Pension schemes 'missing opportunity' to engage with savers on efforts to tackle climate change

Nearly three-fifths (59 per cent) of workplace pension holders do not know if schemes are taking any action against climate change, whilst just one in seven (15 per cent) believe that schemes are taking action, industry research has found.

The survey, undertaken by Yonder and commissioned by the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA), also found that a “substantial number” of savers do not understand the basics about what pension schemes do with their money.

For instance, just over two-thirds (68 per cent) of savers understood that pension schemes invest in a range of companies, whilst 22 per cent stated that they knew the types of company their pension is invested in.

Despite this, more than eight out of 10 people (83 per cent) viewed global warming as a serious problem for the UK if action is not taken, with 51 per cent highlighting global warming as 'extremely' or 'very' important to them.

The findings echo recent research from Cushon, which found that a "staggering" 99.5 per cent of Brits remain unaware to the scale of carbon emitted as a result of their pension investments, despite the majority being concerned about climate issues.

In addition to this, the PLSA's survey found “strong support” for greater transparency around climate impact, with around 62 per cent of savers stating that pension schemes should hold those in charge of the companies they invest in to account for their efforts to minimise their impact on climate change.

A further 68 per cent of people stated that schemes should be transparent about the extent to which they invest in a climate-aware way, with two-thirds stating that investors have a responsibility to encourage the companies they invest in to address climate issues.

Meanwhile, 69 per cent wanted financial services firms to be transparent about the impact of their own operations on climate change, with a further 65 per cent stating that financial services firms should report on the impact of the companies they invest in on climate change.

In light of the findings, the PLSA has argued that UK pension schemes are missing an opportunity to engage savers with the positive proactive steps they are taking to address climate risk in their investment portfolios, especially amid increasing reporting requirements.

It emphasised that a number of schemes and providers have already announced initiatives to encourage investee companies to adopt greener policies, whilst others have made commitments to, or are in the process of reducing, their investments in fossil fuel related companies.

Scottish Widows, for instance, recently announced plans to target net zero across its entire portfolio of investments by 2050, with similar commitments made by the National Grid UK Pension Scheme, Hymans Robertson, Nest, and Aegon UK.

PLSA chair, Richard Butcher, commented: “In recent years there has been a big momentum shift in attitudes towards climate change and the public rightly expects to see more action from the corporate and financial worlds. They want us to make a positive difference.

“What this survey shows is that many people do not realise that pension schemes are unanimous in their support for investing in a climate-aware way and have been at the vanguard of encouraging better corporate behaviour with respect to climate change.

“For some schemes this means ‘greening’ their investment portfolios by reducing their allocation to the most carbon polluting companies.

“For others it means exercising their ownership rights to hold investment managers and the company directors of the companies in which they invest to account on climate and environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies."

He concluded: “UK pension schemes manage more than £2trn on behalf of the public. Savers have told us they want us to use the money to make the world a better place.

“It is consistent with our fiduciary duty that we do so and tell them about the positive impact their savings have made.”

Previous research from Nest Insight has also suggested that talking about the positive impact of pension investments could increase engagement and trust amongst savers who care about ESG issues, with four in 10 savers most likely to read and act upon information about responsible investment.

The Pensions Regulator has also recently called on pension schemes to give greater attention to climate change, after its research found that a "concerning" 21 per cent felt that climate change was not relevant to their scheme.

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