New York Pension, Goldman Form $2 Billion Low-Carbon Fund

The Challenge of Paying for Climate Change Efforts
  • Another $1.5 billion slated for `sustainable' energy fund
  • Shift will generate comparable returns, comptroller says

New York State’s retirement fund, the third-largest U.S. public pension, will shift $2 billion of its holdings away from big emitters of greenhouse gases as part of a new fund created with the help of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced the fund Friday while at an investor panel on the sidelines of the United Nations climate-change conference in Paris. The Common Retirement Fund, managing pensions for more than 1 million beneficiaries, will also plow $1.5 billion into a program supporting low-pollution investments such as wind farms, he said in a statement.

Portfolio managers controlling trillions of dollars in assets have been trumpeting their decisions to shift away from coal and other fossil-fuel businesses lately, but it’s often unclear how much money is actually exiting the sector. The New York announcement offers one of the most concrete examples so far of a big investor moving a tangible amount toward more climate-friendly companies.

Climate Change

“There is no question that climate change is one of the biggest risks facing global investors across multiple sectors,” said Vicki Fuller, chief investment officer of the fund, which manages $173.5 billion. “By shifting our capital to companies with lower emissions and comparable returns, we are sending the message that our investment dollars will follow businesses with strong environmental practices.”

The $2 billion index fund was created with the help of Goldman Sachs’ asset management division. It will exclude or reduce investments in large greenhouse-gas sources like the coal-mining industry, while increasing investment in lower emitters. The bank and New York State think they’ve created a portfolio that will generate returns comparable to the pension’s current benchmark, the Russel 1000 Index, according to Hugh Lawson, global head of impact investing for the Goldman unit.

“We were able to reduce their emissions by about 70 percent but essentially preserve the returns and risk characteristics that they were expecting,” Lawson said in a telephone interview.

The $1.5 billion for sustainable investments would double that program’s funding, DiNapoli’s office said. That and the low-pollution index may be expanded.

Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, an industry lobbying group, said his members remain a good bet. “Oil and gas investments have proven to be long-term winners," Dempsey said in an e-mail. “Retirees whose money is at stake will not be thrilled to learn that some are playing politics with their savings.”

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