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Canadian Pension Board Invests $141M in Chinese Coal Projects, Undercutting Federal Phaseout Policy

Greg Goebel/Wikimedia Commons

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) is jeopardizing Canadians’ retirement savings, undercutting federal government policy, and making a mockery of one of the country’s few points of climate leadership on the world stage by investing C$141 million in Chinese coal companies, a leading pensions and climate advocate said this week.

“It’s completely offside with Canada’s commitments to the Powering Past Coal Alliance [1] and its domestic goal [2] to retire coal-fired generation,” said Adam Scott, director of Toronto-based Shift Action. “It’s completely offside with all of Canada’s climate commitments. And it’s a red flag for Canadians to be worried about their pension savings.”

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That last should be the biggest flag of all for the CPPIB, whose declared mission [4] is to “help provide a foundation upon which 20 million Canadians build their financial security in retirement.”

“If you understand climate change, then you understand that coal is an incredibly high-risk investment in any form,” Scott told The Energy Mix. “It’s high-risk because it’s the leading cause of the climate crisis, and therefore a key target for elimination in climate policy. It’s ripe for disruption from new technology that is rapidly out-competing coal in electricity markets.”

And “it’s deeply unethical,” he added. “Anybody who understands the consequences of burning coal in our climate truly would never make such an investment. So it raises a big question for me about whether CPPIB actually understands the climate crisis at all.”

Yet the CPPIB was styling itself as a climate leader as recently as last month, Sun Media reported [5], in a story that was republished [6] by the International Energy Agency’s Clean Coal Centre.

“We do believe climate change is happening and we do believe it is a major risk,” CEO Mark Machin told the Commons Finance Committee. “Climate change and the gradual transition to the low-carbon environment will continue to influence the world we live in. We have committed to be a leader among asset owners in understanding the risks posed and opportunities presented by climate change.”

In that light, “for the last 12 years, we’ve been focused on understanding the risk, and it’s challenging,”  he added. “It’s a very, very difficult risk to understand. Every single major investment we make must take into account climate change risks and make sure we understand those risks. What might happen to the company?”

Yet CPPIB’s 2020 Annual Report shows $141 million in coal investments in China, Sun Media said, including $1 million in coal distributor Jiangsu Guoxin Corp. Ltd., $3 million in China Coal Energy Co. Ltd., which operates a dozen mines, and $42 million in China Shenhua Energy Co. Ltd., the country’s biggest state-owned coal mining company.

The Board’s director of global media relations, Darryl Konynenbelt, wasn’t inclined to discuss the story. “It’s a decline to comment from us,” he said [7]. Neither Konynenbelt nor Jeffrey Hodgson, CPPIB’s director of industry and stakeholder relations, responded to multiple calls and emails from The Energy Mix.

Scott said CPPIB’s dealings in China undercut “one of the few international commitments Canada made” after it signed the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Powering Past Coal Alliance “is the initiative the federal government touts to shore up its credibility,” he told The Mix. “But clearly, the arm’s length pension manager in Canada has no intention of aligning its investment strategy with Canada’s climate commitments.”

CPPIB is intended to operate independently from the federal and provincial governments it nominally reports to. “CPPIB’s mandate is to seek to achieve a maximum rate of return without undue risk of loss, taking into account the factors that affect the funding of the [Canada Pension Plan] and the ability of the CPP to meet its financial obligations,” a Department of Finance official told The Mix in an email. 

But it’s exactly those financial obligations that have Scott concerned. “It’s inevitable that Canadian pension funds will put screens on new investments in all fossil fuels, and will eventually wind down their existing fossil fuel investments, in order to protect the savings they invest,” he said. “It’s a question of whether or not CPPIB does this before those assets become worthless, or after.”

Last week, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned that the carbon reduction targets in the Paris Agreement will fall out of reach unless China stops funding coal projects, Climate Home News reports [8]. “There is no such thing as clean coal, and coal should have no place in any rational recovery plan,” Guterres said. “It is deeply concerning that new coal power plants are still being planned and financed, even though renewables offer three times more jobs, and are now cheaper than coal in most countries.”

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Canadian Pension Board Invests $141M in Chinese Coal Projects, Undercutting Federal Phaseout Policy"

#1 Comment By Ed Allgeier On July 29, 2020 @ 9:38 AM

It is abizarre and totally insane. It appears to make no sense to environmentally, ethically or financially. What could be the rationale?

#2 Comment By Mitchell Beer On July 29, 2020 @ 10:59 AM

I wish CPPIB had replied to our queries. I’m sure they could tell us, if they were commenting. Your retirement savings at work…

#3 Comment By Jim Whitworth On July 29, 2020 @ 2:21 PM

It is horribly laughable that our government is going to allow monster coal mines to dig. It’s obvious that we are going down and nobody really cares. I guess they want a happy death.

#4 Comment By Carole Rubin On July 29, 2020 @ 3:08 PM

No Words. One Word. Stupidity.

#5 Comment By Chris Cowan On July 29, 2020 @ 3:09 PM

This is incredible…. what kind of mantality would lead to this right now? I think someone ought to lose their job.

#6 Comment By Don Scott On July 30, 2020 @ 7:08 PM

Was this the same Pension plan that invested a huge sum in fracked natural gas pioneer Chesapeake that a few months after this “long term investment” is on the rocks and I think in Chapter 11 or worse??

#7 Comment By Mitchell Beer On July 30, 2020 @ 11:33 PM

Well, interesting, thank you! Yes, Chesapeake has just gone bust, and we’ll look into whether CPPIB was there as a bystander. If you have any links or sourcing, please share! [9]

#8 Comment By Al Willky On September 28, 2020 @ 12:48 PM

I’ve worked in the coal industry for 33 years and I am going to be losing my job at 55 years of age and will not be able to touch my pension unless I’m willing to take a huge cut to it to go before age 60 , to think shutting down a handful of the cleanest coal fired power plants in the world and invest in China’s poorly regulated / non regulated industry Instead of investing in our own industry and people is absolutely asinine, people need to pull their heads not just outta the sand !! Our Illustrious feds are nothing but a bunch of lying hypocrites ! We need a change and we need it fast before they completely ruin this once great country

#9 Comment By Trevor Forry On August 4, 2020 @ 7:23 AM

no comment means we demand a resignation or someone should be fired

#10 Comment By A. Irene Wright On August 7, 2020 @ 4:20 PM

Shame on our current government in Ottawa. This is absolutely incomprehensible and unforgivable. Don’t any of the decision makers have kids or their kids? One day the earth will cease to be for all practical purposes, but what’s the rush to destroy what we have?

#11 Comment By Janet Vickers On August 23, 2020 @ 4:24 PM

To invest in Chinese coal makes no sense when First Nations need water. We should invest in clean water first, then clean power, and then after that foreign energy.

#12 Comment By Keith C. Cowan On September 24, 2020 @ 4:50 PM

As a pensioner, I want the CPPIB to get the best returns they can. If they become an instrument of Liberal policy, their portfolio will go down the tubes.

#13 Comment By Mitchell Beer On September 25, 2020 @ 12:05 AM

Let’s be clear that we agree on this — neither of us wants their returns or your pension to suffer! For a sense of whether coal investments meet our shared criteria, in China or anywhere else, check the news archive by category on our site. If you scroll to non-renewable resources, then go to the sub-tab for coal…I fearlessly predict you’ll be on the phone or email to CPPIB within the hour.

#14 Comment By Angus On September 26, 2020 @ 11:51 PM

Agree. Arguably, however, coal is indeed on the way out. This is not thanks to renewable power, but rather natural gas (especially in the United States, where the fracking boom has made it much cheaper).

#15 Comment By Mitchell Beer On September 27, 2020 @ 7:05 PM

For now…in so many ways, and for so many reasons, fracking is on the ropes at this point, with renewables continuing to rise.