PGGM’s Geraldine Leegwater: Pension funds must act for a liveable world
The PGGM investment chief speaks on the need for cooperation in sustainable finance, ongoing difficulties in the asset owner and manager relationship, and time running out for direct oil and gas engagement
Fiduciary duty must be balanced with providing pensions to beneficiaries in a “liveable world”, according to Geraldine Leegwater, investment management chief at PGGM, a Dutch pension fund with $325 billion in assets under management.
PGGM’s active stance on climate engagmeent was reflected in its stewardship efforts at this year's AGM season. This included co-filing a resolution at Total Energies to drive down its emissions, and backing further Follow This climate resolutions at BP and Shell. Neither of these resolutions passed, garnering 30%, 16.5% and 20% respectively.
Nevertheless, PGGM intends to continue its focus on climate risks. “Fiduciary duty has the added purpose of providing a good pension in a liveable world.”, Leegwater said.
“When it comes to climate, this represents a systemic risk that we as a society have to address.”
Having joined PGGM in 2020, Leegwater can look back at a significant track record in the Dutch pensions industry.
Besides having been a char of the Investment Committee at ABP, the biggest pension fund in the Netherlands, she was also CIO and CEO at ABN Amro Pensioenfonds. She also served as a member of the supervisory investment committee of the Dutch Central Bank.
At PGGM she is currently overseeing engagement with oil and gas, looking to retain investments only in firms with a credible net zero strategy. The strategy is due to end with the calendar year. So far, the fund has divested from 200 companies in the sector, with only 12 remaining.
“Of the goals that we have set, we expect only a handful of oil and gas firms to achieve them and make it into the portfolio past the end of the year. It's unfortunate, of course”, says Leegwater.
In the run up to AGM season, PGGM sponsored a report by Accela Research on the climate transition strategies of European oil and gas majors, which found that capital expenditures remain concentrated in oil and gas production rather than developing low-carbon solutions.
PGGM’s move to disengage with the sector mirrors similar activity in the UK asset owner space. Last month, the Church of England Pensions Board confirmed plans to offload its oil and gas holdings following years of engagement with giants in the industry such as Shell.
Yet a concern remains as to what happens when the ‘good guys’ of sustainable finance leave oil and gas, and what limited oversight there is of the sector from the investor side starts to dissipate.
Leegwater says: “That's the dilemma. Our perspective is that we have to look at what we can do with the resources we have and the influence that we’ve got, asking will this be most effective? There is a belief that we can still find other areas of influence where we should place our action.”
PGGM’s position reflects a chance in sentiment in the wider Climate Action 100+ initiative, with prominent members within the organisation urging a shift in engagement strategy as its enters its second implementation phase.
In the wake of oil and gas firms such as BP and Shell negatively revising climate targets, the focus will now lie on enhanced corporate disclosures and the implementation of transition plans.
Need for cooperation
As well as PGGM’s involvement on the Climate Action 100+, Leegwater is also a member of the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which established itself as a preeminent reporting body prior to its upcoming integration into the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB).
Yet while there is cooperation in the asset owner space, there is also room for improvement, according to Leegwater: “When it comes to climate, we see a lack of cooperation among investors, even if we cooperate together with other asset owners. There are different approaches to the same problem, there are different views on how big the problem is, and on what time horizon the problem will materialise.
“To be successful, we need sufficient resources, we need people who understand the topics and what's going on, but also dig down and engage on a systemic level.”
Even in the event that asset owners can be marching in lockstep towards a net zero goal, a disappointing AGM season for climate resolutions has exposed growing rifts between asset owners and managers.
“Ultimately asset managers are commercial organisations, so they should follow what their clients want. So apparently, there is still a big client base demanding something different compared to what many asset owners are looking for, so there is still a disconnect. What this requires going forward is cooperating with likeminded asset owners to find a solution”, says Leegwater.