Border To Coast Pensions Partnership, a UK pension pool with a £9.8 billion ($11 billion; €11 billion) private markets portfolio, has a problem. It can’t make meaningful progress plotting a path to net-zero carbon emissions for its private markets portfolio, because it cannot get the data.
Border to Coast has now set interim decarbonisation targets for Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions for its public equity and corporate fixed income assets, which together make up 60 percent of its portfolio. Private markets, along with multi-asset credit and sovereign bonds, have been left behind.
This will no doubt be a familiar story to other LPs. “We hit a wall – there was no data,” says Derek Rozycki, head of responsible investing at Mubadala, when describing the sovereign wealth fund’s attempts to get to grips with the carbon footprint of its private equity portfolio.
The dichotomy between public and private companies’ progress on emissions reporting was the subject of a paper this week by Net Zero Tracker, an organisation that monitors the “scale and quality of net-zero pledges across nationals, sub-nationals, companies and other entities.”
The organisation compared net-zero commitments (both the quantity of them and the “quality” of them) among the 100 largest listed companies and the 100 largest private ones. “On almost all net zero quantity and quality metrics we investigated, we find that private companies are trailing their public counterparts, often by a disturbing distance,” the authors conclude. 32 percent of the private companies had set targets compared to 69 percent of the public ones. Of those private companies that had set targets, only four had published a plan to reach them, compared with 50 of the listed ones.
To be clear, “private” in this study means unlisted; it does not necessarily mean private equity-backed, and the report does not track how many of those top 100 private companies – if any – were PE-owned. It does, however, suggest pretty clearly that, away from the scrutiny of public markets, the pressure to address climate risks is reduced. This tracks closely with what LPs tell us about their portfolios. Fewer than 25 percent of GPs are able to provide Scope 1 and 2 data on portfolio companies, according to a study earlier this year.
Change is coming. A common language is being established among private markets associations and industry working groups and it is starting to bear fruit. Those signing up to the ESG Data Convergence Initiative, for example, are required to gather Scope 1 and 2 data from their portfolio companies (Scope 3 is optional).
Earlier this month, the One Planet Sovereign Wealth Fund (OPSWF) network published its guidance on climate disclosure for private markets. The group of investors – some of the largest backers of private funds in the world – “strongly encourages” GPs to achieve its basic level of climate disclosure – estimates for Scopes 1 and 2 for all portfolio companies, as well as Scope 3 estimates for carbon-intensive ones – by the end of 2023.
Proponents of private markets – and private equity in particular – have always praised the ownership model for its superior governance compared to publicly listed companies. Financial sponsors wield much more direct control over portfolio companies than shareholders in listed companies.
This has not yet translated into action on climate data. It’s time for private markets to catch up.