UK pension schemes target full integration of climate risk by 2026

Pension schemes unanimously expect to have fully integrated climate risk into their decisions by 2026, according to new figures collected by Willis Towers Watson.

This follows a poll of conference participants, held during Willis Towers Watson’s recent Climate Summit and collating the views of 70 separate UK-based pension schemes.

Half believe in an even faster timeline of less than a year. With 19 per cent already doing so, 6 per cent expecting to within six months and a considerable 25 per cent expect that it will take between six and 12 months to integrate climate into their major business decisions.

Considering the mechanism and strategy for incorporating climate risk over time, timelines also vary for implementing a ‘carbon journey plan’.

One-in-six pension schemes (17 per cent) have already put in place such a plan, with the majority (57 per cent) of UK pension scheme representatives currently considering how to reduce climate risk using a carbon journey plan. Only a quarter (26 per cent) have yet to begin creating such a strategy.

Asked how they plan to meet the governance challenge of climate risk management, nearly half (44 per cent) of the schemes questioned felt that no single solution would be adequate, but a range of measures would be needed to fully tackle the issue. These include: greater delegation to sub-committees; greater delegation to external parties; and increased frequency and length of trustee meetings.

Considering market pricing and whether today’s asset prices reflect climate risks to the underlying assets involved, an overwhelming 96 per cent responded that climate risk is only somewhat, or not at all, reflected in current market valuations.

Reflecting the scale of this information gap in understanding climate risks, the most common factor cited by pension scheme representatives as a challenge to their ability to assess and manage climate risks was a lack of data (43 per cent). Trustees’ own knowledge was the second most common challenge (24 per cent), followed by tools (13 per cent), resources (9 per cent) and expectations (8 per cent).

Dave Aleppo, head of investment advisory services at Willis Towers Watson, comments: “While the task is huge, mindsets are shifting faster than I have ever seen. Climate is already a key metric of success for most pension schemes and with global assets representing around $100 trillion, the scale of resources that will be unleashed to tackle climate change and transform the world economy when climate is integrated into every decision will make a significant difference.”

“As a result, we’re already seeing a steady change in the culture of the entire investment industry that supports asset owners. When we work with pension funds to evaluate asset managers, not only do we ensure that they have climate and stewardship embedded in their investment processes, we also prefer those organisations who have genuinely accepted and embedded the fundamental culture shift that’s needed.”