In 2020, we’re starting a new campaign to insist that SA’s leading asset managers offer the public and their beneficiaries – that’s you! – investments free of the fossil fuel companies that are overwhelmingly responsible for climate breakdown.

How does it work?

We want to send letters to each individual asset manager to demand fossil fuel-free funds, signed by you, their clients.

We’re looking for 88 clients of each asset manager to sign these letters. (Why 88? That’s the current age of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a great South African moral leader who has repeatedly called for fossil fuel divestment and endorsed our call for UCT specifically to divest.)

ACT NOW: Just look for your asset manager in the list below, click through, read, and sign the letter if you agree.

(These links will go live in a few days time.)

  • Allan Gray
  • Coronation
  • Investec
  • Old Mutual
  • Sanlam
  • Stanlib
  • Government Employees’ Pension Fund/PIC

What happens next?

  • For the past few years, the big SA asset managers have mostly been telling us their clients aren’t interested in this kind of fund. When you sign the letters, you prove them wrong.
  • We wait for their responses to our requests for meetings, and hopefully they grant those meetings.
  • We let you know, and hopefully you can join those meetings.
  • We engage them in constructive face-to-face dialogue.
  • If they still don’t act, we will consider actions such as non-violent street protests outside their HQs to build further public awareness of these issues and embarrass them over their irresponsibility.

Background

  • Fund managers are the financial specialists who decide how most of the money you save in your retirement fund or unit trust is actually invested: e.g., how much of it goes offshore, how much is invested in bonds, how much in property, how much in which companies.
  • Fund managers have enormous power in society. As one SA asset manager says, asset managers ‘decide how the valuable savings or resources of a population are allocated for growth and development’. But at the moment, South Africa’s asset managers have effectively allocated many of our resources not for a thriving economy and healthy environment, but for a crippled economy and devastated environment. They didn’t do this maliciously or deliberately. But they’re still applying the investment logic of the 1960s when the evidence is now overwhelming that this is a recipe for disaster. Many of them are very concerned about climate themselves, but say they need you, the asset owners, to first start noisily demanding this kind of change so they can beat institutional inertia.
  • Overseas fund managers do already offer many fossil-free investment options. They’re easy to find if you live in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. The world’s biggest asset manager, Black Rock, has just made addressing climate change a priority. But there are still no fossil fuel-free options for ethical and responsible South African investors. We have to change this. In the long term, all investment should be responsible.
  • South Africa’s biggest asset managers collectively manage over R2.7 trillion. Well over 10 million South Africans participate in various forms of collective investment via savings, retirement funds and unit trusts. Even more are connected to financial services. This represents enormous potential power for creative change, if even a small proportion of this capital is redirected towards truly environmentally and socially responsible investment, the

What are the risks of continued investment in fossil fuels?

  • Catastrophic under-investment in the green economy needed to avert the worst dangerous climate change.
  • Continued decline or crippling of the South African economy by the negative external effects of fossil fuels: climate breakdown, economic volatility, deadly air pollution, excessive water use, corruption and poor governance.
  • Loss of returns on investments due to these factors.
  • Missed opportunities for investments in the green economy.
  • Possible sharp loss of capital in a carbon bubble scenario.

Questions and answers

Q. I have investments with more than one of these asset managers. Can I sign more than one letter? A. Of course. You have standing wherever you have money invested.

Q. Will I lose money if I invest fossil-free? A. We’re still some way from seeing actual fossil-free funds created. It’s possible you may get lower returns, but there are many good reasons to think that fossil-free funds in South Africa can get acceptable returns. And divesting will help protect you against the sharp loss of returns that is threatened by a possible carbon bubble.

Q. Don’t we still need fossil fuels? A. Yes, we’re all still dependent on them. But we have to phase them out very fast. We’re not asking that all fossil fuel companies shut down overnight, just that they start cutting their emissions at the speed that scientists have figured out is needed to keep average global warming below 1.5C; that is, at least 7.6% emissions reductions annually.

Q. My asset manager says if they stop owning companies like Sasol, they won’t be able to influence them through shareholder engagement. A. Your asset manager has had 28 years (since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed), to push investee companies to responsibly manage emissions. But most of them have only belatedly started engaging on climate issues in the past two years. None of them are yet insisting that investee companies meet scientific targets for emissions reductions. Also, divestment does not preclude continued shareholder engagement. Asset managers can partially divest and continue to engage while threatening further divestment if targets are not met.

Q. Who are you to tell me I shouldn’t have investments in Sasol? A. We’re not saying the asset managers should immediately sell off all their Sasol shares if they and most of their clients don’t want to. We’re just saying they should make it possibly for those of us who do want to divest, to do so.

Q. What about other responsible investment issues besides climate? A. We think any credible fossil fuel-free fund also needs to exclude destructive industries such as tobacco, armaments and intensive meat production; and that all investable companies should be screened to ensure they score well for their environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.