MONTRÉAL, May 21, 2020 — While the global health crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic is causing stock markets to plunge and bringing oil prices to historic lows, a new study by Quebec’s Sortons la Caisse du carbone coalition confirms a reduction in carbon intensity per dollar invested at the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), while shedding light on the cumulative loss of returns in the fossil fuel sector.
The analysis of the return on the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec's "Carbone 50" (CDPQ's 50 main investments in fossil fuels) between 2011 and 2019 (only available in French) shows a significant decline in the value of the fossil fuel portfolio, largely because of a massive sale of shares in oil sands producers (‑43 per cent in 2019).
The analysis, signed by Sébastien Collard and reviewed by Prof. Éric Pineault, also points to significant relative losses in return attributable to the underperformance of the "Carbon 50." The losses were in the order of $1.1 billion in 2019 (before the COVID-19 crisis), compared to the return that could have been obtained on the benchmark stock markets. The cumulative loss of return for the 2011-2019 period amounts to $11.5 billion.
"The CDPQ's carbon intensity reduction objective is laudable, but natural gas remains the elephant in the room at the CDPQ," explains coalition spokesperson Sébastien Collard. "The CDPQ may be getting out of oil, but its investments in gas are helping this sector survive and unnecessarily delaying the rapid transition underway. You can't expect to make a profit by investing in a neglected area. Less expensive alternatives to gas already exist, and their competitive advantage is growing. There is a serious risk that gas will complete the picture of poor financial performance in fossil fuels. Gas will become a lasting reminder of CDPQ’s repeated refusal to fully embody change."
In 2019, CDPQ announced acquisition of a gas pipeline in Brazil, and its former CEO Michael Sabia mentioned at the time that his institution remained interested in investing in "natural" gas. The Sortons la Caisse du carbone coalition believes these investments are not part of a serious plan to demonstrate that gas can be a substitute for higher emission-intense energy sources, as the CDPQ claims.
Thus, rather than helping to reduce emissions, CDPQ favours an industry that has demonstrated its inability to contribute to the transition, even though, from a strictly economic standpoint, fossil fuels are already less competitive than renewable energies in many parts of the world, and this competitiveness deficit is rapidly growing.
"What is the responsibility of a financial investor and manager of public funds such as the CDPQ in this situation?” writes Éric Pineault, professor in the sociology department at UQAM, in the preface to this analysis. “It is twofold. First, to broaden the scope of what constitutes an investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure; a scope that goes beyond projects for the extraction and distribution of the most CO2-intensive forms of hydrocarbons to include those that have the most harmful substitution effects, such as LNG. Then, intensify the disinvestment effort that this report notes and applauds, not only to protect the value of the investment portfolio, but above all to contribute to the stifling of financing for this industry, which considerably increases the cost of its investments and their refinancing, so as to give renewable energies and the transition a greater chance by countering the effects of large-scale replacement."
In a context of pandemic and global recession that will put the CDPQ's investment strategies to the test, the coalition believes its investment choices must be guided by a concern for reducing both financial and climate risks, with a framework of coherence that goes beyond its carbon intensity reduction plan.
This coherence requires a total exit from the hydrocarbons sector (oil and natural gas) throughout the production, transport and distribution chain, as well as setting targets in line with the requirements of climate scientists and the Paris Agreement, which requires a 50 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
About Sortons la Caisse du carbone
The Sortons la Caisse du carbone coalition includes the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace Canada, Recycle ta Caisse, The Climate Reality Project Canada, the Association pour la voix étudiante au Québec (AVEQ), Climate Justice Montreal (CWY), Leap Montréal, Mobilisation environnement Ahuntsic-Cartierville (MEAC), Eau Secours! and other citizen groups, unions and representatives of Indigenous Peoples.