Investors in China and India increasingly dominate ownership of coal reserves amid campaigns for divestment in many rich nations to limit the risks from climate change, a study showed on Tuesday. The report, by British-based research group InfluenceMap, identified thousands of shareholders in 117 listed companies producing 3 billion tonnes a year of thermal coal with 150 billion tonnes of reserves. It said that ownership of thermal coal, used in power plants, was dominated by “strategic investors in China and India (governments, individuals, power companies, special purpose companies)”.
Ownership shifted towards Asia from Europe and North America in recent years, Dylan Tanner, executive director of InfluenceMap, told Reuters. “Coal has been pushed into a corner, stigmatized by the divestment community … the overwhelming majority is held by strategic investors who have an interest in using the asset – the power companies or governments,” said Tanner. Almost 200 governments pledged at a summit in Paris in 2015 to shift this century from fossil fuels towards renewable energies to curb climate change, and more than 500 major investors have pledged to limit coal investments. China and India say they will need coal for decades to bolster economic growth even as they try to curb emissions blamed for warming the planet.
As part of the divestment in coal, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund and California’s CalPERS and CalSTRS pension funds, representing about $1.4 trillion in assets, had sharply cut their ownership of coal since 2010, the study said. Some investors, however, now see opportunities in coal because US President Donald Trump doubts climate change is man-made and wants to promote fossil fuels from the United States as a cheap source of energy. Even before Trump’s election, some mid-size US and other asset managers “have been bulking up on coal in the last five years in anticipation of a resurgence of some of the remnants of the US coal bankruptcies and growth in Asia,” the study said. The report said that if all the coal reserves identified in the report are consumed, it would release greenhouse gases equivalent to 45% of the gases needed to raise average surface temperatures above an agreed ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.