It was AMP’s turn this week to field questions from shareholders about how the company is handling issues of climate change and fossil fuel risk.
It revealed something alarming about how Australia’s third biggest asset manager was managing what has been described by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney as a huge risk to global financial stability.
When asked whether the board supported the goal of keeping global warming to below 2°C and how, through its own business, AMP would contribute to achieving that goal, outgoing Chairman Simon McKeon answered that it’s a question that has never been on the Board’s agenda.
That’s right. Never.
AMP is one of Australia’s largest financial institutions, big in banking, lending, life insurance, superannuation and asset management. It will have exposure to the fossil fuel industry through infrastructure, fixed income, and equity investments and will no doubt already be feeling the financial pinch as we see a multi-trillion dollar market correction begin to take hold.
In fact, as part of a report released earlier this year, Market Forces has already estimated the losses AMP’s My Super No 2. option will have felt from fossil fuels in the last couple of years. Over the period 2014-15, this fund’s returns were dented by 2% thanks to coal, oil and gas companies losing their value.
That works out to an average of $878 per member lost on fossil fuel shares.
AMP’s lack of interest, courage, or whatever has prevented the board from considering the two-degree global warming goal stands in contrast to Australia’s big four banks, who late last year all announced their support for and commitment to the two-degree goal, and at their AGMs went to great lengths to assure shareholder that climate change, its risks and opportunities were discussions the boards were having regularly.
If you’ve followed Market Forces’ work over the past few years, you’ll know that we don’t exactly regard the banks as saints on the issue of climate change.
But at least they have given the matter enough consideration at a board level to publicly state where they stand on the two degree limit agreed to in Paris. In fact, many other Australian investors were clamouring over each other to sign on to statements of support for a strong global deal ahead of Paris. Not so, AMP.
What makes this leadership failure on the issue of climate change and managing the myriad of risks it poses for financial institutions so startling for AMP is that they have actually been active in some areas on the issue of climate change.
They were one of the first funds to announce they would divest from a range of fossil fuel companies in their Responsible Investment Leaders option, one that gets provided by many other smaller super funds who don’t have their own “sustainable” option.
AMP has also asked for companies to explain how compatible they are with a low carbon economy and have even encouraged self-managed super funds to consider the impacts of climate change in their own portfolios.
So at least at a staff and management level, AMP has managed to carve out enough space to consider climate change and its risks for investors. But there seems to be a disconnect between management and the Board.
For the Board of one of Australia’s biggest institutional investors to not even be talking about the global climate change goal, where they stand on the matter and what it means for the company is major omission, both from the perspective of actually wanting to avoid runaway climate change and the wealth destruction that AMP could face without leadership on this issue.
Perhaps a briefing from their own ESG researchers on how climate change could impact their own company would be a useful step in helping AMP’s board get its hands on the steering wheel with this issue.
(Editor’s note: The full board of AMP can be found here. It includes McKeon, a former chair of CSIRO, and Peter Shergold, the former public servant whose Shergold Report helped define former Prime Minister John Howard’s belated push into emissions trading policy.
Julien Vincent is executive director of Market Forces.