Health Workers Disappointed as HESTA Removes AGL from Watchlist

Healthy Futures

Health professionals advocating for necessary action on climate change were dismayed by yesterday’s news that HESTA has removed AGL from its so-called watchlist of questionable fossil fuel investments.

The removal is surprising given AGL is yet to demonstrate any significant improvements to its climate policies since last year’s AGM, despite ongoing calls for the company to release an improved climate action plan.

While HESTA has claimed that AGL has sufficiently outlined decarbonisation plans, health workers are concerned that HESTA has simply abandoned the original intention of its watchlist.

HESTA initially slated four big polluters on a watchlist and announced it would consider filing climate change resolutions, voting down director appointments and remuneration reports, or even divesting if those companies failed to align their businesses and capital allocations in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The watchlist and the level of transparency of HESTA’s escalation framework at the time was considered a leading practice among Australian superannuation funds. Since its announcement, HESTA has removed Origin Energy and now AGL. Santos and Woodside remain.

Health professionals are now concerned HESTA has failed to hold AGL to account and has eased pressure at a moment when more engagement is needed to keep AGL on track to close its dirty coal and gas power stations in a timeframe consistent with scientific recommendations.

Unless AGL releases an updated and more ambitious Climate Transition Action Plan that shows an altered strategy, their plan still only aims to limit global warming to 1.8 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures rather than the widely recommended 1.5 degrees target.

Despite HESTA’s disappointing decision, AGL has not made significant new public commitments regarding its decarbonisation pathway.

Instead, its leading management and executives have confirmed a stationary position on green investments. Board Chair Patricia McKenzie has repeated that the company cannot close its coal-fired power plants faster because replacement capacity could not be built in time, and technological limitations would risk energy security.

Similarly, it was disappointing when Board member Dr Kerry Schott recently publicly supported fossil gas for the energy transition.

For health workers concerned about climate change, the health and climate benefits from AGL closing their coal and gas power stations earlier and becoming a 100% renewable energy company by 2030 are still worth fighting for.

Commenting on HESTA’s decision to remove AGL from its watchlist, Healthy Futures hopes AGL is about to make major announcements about its transformation to a fully renewable energy company sooner rather than later.

Otherwise, it is disappointing that HESTA, as custodian of many Australian health professionals’ superannuation, has just given up its best tool to date for environmental and social governance engagement with what remains Australia’s largest climate polluter.

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