Stockholm (NordSIP) – Tuning in to the webinar on climate lobbying organised by AP7 on Wednesday, January 20th, expectations ran high, as the well-selected list of panellists promised an engaging debate. Johan Florén (pictured left), Head of Communications and ESG at AP7, Per Bolund (pictured right), Swedish Minister of Financial Markets, Lina Håkansdotter, Head of Sustainability & Infrastructure at Swedish Enterprise, Åsa Pettersson, Head of Public Affairs & Sustainability at Scania and Fiona Reynolds, CEO of the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) took part in this animated discussion.
The extensive report on lobbying that AP7 published last month, serves as a background to the webinar. The participants discuss some of the report’s themes and findings indeed, but the debate soon shifts away to another divisive question.
Reynolds sets the stage. She passionately conveys how urgently we must address negative climate lobbying. “As it stands right now, the lobbyists are winning the day,” she says. With negative climate lobbyists outnumbering the positive ones 3:1, Reynolds is annoyed that investors tacitly contribute to their pay, by allowing companies to employ them. Turning towards the rest of the panellists, representatives of an asset owner and of the automotive industry, a politician and a lobbyist, her main piece of advice is clear: “Collaborate!”
The debate that follows reveals differences in opinion that illustrate the challenging nature of her request. Beneath the surface of a subdued and non-confrontational Swedish-style conversation, each panellist pushes hard for their own agenda. In short, the participants seem to disagree on an old dilemma: to drive change from within or to opt out altogether, both with regards to lobbying and investing in general.
Bolund kicks off the debate, urging AP7 to show more commitment to the Paris agreement and the SDGs by divesting from fossil fuel companies. AP7 prefers active engagement, or stewardship, an approach that allows responsible investors like AP7 to proactively influence companies’ business decisions and nudge them towards sustainability, according to Florén. The divesting alternative doesn’t solve the problem, he argues; vacating space for less responsible investors to dictate the future of those companies will not encourage positive change.
More to the topic of the event, Håkansdotter talks about the importance of positive and constructive lobbying. Although the concerned parties, in Sweden at least, generally agree on the long-term goal, they might have different opinions on the most efficient way to get there, she points out. “Saying ‘no’ to politicians’ proposals is not always a negative thing,” she adds.
Pettersson agrees with Håkansdotter on the need for positive lobbying. Having the technical solution in place is not enough to drive sustainability forwards, she explains, pointing at an electric truck standing in her background. Scania still needs to lobby for the necessary infrastructure to support a growing fleet of electric vehicles. “And we can achieve so much more in cooperation with the other members of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) than on our own,” she says.
Back to the question about the choice of strategy, for both Håkansdotter and Pettersson, divesting or leaving seems to be a choice only once efforts to affect a positive change have failed. Swedish companies and organisations are a positive force to reckon with in the global context, they believe.
These arguments fail to convince Bolund. He holds strongly onto the argument that only a radical approach of completely disengaging with climate-negative organisations and disinvesting from fossil-fuel companies can achieve real transformation.
Florén makes an off-hand remark: as a representative of the Green Party, shouldn’t Bolund have some experience when it comes to affecting change from within the government rather than in opposition?
While the discussion on the issue of lobbying is quickly left behind, the main takeaway of this debate remains that active ownership and a pure exclusionary policy still have staunch proponents who cannot seem to find a common ground.
Should I stay or should I go? To be continued…
The replay is available here (mostly in Swedish)