Twelve years. That’s how long the earth has before temperatures warm to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since the Industrial Revolution, sharply increasing the risks of more severe droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty, according to the latest (October) report by UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“The biggest sustainability challenge the world faces today is global warming,” writes Jon Hale, global head of sustainability research at Morningstar.
Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel report said a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 could cost the global economy $54 trillion, and a major scientific report recently issued by 13 federal U.S. agencies said climate change could slash U.S. GDP up to one-tenth by 2100, which would be more than double the losses of the Great Recession.
Climate change threatens the sustainability of healthy water supplies, food resources, ecosystems, populations and individual companies.
It tops the list of ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues concerning U.S. asset managers, according to the U.S. SIF (Forum for sustainable and Responsible Investment).
Institutional investors are leading in the fight against climate change, among them the members of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change and Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of asset manager GMO and of the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. Grantham is not very optimistic about limiting the earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“We are going to have to fight and scratch and do much better than we are doing today to keep [the increase in the earth's temperature] below 3 degrees [Fahrenheit], and at 3 degrees, all manner of bad things are already happening and some of them may actually get out of control, become self-reinforcing vicious cycles,” Grantham told wealth manager and commentator Barry Ritholtz in a recent podcast.
Individual investors should consider joining the fight against climate change not only to protect the environment but their own assets.
“Investors often neglect to thoroughly understand just how vulnerable a company’s physical assets and infrastructure are to severe disruption and damage as a direct result of drastic weather patterns,” writes Jessica Ground, global head of stewardship at Schroders, in her 2019 sustainability outlook.
“Oil and gas, utilities and basic resources are the sectors most exposed to the physical impact of climate change [and] the potential costs of insurance their physical assets amounts to more than 3% of the asset value,” says Ground.