Shareholders To Question Bank About Its Financing Of Climate Change
In a shift, the SEC allows shareholder resolution to PNC requesting assessment of greenhouse gas emissions unintentionally enabled by bank's lending policies.
BOSTON, Feb. 19, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has allowed Boston Common Asset Management's shareholder resolution to PNC Financial to remain on the proxy ballot. The resolution requests that PNC assess the greenhouse gas emissions unintentionally enabled through its lending portfolio as well as its exposure to climate change risk in its lending, investing, and financing activities. This shift marks a reversal of earlier SEC rulings and sets a precedent with broader implications for resolutions seeking information about the financial sector's contribution and response to climate change. The SEC's affirmation of climate change management as a pertinent issue for investors will require banks to rethink their roles and responsibilities in contributing, mitigating, and adapting to climate change.
As posited in the shareholder resolution, the global financial sector will play a key role in addressing climate change. Banks and other financial institutions contribute to climate change through their financed emissions, which are the greenhouse gas footprint of loans, investments, and other financial services. A bank's financed emissions can dwarf its other climate impacts and expose it to significant reputational and operational risks. PNC itself has commented that "a lack of a clear carbon emissions strategy, or a low perceived action plan, could cause PNC to lose valuable customers and investors, or limit our ability to attract new customers and investors." PNC is also currently the focus of an activist campaign protesting the company's significant involvement with firms engaged in a coal mining practice known as mountain top removal. Before filing the shareholder resolution, the filers had been in discussions with PNC for a number of years without seeing meaningful improvement in policy or corporate reporting.
In the mid-2000s, a number of similar resolutions at financial service and insurance companies were excluded from shareholder ballots by the SEC as "ordinary business." In allowing this resolution, the SEC affirms that the climate footprint of lending and financing programs has a clear nexus to shareholder value. As it sets a new precedent for shareholder resolutions, disclosure requests for climate change management programs and policies at other banks will likely follow. The SEC decision follows the Commission's adoption of a climate disclosure guidance in 2010, which clarified the responsibility of corporations to include climate issues in their annual SEC reporting.
"Investing in a coal dependent infrastructure, as PNC continues to do, requires assumptions that there will be no shifts in public policy and that current rates of greenhouse gas emissions will be allowed to continue," said Meredith Benton, Client Portfolio Manager at Boston Common Asset Management. She continued, "Given the climate crisis, we know that a business based on current emissions levels is unsustainable. As investors, we want to ensure that the PNC Board and top management understand climate change as an issue, and the implications it may have for their business."
Jeffery W. Perkins, Executive Director of Friends Fiduciary Corporation, added, "This important decision ensures that investors will be able to request the necessary information to assess the impact and risks of our financial sector holdings through the lens of climate change." PNC's annual meeting is scheduled for April 23, 2013.
Co-filers of the shareholder resolution were: Domini Social Investments, Friends Fiduciary Corporation, Sisters of Mercy, and Walden Asset Management. Additional collaboration and technical expertise was provided by Carbon Tracker, Ceres, Rainforest Action Network, and Sanford Lewis, Attorney at Law.
About Boston Common Asset Management
Boston Common Asset Management, LLC is an investment manager and a leader in global sustainability initiatives, specializing in long-only International equity, U.S. equity, and U.S. balanced strategies. Through rigorous analysis of financial, and environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, Boston Common seeks sustainable, long-term capital appreciation by investing in diversified portfolios of what it believes to be high-quality companies. As shareowners, Boston Common urges companies to improve transparency, accountability, and attention to ESG issues.
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