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Investing in decarbonisation is a once-in-a-generation opportunity

Climate change is one of the most urgent challenges facing the world. The understanding that it is an existential issue is now widespread, as is the realisation everybody is responsible for supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Of course, this includes investors, as such a monumental shift in the ways people produce and consume requires vast capital. But the savviest investors know funding a green industrial revolution offers them far more than the chance to make a positive environmental impact.  Efforts to cut carbon emissions are transforming not only energy and transport systems, but also the design and manufacture of products and buildings.

This creates enormous growth potential for companies offering low-carbon products and services, and consequently opportunities for investors.

So much spending is required because green technologies need to play a far bigger role in the economy. To achieve the Paris climate goals, 100 million electric vehicles must be sold every year, for example, up from around two million in 2019¹, implying considerable growth not only for electric vehicle manufacturers, but companies in their supply chains. 

Propelled by the decarbonisation tailwind, such companies have the potential to outperform the rest of the market. “Decarbonisation-fuelled growth is a structural trend that will persist through economic and political cycles, which is a crucial point during a time of such uncertainty in the world,” says Deirdre Cooper, co-portfolio manager of the Ninety One Global Environment Fund.

“Given the vast investment required to limit temperature rises, the growth potential of companies that support or benefit from decarbonisation is huge. It’s a misunderstanding that there need be a trade-off between investing sustainably and generating returns.”

However, she believes only the market leaders are likely to reap the full potential of decarbonisation. The key to leveraging this opportunity is therefore selectively investing in the leading businesses enabling and benefiting from decarbonisation, through a dedicated and focused approach.

Though first seen as a possible inhibitor of decarbonisation progress, coronavirus has arguably been an accelerant as governments centre their post-pandemic recovery plans around the low-carbon transition. This is particularly the case in Europe where the European Union’s Green Deal and related fiscal policy have been positioned to help reinvigorate economies. Elsewhere, China has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060, which would require a faster decarbonisation than expected and a radical reconfiguration of its economy towards more sustainable ways of producing and consuming. In the US, President Joe Biden’s green agenda has further strengthened the tailwind behind stocks perceived as positively exposed to decarbonisation, and legislation that would direct record spending to mitigating climate change and speeding up America’s clean-energy transition is likely to go before Congress in the coming months. Ninety One also expects policy developments from other countries and more climate commitments from companies leading into the UN’s COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow in November

Investors seeking businesses most likely to benefit from environmental tailwinds follow these developments closely, given that government policy has a major influence on where, how and how fast decarbonisation drives economic growth. However, the necessary funding cannot come from governments alone.

“The world is investing just $500 billion of the $2 trillion to $3 trillion required annually to decarbonise the global economy,” says Cooper. “To make up the shortfall, we need companies to spend much more on tackling climate change. Investors can play a valuable role in this by engaging with listed businesses, as shareholders, to encourage them to accelerate spending on transitioning the global economy to a lower-carbon model.”

To find companies likely to contribute to decarbonisation, Cooper and her colleagues use proprietary models and detailed carbon analysis. “Within our portfolio, we analyse carbon impact for each company. This includes analysing emissions profiles, initiatives to align strategies with the Paris climate goals, and ‘carbon avoided’, which measures the extent a company’s products or services have a lower-carbon footprint than the alternative.”

They have identified around 700 businesses which earn at least half their revenues from areas impacted by decarbonisation and offer products and services that are quantifiably more carbon efficient than the alternative. These businesses have a combined market capitalisation of about $6 trillion, but investors in broad benchmarks have limited exposure to them as together they account for only 7 per cent of the MSCI All Country World Index by weight.

Cooper believes investors have a higher probability of outperforming the market if they take a selective approach, focusing on the businesses within this group that have the best growth potential, sustainable returns and competitive advantages. BM/DM


Read more about the Ninety One Global Environment Fund here.

¹ Ninety One and Dr Daniel Quiggin, 31 March 2019.


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