By Kristin Bresnahan, Alpine Roads, Jens Frankenreiter, Brea Hinricks and Eric Talley, Millstein Center at Columbia Law School. Sophie L’Hélias, LeaderXXchange, Nina Hodzic, LeaderXXchange and Allianz Global Investors, Julian Nyarko, Stanford Law School, and Sneha Pandya, Columbia Law School.
Bringing together perspectives from companies, investors, regulators and other stakeholders to incorporate climate risks into business strategy is critical to accelerate climate integration and transition.
The impact of climate change is global, with ramifications for boards of directors trying to guide their organisations, and for investors increasingly concerned about the risk to their portfolios, according to the LeaderXXchange and Columbia University international survey. Indeed, climate risk management is likely to be a significant part of corporate governance going forward, shaping investor engagement with company boards.
Materiality, training and climate change disclosure
Investors and directors believe climate change issues are material, with more than 60% and 70% respectively indicating that climate risk is already impacting their business. Incorporating climate risks into strategy and investment decision making helps to identify business and investment opportunities, manage risk, and is viewed as the right thing to do.
Most investors and directors develop climate change expertise by following current events and news reports, reviewing publications by scientists and think tanks, and reading company corporate social responsibility (CSR) or annual reports. However, more so than directors, investors also turn to sell-side reports and publications from ESG rating agencies as their preferred information sources. Investors seem to find more value in receiving climate-related disclosures than directors. Moreover, they appear less receptive to boilerplate climate change disclosures.
A large majority of respondents considered climate risk reporting to be equally important as financial reporting (see Figure 1).
The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations are gaining traction among investors: more than 50% of respondents in North America and Europe are already asking companies to follow them (see Figure 2).
Climate risk management, board oversight and stewardship
More than 40% of director respondents indicated that climate-related topics are discussed annually by their boards, while 30% indicated they are discussed quarterly.
Our survey results support prior research findings that boards receive climate-related information primarily from the CSR/sustainability heads, to a lesser extent from general counsels/corporate secretaries, and more rarely from investor relations staff. Approximately a quarter of directors indicated that no one reports to the board on climate-related topics.
According to director respondents, investor engagement on climate-related issues takes place primarily at the CEO and investor relations levels. This is also in line with prior findings showing that engagement does not take place at the CFO level.
Investor respondents said that engagement with companies on climate topics is increasingly done not only by ESG or investor engagement specialists, but also by mainstream portfolio managers and analysts (see Figure 3). Almost 65% of investor respondents indicated that they engage directly with board directors.
Variation by age, gender and region
Our survey results suggest that interest in climate-related issues is tied to age: the younger the respondent, the greater the interest.The results also support other academic research findings that suggest that women are more engaged on climate-related issues than men. However, the gender gap narrows as respondents get younger, particularly under the age of 35.
This survey supports prior research findings that there are several demographic and regional differences in directors’ and investors’ expectations around climate-related issues and disclosure. Moreover, the survey findings support the view that diversity of skills, gender and age could accelerate the integration of climate-related issues by investors and boards of directors. These findings deepen our understanding of how directors and investors take climate-related issues into account in their boardroom and investment decision making, respectively.
We plan to conduct another survey this year and hope to compare the respective findings, to consider how investor and director views continue to evolve, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has spawned a lively debate about whether to accelerate or rein in the reconsideration of stakeholder governance.
About the survey
This survey was conducted 2019 by a team of researchers at the Ira M. Millstein Center for Global Markets and Corporate Ownership at Columbia Law School and experts at LeaderXXchange and published in 2020. It seeks to understand how institutional investors and board directors incorporate climate-related issues in their investment decision making and their oversight responsibilities, respectively. It is the first of its kind international survey targeting investors and directors to probe their responses on climate risk management using two tracks aggregated in a single survey.
There were more than 130 respondents: approximately 40% directors and 60% investors from Europe (including the UK) and North America. The response pool also exhibited near gender parity, with 53% female respondents, as well as a broad age distribution with 19% of respondents under 35, 34% of respondents aged between 35-50, 33% of respondents aged between 50-65, and 11% older than 65.
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The survey was published in 2020.
Paulina Pielichata, Pensions & Investments (2020) Climate Change, Human Capital Top Investors’ Agendas
 These findings are consistent with the CFA Institute’s previous findings – see https://www.cfainstitute.org/-/media/documents/survey/esg-survey-report-2017.ashx. The same study also found that male investors are more likely than female investors to think that ESG issues are not material.
 Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (2018) Gender Differences in Public Understanding of Climate Change.