More investors engaging in the battle against climate change: PRI chairman

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Global investors are becoming more aware of the risk of the global warming and thinking that their investments can function as a spearhead to counter the problem, said the head of the world’s leading organization that advocates responsible investment.

“I think investors understand that, more than ever, it’s important they engage in this issue,” said Martin Skancke, who chairs the Principles for Responsible Investment, during an interview last week in Tokyo.

To enhance investor community contributions toward tackling climate change roles of Asian countries will be more critical, so the PRI has been more active in investing in the region, he said.

The battle with global warming saw a setback last year when U.S. President Donald Trump announced his country’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris agreement, in which 196 countries aimed to hold the increase in global average temperatures to less than 2 degrees above pre-Industrial Revolution levels and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.

Yet Skancke said he has not seen the mindset of investors negatively impacted.

“My view is that this whole issue has a momentum on its own. I don’t see any diminished interest in the investors’ community,” said Skancke.

Founded in 2006, London-based PRI helps investors engage in the concept of responsible investment, which urges them to consider factors related to ESG (environment, social and governance) in their investment decisions. It also suggests to investors that they push companies to be more transparent with nonfinancial information to measure their ESG commitment.

Due to climate change and the Paris accord the ESG movement has been more visible in recent years, with global warming seen as a potential long-term risk for investors. A transition to the low carbon economy “will affect the business environment in very profound ways. But this is a process that will play out over a long, long period of time, so it’s very relevant to long term investors,” said Skancke. The global financial crisis in 2007 also triggered criticism that investors had focused too much on short-term profit rather than long-term sustainability.

Skancke added that those in finance in Asian countries will perhaps be playing bigger roles in the future in relation to ESG investment. According to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance the value of socially responsible investment totaled $22.8 trillion in 2016, but the Asian region accounted for only 2.2 percent.

Skancke said the PRI’s focus on Asia had been weak in the past, so the organization has been putting more effort into work in the region to popularize the ESG movement.

For instance, it opened an office in Beijing last October to recruit more signatories, as Chinese investors, regulators and business community are becoming more ESG oriented, said Skancke. There are only 16 signatories in China now, according to the PRI website.

As for Japan, the number of signatories currently stands at 63, up from 13 in 2008. They include the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) and some insurance firms.

Still, Japan is often said to be slow to catch up with developments in the ESG movement. ESG rating rankings by FTSE International Ltd. and MSCI Inc. show that Japan was ranked at eighth and fifth as of last June, respectively.

But it has seen some changes in the past year or so. For instance, GPIF, which is the world’s largest pension fund with about ¥162 trillion under management, has been advocating the ESG movement in Japan.

Last July GPIF started investing ¥1 trillion in three ESG indexes covering firms that meet certain environmental, social and corporate governance criteria.

“The things that they are doing at GPIF I think in many ways sets an example in the local market … people look to large investors,” said Skancke.

The PRI was founded in 2006 after Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary General, asked investors to establish a set of responsible investment principles. The organization now has over 2,000 signatories worldwide.

Skancke, who formerly led the Norwegian government’s pension fund, was appointed to the chair position in 2014 and is now in his second term.

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