Ceres Workshop at Harvard University Educates Pension Fund Trustees on Climate Risk
The "Sustainability and Risk: Climate Change and Fiduciary Duty for the Twenty-First Century Trustee" workshop at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government was a huge success. Representatives from the three largest public pension funds in the country, the California Public Employees Retirement System, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, attended. Ceres co-sponsored the event - the first of its kind - with the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative and the Energy Technology Innovation Project in the Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
The workshop was designed to educate pension fund trustees about the connection between fiduciary responsibility and the risks to investments posed by global climate change. Over 50 people participated, including trustees from California, Connecticut, Maine, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia. Working with Harvard faculty, attorneys, pension fund leaders, and other experts, the trustees explored what they can do - consistent with their fiduciary duties - to address the financial risks and investment opportunities of climate change.
Trustees who have begun addressing climate risk in investments they oversee were featured speakers, including two state treasurers who are members of Ceres' Investor Network on Climate Risk. Participants learned about numerous actions available to them, such as asking their money managers to evaluate climate risk in their investments, meeting directly with companies, filing shareholder resolutions on climate change, and directing a portion of their investments toward environmentally responsible technologies or companies. Other speakers included insurance and financial industry leaders, attorneys who advise trustees, and scientific experts on climate change.
After hearing from experts, workshop participants concluded that climate change is a serious concern that presents risks and opportunities to investors. Fiduciaries have legal authority and may well have an obligation to address climate risk. Many pension funds are already acting to analyze the issue, raise awareness, and press for disclosure for improved corporate strategies to address climate risk. Much must be done to educate investors and others in the financial community about these risks, and to mobilize concern and action among investors and companies.