PARIS (Reuters) - Sovereign wealth funds managing more than $2 trillion (1.51 trillion pounds) are to lay out a strategy on Friday in Paris to pressure companies to be more climate-friendly, French officials said.
President Emmanuel Macron, who has cast himself as the guardian of the Paris agreement on climate change since Washington announced it would pull out, is championing the initiative, which will bring together the heads of six sovereign funds to thrash out a pro-environment investment framework.
The guidelines, which funds will ask the companies they invest in to meet, are expected to influence other big asset managers, French presidential advisers said.
“Beyond the colossal amounts these funds manage, it’s the snowball effect we’re betting on,” one adviser at Macron’s office said. “By getting them to make this joint pledge, there will be a ricochet effect spreading across global finance.”
With five of the funds coming from oil-rich nations - Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Norway - and the sixth from New Zealand, the Elysee dismissed suggestions the funds could just be opportunistically jumping on the climate bandwagon.
“They could have told us: that’s none of your business,” the adviser said. “So a big part of our work has been to create trust and show there is political leadership to get them moving, showcase them. It’s not greenwashing.”
Lawrence Yanovitch, an American national who is coordinating the initiative, said the funds understood it was in their financial interest to take account of the risks of climate change in their investments and that most of their countries were already seeking to transition towards low-carbon economies.
“They also see a business opportunity,” the former Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation investment manager said. “Financial markets are risky because they don’t take these (climate) risks into account.”
The guidelines will include obligations for companies to calculate their carbon footprints, he said.
The initiative comes a year after U.S President Donald Trump said the United States, the world’s second biggest greenhouse gas emitter after China, would pull out of the deal brokered in Paris in 2015 to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees above pre-industrial times.
Macron took a dig at Trump at the time, saying he would not give up the fight and will “make our planet great again.”
That, and Macron’s background as a former investment banker, encouraged the sovereign funds to work with France on the framework, Yanovitch said.
“They see him as a committed leader on climate,” he said. “He’s got this background, he’s a banker. He understood that the funds were the strategic entry point. If you motivate them, it will cascade down.”
Editing by Leigh Thomas and Mark Potter