Climate activists say the awakening of the world’s money to the perils of global warming is too little, too late. But for some people inside money management, the speed of change is hard to believe. At LGIM, Nick Stansbury says he remembers the day in December 2016 when he was called into a meeting with about 25 of his fellow portfolio managers. Understanding the implications of climate change was going to become a priority, they were told.

Stansbury says he already had deep misgivings about the future of the oil market. Oil companies’ value depends on investors believing that demand for crude will always grow. For 100 years, that belief had been justified. But if renewable-energy sources gain market share and crude demand stutters, the market would go haywire, he says. That could trigger a huge re-rating of major oil companies—of which LGIM holds more than $12 billion in shares. “It was a lightbulb moment,” he says.

He spent a year analyzing different parts of the energy market to try to draw some conclusions. But he knew his clients wanted more. On an airplane from Oslo to London in early 2018, staring at a blank piece of paper, he pondered how to build a comprehensive financial model. He’d need data (lots of it), a team of analysts, and months to work on it. He got what he needed. When the model ran for the first time in October, it took hours to go through its paces.

The results confirmed his fears: Tiny tweaks to government policies could cause oil demand to halve or to almost double by 2050. The crude market could become exceptionally volatile, and investors would probably start fleeing within the next five years. The model helped LGIM rank companies most at risk to climate change. “Uncertainty around the level of demand growth creates massive instability in the way oil markets work, and that has all sorts of implications for investors,” says Stansbury, who’s now head of commodities research.

LGIM’s Omi says this kind of rigorous analysis has persuaded big companies, typically resistant to change, to begin making serious strategic shifts. When LGIM divested some oil company stocks last year, she says, some of the fund managers protested, “These are really good stocks!” She replied, “I know they might be good stocks for you, but these are the rationales. This makes sense for our clients.”

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.

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