NBIM Throws Stone in Glass House

    Nicolai Tangen, CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) recently posted a link to what he called an important article in the Financial Times (FT).  It turned out to be a surprisingly brief interview with none other than himself under the headline “Norway oil fund chief attacks UK backlash against green measures.”  While the overall message resonates with a Laundromat that has repeatedly taken the current UK government to the cleaners over its appalling environmental track record, it is nevertheless hard to find the most apt saying for Tangen’s intervention.  Something about pots and kettles perhaps, or throwing stones in glass houses?

    NBIM’s website welcomes visitors with a real-time market value counter showing the vast portfolio of €1.3 trillion worth of assets under management as it fluctuates up and down – but mostly up.  The FT still calls it the oil fund, but a few years ago NBIM changed its name to the Government Pension Fund Global, oil being an increasingly bad look.  Tangen’s criticism of the politicisation of climate action in the UK is well justified, and for the Laundromat is a classic case of “don’t-get-me-started.” However, one cannot help but feel that he might take a step back and start by redirecting his ire closer to home.

    Let us put aside the fact that most of the fund’s €1.3 trillion assets were bought with proceeds from Norway’s oil and gas production.  It continues to invest in fossil fuels, with holdings in companies that can neither be described as best-in-class nor demonstrate credible transition strategies.  NBIM has equity positions in TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil, Shell, Adnoc and – surprisingly – several Russian firms including Lukoil and Gazprom.  It was roughly this time last year that NBIM announced its 2025 Climate Action Plan, after which it offered up further warnings to investee companies of a new activist stance.  Given its financial clout, climate laggards should have been quivering in their boots at the thought.  They need not have worried, as shortly afterwards NBIM was being criticised for declining to support a shareholder resolution aimed at obliging BP to adopt tougher emissions reduction targets.  The British fossil fuel producer had rowed back on previous targets despite bumper profits.

    NBIM’s new Climate Advisory Board also raised a few eyebrows.  One member, Bjørn Otto Sverdrup is Chair of the Executive Committee at the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), a voluntary fossil fuel industry association seemingly intent on solving the climate crisis with a focus on lesser Scope 1 and 2 emissions and unproven downstream measures like carbon capture to deal with vast Scope 3 greenhouse gases (GHG).  Harvard Professor Jody Freeman, another Climate Advisory Board member also sits on the board of Texas-based oil and gas firm ConocoPhillips, a firm that appears to be taking no positive action whatsoever towards a better climate strategy.

    The final stone to break Tangen’s glass house is the fact that Norway only recently announced plans to pump more than $18 billion into new oil and gas projects.  This is a safe way to keep the Pension Fund Global nicely topped up, but hardly smacks of environmental credibility.  As Tangen put it to the FT: “You have a big country in Europe that is slowing down the work on climate at a time where it’s more important than ever.”  He was referring to the other pot – or kettle – being the UK, but could just as easily have directed the comment at his own government.  NordSIP’s Laundromat is UK-based and has railed against the current government’s acceptance of fossil fuel lobbying money and unwinding of environmental policies.  The UK also recently announced the approval of new North Sea oil exploration licences against all advice from the likes of the United Nations and the International Energy Agency.  Nevertheless, it is jarring to be the subject of criticism from the NBIM CEO.  Another saying comes to mind: if Tangen is going to talk the talk, he has got to walk the walk.

    Image courtesy of Kira from Pixabay
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard has over 30 years’ experience in the international investment industry. He has worked closely with major Nordic investors on consultancy projects, focusing on the evaluation of external asset managers. While doing so, Richard built up a strong practical understanding of the challenges faced by institutional investors seeking to integrate ESG into their portfolios. Richard has an MA degree in Management and Spanish from St Andrews University, and sustainability qualifications from Cambridge University, PRI and the CFA Institute.

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