Exclusive: Daniel Summerfield on net zero becoming ‘a political football’
NZI sits down with net zero heavyweight Daniel Summerfield, who works with the world's biggest pension funds
As both asset owners and regulators increasingly pile more pressure on corporates to be transparent and detailed, legal teams and compliance teams have never been busier.
It was therefore no surprise that current sustainability standards and reporting requirements were the main topic of conversation at the annual ICGN conference, which took place in Stockholm last week.
Present at the event in the Swedish capital was Daniel Summerfield, of Pomerantz, the oldest law firm in the world that is solely dedicated to representing the rights of defrauded investors. He recently became head of the firm’s new London office.
Summerfield is responsible for providing services to many UK pension funds and institutional investors to ensure they are set up to recover monies lost due to corporate misconduct anywhere in the world.
Time for Net Zero Investor to sit down with the former Head of Corporate Affairs at the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) - the UK’s largest pension fund, where he was responsible for USS’s external affairs and public relations, including government engagement and corporate communications, for both the pension and investments businesses.
This week the industry came together in Sweden to scrutinise current sustainability standards and reporting requirements. From a legal and compliance perspective, what would you say is the biggest hurdle at the moment?
The good news is that sustainability has become a more mainstream issue among investors in several markets. The bad news is that there are now a significant number of standards and definitions globally which are causing confusion among investors, concerns among companies and consternation with regulators.
There is a clear requirement to consolidate and rationalise the sustainability standards out there. One only needs to look across to the US to see where ESG has become a political football partly due to a lack of consensus on what ESG actually means in practice and how it is understood and utilised.
Given this fragmentation in standards, what should be the next step for asset owners, managers and investors when it comes to sustainability regulation?
All members of the investment industry need to play their part in helping the regulators in their deliberations. There is little point in complaining once the regulations have been finalised. It is important that funds and managers respond to the FCA’s consultation either individually or collectively through their representative bodies and other networks.
Having worked in a pension fund and as an investor for many years, I am fully aware of the significant ESG reporting burden heaped on funds and investors as a result of an increasing number of reporting requirements.
There is a real risk that unless there is a consolidation of reporting requirements, this is where ESG practitioners will spend most of their time rather than undertaking the more value-enhancing aspects of their role.
Some investors and managers increasingly turn to data as the answer, they demand more detailed ESG figures, so they can understand and monitor sustainability efforts better. Do you recognise that trend?
I am not convinced that data alone will provide the necessary answers to the questions that investors are asking. It is more important that there is and consistency in approach and provision of data.
Then let’s briefly touch on the genuine will to go green. First the pandemic, now the cost of living crisis. Is sustainability taking a backseat?
There is a concern that the pandemic coupled with the cost of living crisis and the recent market turmoil has led to a slowdown in the drive towards streamlining sustainability standards.
Greenwashing is an issue of increasing concern and will continue to be so unless and until regulators agree on the standards expected of pension funds, investors and companies
In the UK, it would appear that the government has de-prioritised climate issues and its net zero ambitions (at least publicly) as seen in the prime minister’s recent speech in which he outlined his five priorities in which climate change was conspicuous by its absence. There is a risk that this will lead to signal-sending down the investment chain with a subsequent de-prioritisation among market participants and overseers.
Finally, let’s briefly zoom in on your firm, which is one of the oldest law firms in the world dedicated to representing the rights of defrauded investors, advising many UK pension funds and investors. How much of an issue is greenwashing at the moment?
Actually, the firm IS the oldest law firm in the world dedicated to representing defrauded shareholders. Greenwashing is an issue of increasing concern and will continue to be so unless and until regulators agree on the standards expected of pension funds, investors and companies in disclosing their ESG activities as opposed to extolling their own sustainable virtues.
The challenge will be to find the right balance to meet regulatory and reporting expectations and the promotion and marketing of investors’ and corporations’ ESG credentials. It is clear that institutional clients are becoming more discerning and savvier in differentiating between authentic and inauthentic approaches but retail investors and customers will not necessarily have the resource or expertise. It is encouraging that the FCA are now consulting on sustainable disclosure requirements to address, inter alia, the issue of greenwashing.