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Opportunities and risks for investors in the latest UN climate change report

The latest UN climate change report offers important clues for investors seeking to understand portfolio risks and investment opportunities. Pendal’s Edwina Matthew explains

Key points
  • The latest IPCC report increases risk of climate activism or litigation against companies. A number of climate cases have referenced earlier versions of the report. Watch also for litigation against governments which could affect regulatory approvals
  • There is heightened focus on methane. The EU wants curbs and the US is planning tighter emission rules. This could bring risks and opportunities.
  • Carbon removal is a vital — and potentially investable — net zero tool from afforestation to wetland restoration to carbon capture and storage and ocean fertilisation.

THE UN’s latest Climate Change report made headlines this week with predictions of irreversible global warming, rising sea levels and climate change affecting every corner of the planet.

But it also provides evidence-based information to help investors better understand portfolio risks and identify investment opportunities such as carbon capture and methane-reduction technologies.

The 3900-page report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change — is the gold standard for research on the science of climate change and options for adaption and mitigation.

Government and corporate decision-makers worldwide rely on the IPCC’s findings to inform their climate risk assessments and emissions reduction strategies

The report — which was unanimously endorsed by the governments of all 195 country members including Australia — is based on a three-year analysis of 14,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies.

It will be the central terms of reference later this year at COP26 — the upcoming United Nations climate conference in Glasgow.

Pendal wins Fund Manager of the Year 2020

The report shows unequivocally that human activities are responsible for the warming world. This warming is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts, cyclones and heavy rain.

Global temperature rises of between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius are expected unless deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions occur in the next few decades. Regardless of action, changes already occurring due to past emissions are now likely to be irreversible for thousands of years.

Low likelihood, high-impact events such as ice sheet collapses, ocean current changes or Amazon dieback cannot be ruled out.

“It’s a sobering read,” says Edwina Matthew, Head of Responsible Investments at Pendal.

“And remember that these are averages – different regions, different countries, even different states will be impacted to a greater or lesser degree than this average.

“For example, the report finds that average global warming is 1.09 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. Australian land areas are already 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages.

“This is going to increase the probability of extreme weather events, heatwaves, sea surges and drought.”

Risks and opportunities for investors

What should investors take out of the IPCC report? What does it mean for portfolio construction?  And how can investors ensure they understand the risks and opportunities posed by global warming?

Matthew identifies three headline risks and opportunities for investors to consider:

  1. The IPCC report increases the risk of climate activism or litigation against companies and governments

The most high-profile litigation so far has been a Dutch court ruling that the multinational oil giant Royal Dutch Shell must reduce its emissions because its contribution to global warming violates human rights.

Previous IPCC reports were referenced in the court case and this latest one will likely be used in the appeal hearing.

A number of Australian cases have also referenced IPCC findings.

Sharma v Minister for the Environment [2021] found the federal environment minister owed a duty of care to children who might suffer potential “catastrophic harm” from the climate change implications of approving a NSW coal mine extension.

Investors also need to watch for governments being the target of litigation which could affect regulatory approvals and business permissions in their investments.

2. The report’s heightened focus on methane is of interest for investors

A “strong, rapid and sustained’ reduction in methane emissions is required to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change, the report finds.

Methane is not only a vastly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but its concentration in the atmosphere has been increasing rapidly.

Importantly, it is short-lived in the atmosphere meaning controls on methane can rapidly reduce atmospheric concentrations.

Governments are already acting on methane. The EU is proposing curbs on methane emissions while the US is planning tighter emission rules.

But it’s a tricky problem to solve. Some gas production emits methane. Raising livestock for meat and nitrogen-based fertilisers are major sources. Rotting waste in landfill also emits methane.

“All of these are important challenges that investors can play a part in,” says Matthew.

“Investors can engage with companies to better understand how they’re thinking about these issues, what they’re doing to mitigate the risks and how they’re transitioning to thrive in a low-carbon economy.

“Investors can also direct funds to solutions. For example, CSIRO is working with the private sector to commercialise a livestock feed additive made from seaweed, which has been shown to reduce methane emissions in cattle by up to 80 per cent.”

3. Carbon removal solutions can also play a role in investor portfolios

“Carbon removal is a vital net zero tool which has a place alongside absolute emissions reductions,” says Matthew. “It covers a range of investable methods, from afforestation to wetland restoration to carbon capture and storage (CCS) and ocean fertilisation.”

However carbon removal technologies such as CCS need more development to work at the scale required. We need more co-ordinated efforts to advance these sorts of emissions reduction solutions in sectors with harder-to-abate industrial processes such as cement and steel production.  

Future climate scenarios are becoming clearer

We now know more than ever how possible climate futures could play out.

The report is very clear that without “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions” in emissions, curbing global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius — the Paris Agreement goal — will be “beyond reach”.

These findings call on us all to accept and act on the reality of the situation, including policymakers, investors, businesses and consumers.

In the words of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres the report is a “code red for humanity”.

Download the sixth assessment report from the IPCC here

About Edwina Matthew and Pendal

Edwina Matthew is Pendal’s Head of Responsible Investments. Edwina is responsible for maintaining our leadership position in the provision of sustainable and ethical investment products.

Edwina is actively involved in the implementation of the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment. She also represents the company in working groups with a number of industry associations and initiatives relating to responsible investment.

Pendal Group is an independent, global investment management business focused on delivering superior investment returns for our clients through active management.

We believe sustainability considerations ultimately drive higher and more stable investment returns over the long term.

Pendal Group has a proud heritage in responsible investing, extending back decades. Our specialist responsible investing business Regnan includes highly experienced ESG research and engagement experts and offers a growing range of investment strategies​.

Find out about some of Pendal Group’s responsible investing strategies:

Contact a Pendal key account manager here.


This article has been prepared by Pendal Fund Services Limited (PFSL) ABN 13 161 249 332, AFSL No 431426 and the information contained within is current as at August 11, 2021. It is not to be published, or otherwise made available to any person other than the party to whom it is provided. This article is for general information purposes only, should not be considered as a comprehensive statement on any matter and should not be relied upon as such. It has been prepared without taking into account any recipient’s personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this, recipients should, before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness having regard to their individual objectives, financial situation and needs. This information is not to be regarded as a securities recommendation.

The information in this article may contain material provided by third parties, is given in good faith and has been derived from sources believed to be accurate as at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, and while all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information in this article is complete and correct, to the maximum extent permitted by law neither PFSL nor any company in the Pendal group accepts any responsibility or liability for the accuracy or completeness of this information.

Performance figures are calculated in accordance with the Financial Services Council (FSC) standards. Performance data (post-fee) assumes reinvestment of distributions and is calculated using exit prices, net of management costs. Performance data (pre-fee) is calculated by adding back management costs to the post-fee performance. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Any projections contained in this article are predictive and should not be relied upon when making an investment decision or recommendation. While we have used every effort to ensure that the assumptions on which the projections are based are reasonable, the projections may be based on incorrect assumptions or may not take into account known or unknown risks and uncertainties. The actual results may differ materially from these projections.

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