Thursday, February 29, 2024

Dutch pension funds often vote against climate resolutions – study

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Dutch pension funds continue to regularly vote against shareholder resolutions meant to make companies pursue more climate-friendly policies, according to NGOs Groen Pensioen and BothEnds. The pension funds in question dispute their findings.

Groen Pensioen and BothEnds, two Dutch NGOs focused on sustainability, analysed the voting behaviour of 12 Dutch pension funds and two asset managers on several dozens of shareholder resolutions on annual general meetings (AGMs) of oil and gas companies and banks that finance these firms.

Of the 12 funds included in the study, only metals and electronics industry scheme PME voted “pro-climate” for all resolutions. PME voted at a relatively small number of resolutions (only five) because it divested from oil and gas producers in 2021.

“We categorised votes as pro-climate if they voted against resolutions at oil and gas companies and banks that offer too little climate action, or against board members who do not do enough to reduce emissions,” said Cindy Coltman of BothEnds.

“Similarly, we also categorised shareholder resolutions that want to set emissions targets or limit new fossil fuel financing as pro-climate.”

PMT said it voted pro-climate for 77% of resolutions, rather than the 71% stated in the data table produced by BothEnds, because BothEnds used an external source that is not up-to-date. BothEnds confirmed the mistake, but said it did not fundamentally alter the conclusions of its report.

The pension funds and asset managers included in the study do not necessarily agree with the definitions used by the NGOs.

Responding to an allegation that it does not always vote in the interest of climate, Aegon Asset Management disagreed, saying: “We do always vote in the interest of the climate. We vote against bad or poorly formulated proposals that do not suffice, or against board members that have insufficient oversight over climate risks. But we support all good proposals, as can be seen in the overview.”

BothEnds and Groen Pensioen believe the 11 pension funds and two asset managers that do not always vote ‘pro-climate’ fail to do enough to combat global warming.

The funds tend to explain their reluctance to support some resolutions because these are “too specific and prescriptive, making them less effective”, as Pensioenfonds PWRI put it.

Marjolein Dillen of Groen Pensioen disagreed: “Pension funds need to get rid of their fear to be too prescriptive or difficult for the companies they invest in, and clearly indicate their expectations when it comes to climate policy.”

Equinor

In addition, some climate resolutions can be financially damaging to companies. This can be a reason not to support them, according to healthcare scheme PFZW.

An example is a resolution tabled at the AGM of Norwegian oil firm Equinor that called on the company to stop new oil and gas exploration. No pension fund in the study supported this resolution.

PMT, the scheme for the metals industry in the Netherlands, noted that the resolution in question was going further than the fund’s own policy. PMT only wants to see an end to greenfield investments. New exploration in areas where exploration already takes place is permitted, according to the fund.

“Besides, we wonder how realistic this ask is, given the current situation with Russia and Ukraine, and the crucial role Equinor plays in the gas crisis. The resolution also demands Equinor to terminate or sell all projects outside Norway. This seems quite radical to us, and its unclear how it impacts the energy transition,” PMT said in a response to the report.

Oil platform Equinor Norway

The two NGOs also concluded that pension funds were not cooperating much to bring resolutions across the line, although they are often members of climate coalitions such as Climate Action 100+.

The GP fund Huisartsen and agri and horticulture scheme BPL noted that the regulator would not allow this anyway. “This could be acting in concert which has to be reported to [the regulator] AFM,” said BPL.

Despite a large of majority of Dutch pension funds voting pro-climate on most resolutions, none of those were actually passed. From an international perspective, Dutch pension funds are therefore frontrunners when it comes to climate engagement.

“We appreciate the steps taken by Dutch pension funds in the field of climate policy,” said Coltman. “But we didn’t see a convincing case that voting itself was consistent. If Dutch pension funds seem reluctant to be too prescriptive, who will make the needle move if not even the most climate-aware investors do? More action is surely necessary.”

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