Jan 15, 2020

The limits of BlackRock's new climate strategy

Laurence D. Fink, chairman and C.E.O. in 2018. Photo: Michael Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times

BlackRock's climate strategy rolled out Tuesday won't leave anyone confusing the asset management giant with Greenpeace, despite the suite of big new pledges.

Driving the news: Take the plan to dump producers of thermal coal — the stuff used in power plants — from their active portfolios.

  • It targets companies that generate more than 25% of their revenue from thermal coal.
  • But Bloomberg points out that "large, diversified miners — which also rank among the largest coal producers — won’t be affected."
  • Coal revenue for mining heavyweights Glencore, Anglo American and BHP Group are all under the 25% threshold, Bloomberg notes.

But, but, but: A new update from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis says BlackRock's coal policy is nonetheless consequential.

  • They note it would likely capture firms including China Shenhua, China National Coal, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal Inc., Contura Energy, Adani Enterprises and many others.
  • And, they note, BlackRock's vow to "closely scrutinize" companies that use lots of thermal coal could bring divestment from big power companies like Duke Energy.

The big picture: Most of the trillions of dollars BlackRock manages for clients are in passive funds, which means the company isn't directly picking the investments.

  • Nonetheless, BlackRock's strategy does address passive investment vehicles. The firm is expanding offerings of sustainability-focused exchange-traded funds.
  • Part of that plan would allow clients to select funds that do not include certain companies and sectors, including a "fossil fuel screen."

The bottom line: Environmentalists generally applauded BlackRock's moves but also acknowledged their limits.

  • As the NYT notes, "Because of its sheer size, BlackRock will remain one of the world’s largest investors in fossil-fuel companies."

Go deeper: BlackRock vows focus on climate change

Go deeper

Wind and solar would struggle to replace coal-mining jobs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A global transition is underway from coal to renewable energy, but a corresponding jobs shift is far less certain.

Driving the news: Wind-industry jobs aren’t a “feasible” replacement for local coal-mining jobs in the world’s four biggest coal-producing nations, and although solar is better situated than wind, it would require a massive buildout, a new peer-reviewed report finds.

BlackRock won't save the planet

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The planet faces a collective action problem of existential proportions. No one country or company can prevent catastrophic global warming; all of them need to work in conjunction with one another.

Why it matters: That kind of cooperation flies in the face of the standard capitalist mode, which is competition. If shareholders were to unite and force companies to cooperate on carbon reduction, that could prevent the death and displacement of millions of people.

Go deeperArrowJan 16, 2020

Big Finance is having its climate moment in 2020

An Extinction Rebellion activist stands on top of the Wall Street Bull during an Oct. 7 protest. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Big Oil often takes center stage, but big finance is having its climate moment this year, between the 2020 presidential elections and events at Davos.

Why it matters: It's the latest sign of how Wall Street is increasingly at the center for climate advocacy in at least two ways — and how White House hopefuls are part of those efforts.

Go deeperArrowJan 23, 2020