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Pension funds improving modestly on climate but still too slow: report

Smokestacks in the distance shimmer in the cold waves over Lake Ontario in Toronto, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn Smokestacks in the distance shimmer in the cold waves over Lake Ontario in Toronto, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
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TORONTO -

Canada's largest public pension funds are showing modest improvements on climate action but are moving too slowly overall, says a new report by a climate advocacy group.

The progress report from Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health notes that four of the 11 pension plans it examined still don't have emissions reduction targets for 2030 or 2050.

It also says many of the pension funds are still not being transparent about their fossil fuel holdings, and none have acknowledged the need to phase them out.

Adam Scott, executive director of Shift, said it's important pension plans take action both to reduce investment risk and climate risk.

“It's not just about defending their own portfolios, it's also about addressing the wider crisis systemically.”

The report notes there were some improvements, including the first climate plans out of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System and the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.

But Scott said there has also been misalignment with some pension plans and their actual action, including at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

The CPPIB, one of the few to still not set out interim emissions reduction targets, was the only one to slip in its letter grade in the report.

“We're quite disappointed to see a pattern of public communication from CPPIB that is offside with their own net-zero plans and commitments,” he said.

There were multiple examples of pension plans continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies that have plans for expansion, which creates a risk, given the transition and the long-term investment horizons of pensions, said Scott.

“When they decide to sell, is there somebody else willing to pay for it? That's where the risk really comes in.”

The Alberta Investment Management Corp. received the worst grade among the 11 Canadian pension plans analyzed for the second year, as Shift says it sets no clear targets and has yet to put out a credible climate plan.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2024.

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