Oregon’s state investment portfolio faces significant climate risks. A simple bill pending before the Oregon Legislative Assembly is an essential first step to address them.
Our changing climate is no longer just an environmental or social issue. It is a financial one. It is no longer a long-term issue. It is now. Increasingly frequent extreme weather patterns—heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and storms—threaten property losses and ruined communities. Certain parts of the economy are particularly hard hit. As society mitigates and adapts to climate change, some sectors of the economy will lose. This bill is right on time to help the Oregon Investment Council, which manages $140 billion in assets, make wise choices in a changing investment world.
Our changing climate is no longer a long-term issue. It is now.
House Bill 4115 seeks to jump-start a public dialogue. It calls upon the Oregon Investment Council to make available to the public a complete list of assets held in its investment funds. The council manages funds that provide payments to state and local workers, veterans, retirees and the disabled. The council’s investment strategy is a matter of the public interest and should be the subject of public discourse.
More information is the standard place to start. To act, you must know which companies are in the portfolio. Dialogue can then commence about the companies, their track records, and any efforts that Oregon fund managers have already taken to address known issues.
This very short and simple bill will serve Oregon well. It will promote informed and intelligent discussion about state investment policy. This will aid the development of a broad set of policy options to protect the state’s investments from climate risk and ensure that investment targets are met.
For pensioners and other interested parties, increased disclosure allows a better understanding of the fund’s solvency for the purposes of meeting those investment targets. This topic is particularly important when reviewing fossil fuel investments. The public is becoming increasingly aware that short-term gains for the industry come with very high costs. For the last 10 years, these investments have underperformed the market. The fossil fuel industry is confronting a long-term negative outlook as market and regulatory forces will decrease the need for oil and gas.
Beyond the issue of fossil fuels, Oregon can claim a leadership role in openness and transparency. When I worked for the New York pension fund, we introduced a system of disclosing fund assets and fee arrangements. That was more than 20 years ago, and some thought the pension fund would be harmed by this action. The fund did not encounter any negative consequences. Today, the document is used as a valuable reference for the state budget, policymakers, researchers, and pension fund professionals in and outside of New York State. The New York State Common Retirement Fund is also one of the top three largest public pension funds in the United States.
House Bill 4115 is a simple measure. By enabling informed public debate, it will serve the state of Oregon well for years to come.
IEEFA testimony: Support for Oregon’s HB 4115, calls for transparency on climate risk
Tom Sanzillo ([email protected]) is IEEFA director of financial analysis