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Pandemic nudging firms to address climate change, Norway wealth fund says

OSLO (Reuters) - The coronavirus pandemic may be accelerating a shift among companies worldwide to make their operations more environmentally sustainable, a high-ranking official at Norway’s $1.25 trillion sovereign wealth fund said on Monday.

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The fund is one of the world’s largest investors, channelling revenues from Norway’s oil and gas production into the stocks of some 9,200 companies abroad, or 1.5% of the world’s stocks. It also holds bonds and unlisted real estate.

“The pandemic has not weakened sustainability work, but perhaps strengthened it,” Carine Smith Ihenacho, the fund’s head of governance and compliance, told a news conference.

“The chairman of a big European company told us in a meeting that the pandemic has accelerated work on sustainability,” Smith Ihenacho said. “When a virus can turn the world economy upside down, more companies think about the consequences of their impact on social and environmental conditions,” she added, without naming the cited European firm or its chairman.

Smith Ihenacho also mentioned a survey the fund had done on sustainability and how more companies were taking steps to address the matter.

Some 67% of 1,521 companies the fund queries in 2020 said they had set long-term quantitative targets to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, up from 54% in 2019, when 1,500 firms were surveyed.

Some 48% of companies surveyed in 2020 had considered different climate scenarios in their business plans or strategy, up from 35% in 2019, the fund said.

Still, a majority of companies surveyed this year - 52% - has not considered different climate scenarios in their business plan or strategy.

The fund is canvassing companies because it wants to test the business model of the biggest CO2 emitters in its portfolio and see whether they have a business model that can survive in a low-carbon society.

The fund had previously said it was planning to publish, ahead of time, its voting intentions at the annual general meetings of the 9,200 companies it invests in.

On Monday, the fund said it would do so five days before the vote is scheduled, and that it would start doing so from next month, making the information searchable on its website nbim.no.

“We want to be world-leading on this,” CEO Nicolai Tangen told a news conference.

Graphic - Market value of Norway's wealth fund:

Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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