CryptocurrencyInvestingBanksReal Estate

BlackRock is laying out how it expects companies to target net-zero

February 17, 2021, 10:51 AM UTC

BlackRock Inc. gave company directors more specifics on what it’s looking for in their plans to slow global warming, warning that it could vote against those who don’t meet its standards.

The world’s largest shareholder published a five-page document on Wednesday laying out its expectations for how companies should address climate risk. It’s the first look at the details following Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink’s letter in January calling on firms to align with global efforts to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“We expect directors to have sufficient fluency in climate risk and the energy transition to enable the whole board—rather than a single director who is a ‘climate expert’—to provide appropriate oversight of the company’s plan and targets,” the document reads. The asset manager could vote against directors if a company has not provided “a credible plan to transition its business model to a low-carbon economy.” In other cases, BlackRock is open to supporting shareholder proposals that will force the company to make changes, if it feels “attention to the issue could be accelerated.”

Over the past three years, BlackRock has increased pressure on companies to take more aggressive steps to lower their environmental impact. Last year it joined Climate Action 100+, an investor group with $52 trillion in assets, which is working to coordinate investor attempts at tackling the climate challenge. BlackRock’s activism has coincided with eight of the world’s largest economies setting targets to zero out net emissions. That number will rise to nine if U.S. President Joe Biden fulfills his campaign promise.

Last year, BlackRock voted against the management of 69 companies out of a group of 440 it classifies as carbon intensive. This year, it is expanding that universe to 1,000 companies, accounting for 90% of direct emissions from all the companies it invests in. BlackRock declined to share which companies are on the longer list.

Studies have shown that investors lack consistent climate data to make decisions on their portfolios. BlackRock’s paper stresses that companies need to improve disclosures of emissions and set rigorous short, medium and long-term targets to reduce them. These are crucial for investors to track progress and identify companies that are leading the energy transition.

BlackRock has previously endorsed companies reporting climate risks based on frameworks developed by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and the Sustainability Accounting Standards. This year, it went a step further by advocating that companies take these steps. (Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP, is the chairman of TCFD.)

“Recognizing the momentum towards the Paris Agreement goals, companies need to manage the transition risk to get to global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” Sandy Boss, BlackRock’s global head of investment stewardship, said in an interview. “Of course, companies may need to be thinking about physical risks for 2°C or other warming scenarios.” 

The warmer the world gets, the harder it will be for businesses to adapt to the risks of extreme, unpredictable weather. That’s why the Paris accord sets out two goals: keep global warming “well below 2°C” compared to pre-industrial levels, while aiming to limit it to 1.5°C. Getting to net-zero globally by 2050 is consistent with meeting the more ambitious temperature goal, but BlackRock also wants companies to show they are prepared to deal with the risks if warming cannot be limited to 2°C.

In the process of cutting their own emissions, BlackRock says it expects that companies will probably find “operational efficiencies” that will lower costs by decreasing energy use, deploying new technologies and reducing waste — which it says will create more value for shareholders. It also says that companies should only use carbon offsets, which involve paying for someone else to cut emissions, “as a complement, though not a replacement for, substantive and sustained long-term emissions reductions.”

While the company’s instructions offer more detail on its climate thinking than before, they are still less precise than many advocates have called for. That’s possibly because BlackRock invests in companies all over the world, and has to account for countries that are at different stages of embracing climate action. 

“Companies in developed and emerging markets are not equally equipped to transition their business and reduce emissions at the same rate,” reads a footnote. Many countries in Asia currently lag developed economies in setting ambitious national climate targets, the paper says, and BlackRock expects companies in those regions to make plans “in anticipation” of regulations that will come with future net-zero targets.