This paper, first presented at the 1st Global Stranded Assets Conference, hosted by the Smith School in Oxford September 2015, looks at developments over the past two years around the concepts of carbon asset risk, stranded assets and wasted capital in relation to the fossil fuel industry.

In this paper we draw on NGO and market research, and corporate and investor activity. The focus is on establishing a framework for analysis and assessing how investors and corporations are responding in terms of risk management, disclosure, corporate capital expenditures and the implications for investors in terms of portfolio management, engagement and divestment. This is done in the context of share and commodity markets. We show that carbon asset risk (CAR) is in the process of moving from discussion and acknowledgement to action and impact.

The Energy Transition is underway – more haste is needed!

Key Findings

In the past few years, carbon asset risk (CAR) has gone from a fringe topic discussed primarily by NGOs to a serious consideration of some of the largest companies in the world. Recent market action, investor pledges, new models and results, and significant shareholder resolutions are all contributing to pushing CAR into the public attention.

This report discusses some of the most important recent developments and provides the first attempt at quantifying the uptake of CAR assessment and management. The report follows the basic structure of the recently released UNEP FI/WRI CAR Framework, a multi-stakeholder and multiyear process to develop a common terminology and language carbon-intensive companies are exposed to (“operator carbon risk”) from the risk that is passed on to lenders and investors with a stake in these companies (“carbon asset risk”). Exposure and risk evaluation have to be done at the asset level by companies (operators of those assets) and at the portfolio level by owners of or financial intermediaries to those operators. Risk is then managed using several options: disclosure, diversification, divestment (avoidance) and engagement.

This report now looks at the evidence for action by operators (disclosure) and investors (divestment and engagement) in particular in relation to these issues in the fossil fuels and utility sectors. It also analyzes how recent  market volatility, a primary risk factor in the CAR framework, may be contributing to such action. It focuses on evidence of action in four spheres: market action, corporate disclosure and engagement, and direct investor action (divestment and portfolio exposure and stress testing). We conclude that these developments are beginning to show progress in terms of action in an energy transition that now seems well underway. There is still a long way to go.