The Hamilton Spectator
Pensions worthless without a future
As a teacher, a mental-health practitioner and a municipal worker, we are disappointed and concerned that a recent report showed that our public pensions have not caught up with the seriousness of the climate crisis.
The good news is that there are clear steps our pension funds can take to get on track.
The Canadian Pension Climate Report Card evaluated the climate approaches of 11 pension funds, including ours: the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement Fund (OMERS) and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP).
My (Carolyn’s) pension fund, HOOPP, received an embarrassing D for its approach to climate. As a scientist practitioner working in mental health to advocate for clients who live in marginalized situations, I’m concerned about the ongoing and worsening impacts of climate events on people who are living with severe mental illness.
My health-care pension has no published climate plan. HOOPP is still investing in fossil fuels, the primary cause of the climate crisis, even as health organizations around the world are warning that climate change is the biggest threat to human health.
My (Melissa’s) pension fund, OMERS, scored barely ahead of HOOPP, with a D-plus. While I’ve noticed that OMERS has made increasing investments in renewable energy and energy storage, and recently announced a new commitment to reduce emissions by 2030, it still hasn’t released a climate plan. As a public sector worker, I see public and private organizations increasingly incorporating climate change considerations into their business planning and decisionmaking. My efforts are spent advancing this imperative, while OMERS lags behind. Having a pension that’s in lockstep with a livable future is what’s needed.
When I (Lisa) tell my high school science classes and EcoTeam students that my pension is likely my greatest personal contribution to the climate crisis, they are astonished. I’m glad that I can give them at least some good news: the OTPP earned a B on its climate approach, reflecting that it’s heading in the right direction. My pension manager has strong targets to reduce emissions and for companies in its portfolio to develop plans to decarbonize. But we need to keep the pressure on. OTPP continues to invest billions of dollars in the oil, gas and pipelines that put at risk my own students’ futures.
Fortunately, a growing body of standards outlines exactly what pension funds like ours need to do.
Last year, a United Nations expert group established that credible netzero commitments must include an end to fossil fuel expansion, massive new investments in climate solutions, no lobbying to undermine climate action, and greater transparency, accountability and reporting of emissions data.
It’s only a matter of time before Canada acts to regulate financial institutions, like our pension funds, to meet this standard and fall in line with our national climate commitments.
In the meantime, leading pension funds will get out ahead of regulation with immediate action to phase out investments in fossil fuels, set ambitious emissions reduction targets, and establish clear expectations that all companies in their portfolio develop credible pathways for a net-zero future.
Beneficiaries like us have been calling on our pensions to safeguard our retirement from risky fossil fuel investments and to invest in climate safety.
We don’t want our pension payments undermining the financial and environmental interests of health-care workers, municipal employees and teachers retiring 20 years from now. And we don’t want our retirement savings making the climate crisis worse.
Next year, we hope to see a climate report card where all our pension funds score an A.