Exclusive: Climate row roils U.N.-backed group of insurers and pension funds
LONDON, March 31 (Reuters) - A member of a United Nations-backed coalition of insurance firms and pension funds seeking to tackle climate change told Reuters it was considering quitting after disagreements about curbing investment in the oil and gas sector split the group.
Danish pension fund AkademikerPension may leave the Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance because new requirements detailed in a position paper for its 85 members do not attach enough strings to owning the shares and bonds of publicly listed oil and gas companies, its chief investment officer, Anders Schelde, said.
"The position doesn't live up to our standards and we will have to consider our involvement in NZAOA moving forward," Schelde said, referring to the final draft of the paper after an 18-month consultation process.
Hopes for more ambitious requirements were dashed by concerns among some of the coalition's members that prescriptive goals could open them up to allegations that their industry was colluding and attract antitrust lawsuits, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
The row is the latest in a string of policy splits among major climate coalitions of financial firms.
The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), led by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, dropped in October a requirement for its members to sign up to a United Nations emissions reduction campaign after some pushed back.
Reuters reported last week that members of the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials were divided over how to report on carbon emissions linked to their capital markets business.
In the position paper published on Wednesday, NZAOA, whose members control $11 trillion in assets, said it expected members to no longer finance new oil and gas infrastructure linked to exploration and production projects directly.
AkademikerPension said it wanted the position paper to state that NZAOA members should invest in public equities or corporate bonds only when the companies involved are no longer investing in exploration for new oil and gas.
"We're not saying all NZAOA members should dump listed equities of oil majors from tomorrow, but it should be a clear aim and clear position that new oil and gas is incompatible with 1.5 degrees," said Schelde, referring to efforts to cap global warming at that level by mid-century.
Dorris Kirui, senior environmental, social and governance manager at Gothaer Asset Management AG, a NZAOA member, said she supported the position paper but acknowledged its language was not as strict as some members wanted.
"As NZAOA have an increasing number of members from different countries and political backgrounds, it was difficult to achieve consensus on the exact wording," Kirui said.
Gunther Thallinger, NZAOA chair and a board director at German insurer Allianz SE (ALVG.DE), said the group's position reflected a "a minimum standard" that all members could agree on.
Several NZAOA members are based in the United States, where some states run by Republican politicians have criticized and even boycotted financial firms for their stance on fossil fuels and the transition to a low-carbon economy.
This has created anxiety among some firms about the risks they face should they become the target of antitrust lawsuits over their participation in environmental initiatives, despite no such legal action having been mounted yet.
German insurer Munich Re (MUVGn.DE) said earlier on Friday it was withdrawing from another alliance of insurers focused on reducing carbon emissions - the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance - to avoid antitrust risks.
A Munich Re spokesperson said the insurer planned to stick with NZAOA, without elaborating why it was not as concerned about the antitrust risks in that instance.
Joel Mitnick, a partner at law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in New York, said antitrust lawsuits against firms participating in climate coalitions were possible but unlikely to succeed.
"I think it's going to be extremely difficult for a plaintiff, even a government enforcer, to prevail on an antitrust theory of harm," said Mitnick.
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