Posted on: January 17th, 2020
BlackRock founder and CEO Larry Fink has been making headlines this week with the announcement on Tuesday (14/1/20) that BlackRock are making major changes to their business, putting sustainability – and in particular climate change – at the heart of their business operations.
This is a welcome and important development.
Some commentators have pointed out that his carefully chosen words indicate that BlackRock won’t exactly be comparable with a well run sustainable investment fund any time soon – and many of us well aware that BlackRock have over-promised in this area in the past – but although relevant I’d suggest this should not be allowed to detract from the magnitude of their announcement. Their joining Climate Action 100+ (as part of this shift) should mean that any slip ups will become instantly visible – so I’d like to hope that previous (substantial) stewardship failings should hopefully fade into history soon.
So – the key message remains… ‘the largest investor in the world is refocusing their operations around sustainability and climate change because they believe they these issues are ‘fundamentally reshaping finance’. From an asset manager of their ilk this is big news for businesses and investors alike.
The FT’s headline ‘BlackRock shakes up business to focus on sustainable investing‘ and the BBC’s ‘Climate Change to drive massive investment shift’ point to how seriously they regard this.
So the message to investment advisers and others is clear: things are changing fast. Do not ignore climate change or sustainability.
(… and of course, BlackRock’s Sustainable Energy fund (the renamed New Energy Fund) is listed on Fund EcoMarket – although they have not completed our fund form so the information there is fairly scant.)
Rather than reinventing the wheel I have pasted the first half of the letter below to give you a flavour of what I believe ‘game changing’, message – alongside some other useful links.
As an asset manager, BlackRock invests on behalf of others, and I am writing to you as an advisor and fiduciary to these clients. The money we manage is not our own. It belongs to people in dozens of countries trying to finance long-term goals like retirement. And we have a deep responsibility to these institutions and individuals – who are shareholders in your company and thousands of others – to promote long-term value.
Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. Last September, when millions of people took to the streets to demand action on climate change, many of them emphasized the significant and lasting impact that it will have on economic growth and prosperity – a risk that markets to date have been slower to reflect. But awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.
The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance. Research from a wide range of organizations – including the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the BlackRock Investment Institute, and many others, including new studies from McKinsey on the socioeconomic implications of physical climate risk – is deepening our understanding of how climate risk will impact both our physical world and the global system that finances economic growth.
Will cities, for example, be able to afford their infrastructure needs as climate risk reshapes the market for municipal bonds? What will happen to the 30-year mortgage – a key building block of finance – if lenders can’t estimate the impact of climate risk over such a long timeline, and if there is no viable market for flood or fire insurance in impacted areas? What happens to inflation, and in turn interest rates, if the cost of food climbs from drought and flooding? How can we model economic growth if emerging markets see their productivity decline due to extreme heat and other climate impacts?
Investors are increasingly reckoning with these questions and recognizing that climate risk is investment risk. Indeed, climate change is almost invariably the top issue that clients around the world raise with BlackRock. From Europe to Australia, South America to China, Florida to Oregon, investors are asking how they should modify their portfolios. They are seeking to understand both the physical risks associated with climate change as well as the ways that climate policy will impact prices, costs, and demand across the entire economy.
These questions are driving a profound reassessment of risk and asset values. And because capital markets pull future risk forward, we will see changes in capital allocation more quickly than we see changes to the climate itself. In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.
As a fiduciary, our responsibility is to help clients navigate this transition. Our investment conviction is that sustainability- and climate-integrated portfolios can provide better risk-adjusted returns to investors. And with the impact of sustainability on investment returns increasing, we believe that sustainable investing is the strongest foundation for client portfolios going forward.
In a letter to our clients today, BlackRock announced a number of initiatives to place sustainability at the center of our investment approach, including: making sustainability integral to portfolio construction and risk management; exiting investments that present a high sustainability-related risk, such as thermal coal producers; launching new investment products that screen fossil fuels; and strengthening our commitment to sustainability and transparency in our investment stewardship activities.
Over the next few years, one of the most important questions we will face is the scale and scope of government action on climate change, which will generally define the speed with which we move to a low-carbon economy. This challenge cannot be solved without a coordinated, international response from governments, aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Under any scenario, the energy transition will still take decades. Despite recent rapid advances, the technology does not yet exist to cost-effectively replace many of today’s essential uses of hydrocarbons. We need to be mindful of the economic, scientific, social and political realities of the energy transition. Governments and the private sector must work together to pursue a transition that is both fair and just – we cannot leave behind parts of society, or entire countries in developing markets, as we pursue the path to a low-carbon world.
While government must lead the way in this transition, companies and investors also have a meaningful role to play. As part of this responsibility, BlackRock was a founding member of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). We are a signatory to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment, and we signed the Vatican’s 2019 statement advocating carbon pricing regimes, which we believe are essential to combating climate change.