UNEP, CalPERS seek new policy to align investment with sustainable development

personal-developONLY days ahead of the historic summit to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new UN study calls on regulators to implement proactive policies that build institutional investment frameworks, institutions and culture with sustainability at their core. 

The report, entitled “Financial Reform, Institutional Investors and Sustainable Development: A review of current policy initiatives and proposals for further progress” was produced by the United Nations Environment Programme Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System (UNEP Inquiry) and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). 

Chair of Investment Committee, CalPERS, Henry Jones said: “At CalPERS we have no doubt that our focus on sustainability is entirely consistent with our fiduciary duty – indeed it is an essential part of it.” 

“Where doubts on this score remain, they must be dispelled,” he added. “And we need institutions that have the knowledge, the skills and the ways of working that are required to embed sustainability in their investments – to manage the risks it brings, and to capitalize upon the opportunities if offers. We hope every country will reflect on how it can best address these challenges.”

With an estimated annual financing gap of up to US $7 trillion a year in infrastructure investments alone, the global financial system, worth more than US $300 trillion, has a potential to transform the international economic landscape to better serve the needs of humanity. 

Co-Director, UNEP Inquiry, Nick Robins said: “A package of measures is needed to deliver the full sustainability potential of institutional investors. Disclosure is important, but without effective governance frameworks and incentives, this will not drive sufficient change.”

The report advocates for systemic and dynamic policy reform that better aligns institutional investors with policy goals for sustainable development. It shows the evolution in policy intervention, from focusing on disclosure obligations and statements on investors’ core legal duties to a “second generation” approach, addressing the strong synergy between sustainability and other policy objectives. 

These new policy instruments include improving prudential regulation to protect retirement incomes and ensure financial stability, regenerating the real economy, and strengthening public trust in the financial system. Making the connections among policy objectives explicit presents an opportunity to maximize benefits in multiple areas.

Seven critical policy objectives that hold the strongest potential for positive change are explored in the report together with fourteen policy tools to get us there. 

Policy tools include: Governments giving public sector pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and other state investment institutions formal sustainability obligations. Such is the case of the Government Pension Fund Global in Norway.

·        Governments incorporating sustainability into the mandate of prudential regulators, such as the Dutch regulator DNB mission statement including “safeguard[ing] financial stability and thus contribut[ing] to sustainable prosperity in the Netherlands.”

·        Requirements to disclose and report on policies on sustainability issues. For example, France requires investment institutions to disclose their carbon footprint.

The report charts a pathway to a sustainable investment chain, articulating that these areas will deliver four main outcomes: resilient and efficient portfolios, capital mobilization towards the low-carbon transition, increased economic welfare with more long-term investment and restored public trust in investors and the financial system.

CalPERS and UNEP Inquiry seek to provide new perspectives and proposals on the relationship between institutional investors and sustainable development in the context of a more sustainable financial system.

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