Global Climate Action Summit puts stress on action

This has been a big week for advocates who fight climate change. Business leaders, mayors, governors and activists from around the world rallied in San Francisco at the Global Climate Action Summit to advance their agenda in the face of a defiant White House.

California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an order Monday announcing the goal to eliminate carbon emissions in the state within 27 years. He also just signed a bill into law, making the state's electricity completely emissions-free by 2045. Brown signed as the White House reportedly enacted another policy to stymie such efforts, this time by relaxing methane emission regulations.

For advocates pressuring big pension funds, companies and investment firms to deploy their money with the environment in mind, a good return looks to be the best motivator.

A survey from HSBC released Wednesday showed 61 percent of investors and 48 percent of issuers have an environment, social and governance (known as ESG) strategy in place. Why? It helps profit.

Environmental concerns came in second as a motivator.

"It's notable that the driver of increased disclosure has changed since 2017, where 83 percent of corporate issuers cited investor pressure first, followed by regulation then risk of negative publicity," Daniel Klier, HSBC's group head of strategy and sustainable finance, said in a statement. "Put simply, ESG, climate finance and risk management are moving mainstream."

A way to track -- and push -- those promises is showing some progress, according to a coalition of seven groups that unveiled the "Investor Agenda," which gives companies a place to track and disclose investments and other actions.

Some 392 firms with $32 trillion of assets under management have signed onto The Investor Agenda. This monitoring organization was set up by seven investor groups pushing for changes, according to Ceres, a Boston-based investment advocacy group and one of the participants.

"Look, nobody has gotten to where they need to be," said Ceres CEO Mindy Lubber in an interview with CBS MoneyWatch. Yet the shift from five to 10 years ago "is substantial right now. Financial institutions, and I think with almost no exceptions, understand climate risk to be a financial risk or material. Meaning in their world, significant profit."

Bank of America, for instance, this week released a sustainability report, showing it provided $17 billion in financing for greener leasing, banking and public finance last year. That brought its total of such investments to more than $70 billion since 2013, when it set a goal to invest $125 billion in green areas by 2025. BofA had total assets of $2.28 trillion at the end of 2017, according to a regulatory filing.

Other efforts highlighted at the conference range from commitments by big investment banks like BlackRock to evaluate and invest in companies that in one way or another are more climate-friendly, to insurance giant Allianz's efforts to stop underwriting coal power plants by 2040.

In meetings with dozens of CEOs this week, discussion was about "what they're doing" rather than just commitments, Cere's Lubber said.

The Investor Agenda mechanism builds on groups formed last year in the wake of President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, including one called Climate Action 100+. That group represents about 225 firms and institutions, led by institutions like HSBC and Calpers (the California state pension fund) that pledged last year to coordinate their pressuring of companies to disclose more information about climate change risks to their businesses.

Shifting trillions of dollars to finance climate-saving initiatives requires private sector participation, Nigel Purvis, CEO of the nonprofit Climate Advisers and a former climate negotiator in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, told the Associated Press ahead of the conference.

"This is the climate action summit, emphasis on the action," Purvis said. "Despite the lack of leadership from Washington, it's really about action."

Yet so far such pledges have produced more talk than action, Angel Hsu, an environment professor at Yale University and the National University of Singapore told the AP ahead of the conference. She's the lead author of a new U.N. report on what businesses and state and local governments can do and already have done.

Businesses and lower levels of government have the potential to cut enough greenhouse gases emissions to keep global warming below the danger point of rising another 2 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 1 degree Celsius) from current levels. However, the report said 8,000 pledges from those groups haven't accomplished much yet.

To keep from hitting that 2 degree mark, the world has to cut its expected annual emissions by nearly 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, including what's pledged in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Hsu said businesses and states basically get about 4 percent there.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.