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ESG

Neuberger Berman climate review finds big holes in readiness

Neuberger Berman began a comprehensive review of its $304 billion portfolio last year, specifically to understand how its investments will be affected by climate change. The verdict is in, and it isn't good.

"The unfortunate overall conclusion is that developed markets are not on track," said Jonathan Bailey, head of ESG investing at Neuberger Berman.

With the help of three climate scientists who joined the firm in November, Neuberger Berman plans to push companies for progress — and quickly. If the firm isn't satisfied, Mr. Bailey said, it might reconsider the investments.

The portfolio review offered some useful insights. European companies are better prepared for climate change impacts than their U.S. competitors. Companies that operate inland may underestimate the risks presented by increased heat and wildfires. With the current mix of power generation, many U.S. utilities won't be viable within 15 years.

"There are companies we view as having no real value under a 2-degree scenario," Mr. Bailey said, referring to what scientists agree is the maximum amount of tolerable warming. "If I look at the oil and gas sector, they are not on track for a 2-degree world and they don't believe one will happen."

Under pressure from investors, some of the biggest oil and gas companies have begun planning for global warming. Shell announced this month it plans to become an electricity company. Norway's Statoil renamed itself Equinor and now highlights its offshore wind business.

Public companies are increasingly facing pressure from investors to consider and disclose climate readiness. Fewer than 200 companies globally have formally committed to push their operations in line with global climate goals, according to the Science Based Targets Initiative.

Neuberger Berman also plans to more strongly integrate climate risk in its business as well as its portfolio, placing the responsibility for managing that risk with its board of directors.