Climate change affects all our futures, wherever we are in the world, whatever our standing. As evidenced in a recent report by Oxford University in partnership with Pictet, it is arguably the defining issue of our time.

Pictet’s commitments

We see climate change as both an urgent challenge and a unique opportunity to build a better future. Yet we are under no illusions about the scale of the task before us. 

The transition to a sustainable, “net zero” carbon economy will be a complex process. It necessitates profound changes in public policy, businesses practices and personal life choices. It will also require greater collaboration across nations and industries as well as trillions of dollars of capital to be re-directed to green technology.

Pictet contributes to tackling climate change through a set of clear business and investment objectives as well as concrete targets. The latter will be made public and transparently reported on in 2022 as part of a dedicated climate action plan. We will ensure that our investment decisions and solutions have a positive impact, drive decarbonisation and exclude firms unwilling to transform.

These commitments are integral to our Vision 2025 for sustainability and responsible investment which articulates three ambitions:

  • To significantly reduce the environmental impact of our own activities and investments
  • To fully integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors as well as active ownership into all our investment processes
  • To be a leading provider of responsible investment products and solutions

Reducing the carbon footprint of our operations and our own investments

We believe that companies are duty bound to tackle climate change on their own, regardless of any legal or regulatory requirements to do so.

Our own operations

In managing our own business activities, we are taking specific steps to cut our carbon footprint across all material emission sources. This includes employing the most advanced building technology, reviewing each aspect of our operations and steadily cutting the greenhouse gas emissions of our infrastructure and employee mobility.

The steps we have taken have led to a reduction of CO2 emissions per employee of 73% since 2007, well above the 40% target we had set for 2020. We have been offsetting emissions that we cannot avoid since 2014, and have set a new absolute reduction target of 60% by 2025 versus 2019. You can find more information on our environmental stewardship here.

This photograph is part of the series “Spill” by Prix Pictet shortlister Daniel Beltrá. He documented the environmental impact of the world’s largest marine oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Our balance sheet

Furthermore, in February 2020, we announced the decision to eliminate the balance sheet exposure of the Pictet Group to fossil fuel producers and extractors (oil and gas, and thermal coal)1. Being a first mover on this topic was not without challenges. There was no blueprint in the market to help guide our implementation. This work offered valuable learnings that are informing our current work on target setting.

Since the end of 2020 our balance sheet is effectively fossil fuel free. This was achieved by selling treasury positions in oil and gas producers amounting to more than CHF 250 million. We also no longer use our balance sheet to seed investment strategies with fossil fuel producers and extractors and have never offered commercial loans to any such organisations. In order to ensure continued compliance with this commitment, we use data from a recognized external provider to update the list of excluded companies on a semi-annual basis. We also conduct regular spot checks to ensure data integrity.

Our impact on climate as an investor

Irrespective of what we are doing to reduce the environmental impact of our own operations and investments, we know our biggest impact relates to how we actively manage our clients’ assets and the commitments we make in this regard. 

The world has to come together around a common ambition to limit warming to 1.5˚C  by 2050 or earlier to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. In this context, Pictet has aligned around a shared investment philosophy concerning the topic of climate and developed a set of actionable climate investment beliefs – underpinned by robust research and following months of iteration across investment teams.

The result of this work is two-fold. First, we believe that climate change has a material impact on the price of assets. In the spirit of pursuing investment leadership, we aim to understand this impact to support performance.

Second, we believe that as part of the asset manager/owner community, our investment activities have an impact on climate change outcomes. We therefore have a responsibility to understand how to foster positive impact and mitigate negative impact.

A natural part of this journey has been joining the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative and the complementary SBTi Business Ambition for 1.5˚C ensuring we set science-based and verified 2030 targets in the course of 2022.

As a privately held firm, we have the strength of independence and a governance that holds us accountable to the next generation. While this unique structure does not require the same level of reporting as publicly listed firms, we are especially committed to transparency when it comes to climate and other environmental factors.

Transparency will be key to solving the climate challenge. As investors, we depend on the transparency of the issuers in which we invest. Material environmental and social disclosures help us make better capital allocation decisions, and ultimately contribute to the transition.

This is also why we have endorsed the Task Force for Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). We use it to strengthen our governance, strategy, and risk management, to measure climate related risks and to assess green investment opportunities. We will progressively incorporate material-TCFD aligned disclosures in our annual reporting.

As a signatory of both the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and the UN Principles for Responsible Banking, we will continue to drive change within the financial services community and strengthen our policy work around the topic of climate. Locally we support the Swiss CEO4Climate initiative, which calls on the Swiss government to take more meaningful legislative action in support of achieving the Paris Agreement goals. Beyond our borders, we have signed the Global Investor Statement on the Climate Crisis, which is the strongest ever call by global investors for governments to raise their climate ambitions and implement meaningful policies to support investment in solutions to the climate crisis.

We strongly stand behind these commitments. Our close monitoring of the actions being undertaken by the companies we invest in makes us confident that “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions, while difficult, can be achieved by 2050. As active managers, our role is to understand how companies and countries will transition, to track the credibility of their promises and to engage with them to drive progress.

The following four aspects of our interactions with clients and the assets we manage for them underscore how we are concretely addressing the above commitments.

 

1. Driving positive change

We have always believed that facilitating the green economic transition represents a significant investment opportunity. In fact, since long before the Paris Agreement was signed, Pictet has been a pioneer in sustainable investments with a range of specific strategies that direct capital towards companies providing solutions to environmental problems. These strategies raised CHF 6.3 billion in 2020 to reach CHF 22 billion in total at the end of 2020. Recently, the Financial Times recognized three investment funds managed by Pictet as either the largest or second largest globally in the categories of “sustainable” and “climate.”

Concretely, these strategies allow our clients to invest in technologies, innovation and infrastructure - such as wind, solar and energy efficiency solutions - that are instrumental in accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy and maintaining global warming to 1.5˚C. In the water industry, where we are an investment leader, the technologies and resource management companies we invest in are absolutely critical to increasing the resilience and adaptation of our societies to climate change.

As part of our Vision 2025, we will continue to develop innovative investment strategies that provide capital to companies which have a positive impact on the environment and society. We are convinced this is the right thing to do for people, planet, and the portfolios of our clients.

2. Fostering the transition

As active investment managers, our role in helping build a green economy extends beyond channeling capital to environmental technology. It also involves bringing about positive change in corporate behaviour, where a transition to low carbon is possible and needs to be accelerated. This also means ensuring that our natural, economic, and societal systems are resilient to the impacts of climate change if, and when, they arise.

This is why, throughout our investment activities for private and institutional clients, we deploy active ownership, which includes both engagement and voting, with the aim of improving the ESG performance of the companies we invest in.

We continue to scale our engagement for maximum impact. When the companies we own fall short of our expectations in their management of climate matters, we engage either directly or by collaborating with other investors.

We use our voting rights to support these engagement efforts and, where necessary, we escalate our concerns to Board representatives, vote against management or support shareholder resolutions. Depending on the severity of the concern and the issuers’ willingness to adopt accepted standards of best practice, we may divest from the investment.

For some companies, such as electricity producers, the low carbon transition is critical given that power generation represents around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, for our actively managed assets, we expect energy companies to meet the following minimum standards in order to remain investible:

  • They may not make new investments in coal-fired power stations
  • They must have a credible plan for decarbonisation
  • This plan must be compatible with the ambition to contain global warming to 1.5˚C

For nearly all the developed market companies we invest in, this is already a reality, although we continue to monitor and track their progress. For those based in emerging markets, which have a more challenging path to decarbonisation, we are working collaboratively with their management to agree a credible timeframe for transition.

Given the scale of the challenge, we believe the investment community can be more effective if its members work together to achieve common goals.  As a result, we have actively supported the Institutional Investor Group on Climate Change since 2013, and are part of Climate Action 100+, an investor-led initiative to ensure the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters take necessary action on climate change. We are also a member of the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) Initiative, which engages with companies active in livestock production as they are also large contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. And finally, we support and are working with the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (Ceres) to prepare collaborative engagement on the critical topic of water. In the context of the climate challenge, water is a critical element of adaptation in the face of impending climate change.

3. Addressing climate risks

Addressing climate change is not only the right thing to do for the planet, it is also the prudent thing to do as an investor. We have been integrating ESG factors, of which climate is a key pillar, into our investment process and risk management framework for many years. Today, 75% of the assets we actively manage for clients (private and institutional) are held in portfolios which integrate ESG factors. We will raise that proportion to 100% by 2025.

We are continuously expanding the range of asset classes and indicators we track to better evaluate the threats climate change presents to our portfolios. This enables us to improve the way in which we monitor and control risk and allows us to offer clients greater transparency on how ESG factors affect their investments.

4. Excluding assets

Another way to address climate and other ESG risks is by excluding specific activities from our portfolios. As a matter of principle, we do not believe that exclusion is the best way forward in all cases. Engagement can offer better outcomes in many instances. However, excluding activities that are most harmful to society and the environment can be a useful tool when there is no path to transition or when these activities are incompatible with our core values.

In the area of climate, we categorically exclude companies that generate significant revenue from thermal coal mining from all actively managed assets. This sector has a limited ability to decarbonise and is at high risk of becoming a stranded asset. We also have put in place certain product-specific and firm-specific exclusions.

Overall we believe that exclusion is most useful in conjunction with failed engagement efforts. It serves as a motivation for active participation and improvement from other issuers. A credible threat of exclusion is crucial to successful engagement efforts.

The way forward

There is no silver bullet to address climate change. It will require imagination, courage and perseverance – the same qualities that humans have deployed in the battle against Covid-19. It will also require pursuing the same collective ambition of limiting warming to 1.5˚C, deliberate planning, shifting capital and increased transparency throughout the system.

Mitigating the risks of climate change and identifying and pursuing the inherent opportunities for our clients are not only key priorities for us, but also a fiduciary duty.

The Pictet Group has survived and prospered for over two centuries by taking a responsible, long-term approach to business and to the management of our clients’ wealth. In doing so, we have always considered not only the interests of the present, but also of future generations. We believe this is the essence of responsible thinking, and the best contribution we can make to the future of sustainable life on the planet.

1 Defined as companies deriving more that 25% of their revenues from the relevant carbon-intensive activities.