As the 2024 presidential campaign approaches, a growing crowd of ESG detractors are making their voice heard and causing some business leaders to think twice about acting and communicating on the issue. Here are some trends we’re watching:
ESG gets political. GOP officials are increasingly embracing the battle against "woke capitalism." Already in 2023, at least 49 anti-ESG bills have been introduced across the country, up from 22 last year, even as those index and pension funds labeled "woke" retain positions in fossil fuel companies. Many of the party’s presidential hopefuls, including former President Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have publicly blasted the ESG movement. Vivek Ramaswamy, the founder of anti-ESG fund manager and proxy advisor Strive, even announced a long-shot bid for the 2024 Republican nomination.
Shifting allegiances. Republican state officials have taken on investment giants like BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard, threatening to pull billions in state money from those firms for considering climate and social equity concerns in their investing. With the help of conservative Democratic senators Jon Tester (MT) and Joe Manchin (WV), Republicans in the House and Senate passed a measure to repeal a Labor Department rule that allows retirement plan managers to include ESG considerations in their investments and shareholder rights decisions. While President Biden is expected to veto the bill, the move highlights Republicans' willingness to oppose their traditional allies on Wall Street—and moderate Democrats’ willingness to capitulate on the issue when faced with competitive elections in conservative states.
Business leaders are taking notice. U.S. corporations and Wall Street’s largest institutions added language to their annual reports this year citing ESG as a material risk to their financial performance. And the three biggest index funds that regularly sway proxy votes have begun tempering their support for more prescriptive ESG shareholder proposals. Vanguard even went as far as to pull out of the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative, an industry-wide alliance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Beyond the noise. Despite the anti-ESG efforts of a few high-profile Republicans on the national scene, some red states are ignoring the criticism. In Kentucky, pension plan executives said they would defy the state treasurer’s call for them to pull funds from financial services firms deemed hostile to energy companies because doing so would violate their fiduciary duty. The North Dakota House of Representatives struck down a similar bill that would have created a list of restricted financial institutions determined to "boycott Big Oil".
Across industries, geographies and companies of all sizes, ESG – and the countermovement against it – will only grow in importance as we approach an election year. Companies should develop communications strategies and programs that are authentic and sustainable, and that protect perceptions of their brand across stakeholder groups.
COP28 in Dubai is slated for November 30 to December 12, but the road to COP is well underway. Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) defined the contours of the United Arab Emirates’ COP28 leadership team and how they will seek to manage the world’s signature climate gathering.
Our colleagues left Abu Dhabi with two key takeaways: first, COP28 will be a whole-of-nation and whole-of-year priority for the Emirates; and second, it is not too early for companies and organizations to engage.
The UAE has outlined four COP28 areas of focus.
Mitigation – low carbon technologies;
Adaptation – nature-based solutions;
Finance – the growth and sustenance of climate finance; and
Loss and Damage – operationalizing commitments made at COP27.
It’s not too early to start thinking about potential client presence at COP28. Companies are already sourcing space and hotels for their CEOs. The UAE COP28 team spent ADSW meeting with a variety of potential partners and sponsors including foundations, think tanks, civil society, international organizations and companies.
The Dubai Expo 2020 site of COP28 is a large complex with existing pavilions, mass transit access and close to downtown Dubai. It will be well-suited to host what is planned to be the largest and most inclusive COP ever. Civil society, business and governments will all be invited to have a presence.
The COP28 UAE team is finalizing their sponsorship guidelines and aims to release them in a few weeks. Official sponsorship is just one of many options available to clients – we can also create tailored COP28 strategies involving the sponsorship of selected pavilions inside the blue zone, official side events and more.
FGS Global has strong relationships with the COP28 organizing team and can help advise you on options for COP28 involvement and presence.
For more information, reach out to GlobalClimate@fgsglobal.com.