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‘Portfolio Warming’ Is the New Climate Anxiety for Fund Managers

Axa leads investors’ efforts to gauge the rate at which businesses are warming the planet.

Steam rises from the Neurath coal-fired power plant on Feb. 11 near Bergheim, Germany. Maintaining electricity output from coal-fired power plants during prolonged periods of reduced demand is costlier than from renewables.

Steam rises from the Neurath coal-fired power plant on Feb. 11 near Bergheim, Germany. Maintaining electricity output from coal-fired power plants during prolonged periods of reduced demand is costlier than from renewables.

Photographer: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

All good money managers expect to outperform their benchmark, and by one such metric the French insurer and investor Axa SA recently scored a market-beating success. Not by delivering higher returns, but by generating a lower level of global warming.

If human activity is driving carbon emissions and temperatures to dangerous highs, then a giant asset owner like Axa with a 650 billion-euro ($790 billion) horde of stocks, corporate bonds and sovereign debt is one of the principal proprietors of climate change. In theory, that means every investment portfolio can be evaluated for the “warming potential” of its underlying assets.