborated with 16 investment partners, collectively responsible for more than US$1.5 trillion, to produce the report. It was supported by IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, in partnership with Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany, and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

The study was also supported with contributions from Mercer’s sister companies NERA Economic Consulting and Guy Carpenter, and input from 13 advisory group members.

The investment modelling supports the following key findings:

* Climate change will give rise to investment winners and losers: Based on the scenarios modelled, climate change is expected to have an impact on investment returns; investors need to take action to understand and mitigate the risks and maximize value at the asset, industry sector and portfolio level.

* The biggest risk is at the industry level: Differentiation between winners and losers is most apparent at the industry level – For example, depending on the climate scenario which plays out, the average annual returns from the coal sub-sector could fall by anywhere between 18% and 74% over the next 35 years, with effects being more pronounced over the coming decade (eroding between 26% and 138% of average annual returns over the next 10 years). Conversely, the renewables sub-sector could see average annual returns increase by between 6% and 54% over a 35 year time horizon (or between 4% and 97% over a 10-year period) depending on the climate scenario.

* Asset-class return impacts will be material, but vary widely by climate change scenario: Growth assets are more sensitive to climate risks than defensive assets. A 2°C scenario could see return benefits for emerging market equities, infrastructure, real estate, timber and agriculture. A 4°C scenario could negatively impact emerging market equities, real estate, timber and agriculture.

* A 2°C scenario does not have negative return implications for long-term diversified investors at a total portfolio level over the period modelled (to 2050), and is expected to better protect long-term returns beyond this timeframe.

Chair of Mercer’s Responsible Investment team, Jane Ambachtsheer, said, “Whilst it is challenging, we have attempted to quantify the potential investment impacts of climate change. We recognise that markets do not always price in change; they are notoriously poor at anticipating incremental structural change and long-term downside risk until it is upon us.”

“Our report identifies the ‘what?’ the ‘so what?’, and the ‘now what?’ in terms of the impact of climate change on investment returns. These insights enable investors to build resilience into their portfolios under an uncertain future.

“This report can act as a guide to creating an action plan. Whether it is setting portfolio de-carbonisation targets, investing in solutions that address risks and opportunities, or increasing engagement with managers and companies, our report shows investors how they might take action. Engaging with policy makers is also crucial and helps empower investors in their role as ‘future makers’,” said Ms Ambachtsheer.

Mercer’s Global CIO for Mainstream Assets, Russell Clarke, added a portfolio construction perspective, saying, “This study helps us better prepare to navigate the changes that such a structural and systemic issue as climate change may represent. We believe it’s a significant investment risk that investors should be aware of and able to act upon in close collaboration with investment managers.”

IFC Director for Climate Change, Christian Grossman, commented, “This new study led by Mercer could not be more timely on the road to the UN Climate Change conference in Paris."

"In a time of climate change, this study can help investors address uncertainty by guiding them on assessing their exposure to climate risk and improve the resilience of their portfolios. It can also send a clear message to policy-makers that resolving the uncertainty around the policy direction of carbon pricing will be an important first step toward transitioning to a low carbon economy,” said Mr Grossman.

David Nussbaum, Chief Executive, WWF-UK, added: “This report highlights that investors should see the opportunities in addition to the risks from climate change. The tides are turning toward a low carbon future and away from the unsustainable status quo.

“Investment is needed to accelerate this unavoidable trend and those who are ahead of this trend, the report shows, may in fact better secure their financial future. It is now time for us to make sure that our investments are safe for the long term, safe financially and safe for our precious planet.”

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