Article

Op-Ed: ”Time for the pension fund AP7 to back-pedal on Aramco investment”

This op-ed was originally published in Aktuell Hållbarhet, Sweden’s leading media platform for climate and sustainability reporting. Re-published with permission. Saudi Aramco's expansion plans for fossil oil extraction are the largest in the world. These plans alone have the potential to undermine the goals of the Paris Agreement. It goes without saying that Sweden’s state-owned pension fund should not have extensive, uncertain funds tied to the worst kinds of fossil dictatorships, writes Mattias Goldmann, founder of the Swedish 2030-secretariat, Ingmar Rentzhog, CEO of We Don’t Have Time, and eight other contributors ahead of the parliamentary hearing on the Seventh AP Fund's holdings in Saudi Aramco.
Ingmar Rentzhog, Mattias Goldmann, Jakob König and Eva Karlsson, four of the undersiged of this op-ed.
Ingmar Rentzhog, Mattias Goldmann, Jakob König and Eva Karlsson, four of the undersiged of this op-ed.

Today, on January 25th, the Seventh AP Fund appears before the Swedish parliament to explain its investment in Saudi Aramco. They seem to reason like someone opening a window in winter to let out heat – perhaps it has some effect. "Can a Swedish pension fund influence the world's largest oil company?" wonders the Seventh AP Fund, and then answers, "No one can know for sure until afterward, but so far, we believe the possibility cannot be ruled out." But a vague possibility of influence cannot justify investments in the world's largest oil company, operating in a harsh dictatorship that exacerbates the climate crisis.
"The fundamental question is whether one believes that investors can influence the companies they own," AP7 reflects. The answer is presumably no when the company in question is 98 percent owned by the Saudi Arabian government – or as AP7 puts it, "Saudi Aramco is not dependent on the private capital market." Additionally, with its broad ownership, AP7 cannot reasonably dedicate even one employee to influencing Aramco, which has 70,000 employees and an annual turnover of over 5 trillion SEK. Saudi Arabia's and Aramco's aggressive expansion plans for fossil oil extraction are the world's largest, alone sufficient to jeopardize the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is the reason why Norway's largest pension fund, KLP, recently excluded Aramco from its portfolio, why the Oil Fund and many other funds avoid them, and why the UN has identified Aramco as an obstacle to climate progress.
Sweden’s state-owned pension fund AP7 investment in Aramco Oil has been widely critizied over the past few weeks.
Sweden’s state-owned pension fund AP7 investment in Aramco Oil has been widely critizied over the past few weeks.

Protesting against expansion plans is not possible in Saudi Arabia, a harsh dictatorship with no freedom of speech, no opportunity for environmental organizations to operate, and with at least 1,257 executions since 2015. Owning the wrong books, writing a critical tweet, talking to a journalist, or disagreeing with the crown prince can result in a death sentence, according to the human rights organization Reprieve. At the recent COP28 climate meeting, Saudi Arabia prevented the world from agreeing to "phase out" fossil fuels. The agreement to "transition away from" is so vague that the oil industry announced after the meeting that business would continue as usual, while the world moves closer to the edge of the abyss. Sweden’s Climate Minister Romina Pourmokthari rightly refers to Saudi Arabia as a "roadblock." Five million Swedes have pension savings in the Seventh AP Fund, which serves as the default setting in the premium pension system. The fund’s mission, therefore, is to provide "a secure pension."
Many financial experts assess that investments in renewable energy are safer than in fossil fuels. As the world gradually phases out fossil fuels, despite Saudi Arabia's resistance, these assets become less valuable. This is hardly security. It also does not feel safe to have one's money contributing to undermining our common future, especially in a state where human rights seem to be an unknown concept. AP7's latest blacklist is four pages long, including companies that do not meet minimum standards for human rights, working conditions, the environment, and anti-corruption. Among others, Airbus and Shell are excluded; certainly not paragons of sustainability – but the logic behind their exclusion and Saudi Aramco's acquittal is unclear.
When Pål Bergström, the CEO of the Seventh AP Fund, explains himself to the parliamentary Committee on Finance today, his mission must be to backtrack and admit that a mistake has been made. Naturally, a state-owned pension fund should not have extensive, uncertain funds tied to the worst kinds of fossil dictatorships. The blacklist needs updating, and Saudi Aramco should be at the top. If this does not happen, the Swedish government must tighten control over state pension savings, and we all must vote with our wallets and palace our pension savings elsewhere. The SEK 500 million that Pål Bergström has invested in Aramco Oil will pale in comparison to the combined amounts that will be withdrawn when pension savers decide to move their savings to more secure investments that do not threaten our common future. Mattias Goldmann, Founder, 2030-sekretariatet Ingmar Rentzhog, Founder, We Don’t Have Time Joakim Jansson, Initiator, Klimatbytet Jakob König, Expert on sustainable finance, Fair Finance Guide Emma Max, Operations Manager, Our Kids Climate Per Ribbing, Sustainability Consultant Åse Togerö, PhD, Senior Sustainability Expert Bosse Westermark, Organizational developer, Ledarskap & Förnyelse Eva Karlsson, CEO, Houdini Sportswear Carl Bärstad, Founder, KidsHackDay.com

  • jeroen ehlen

    11 w

    This is why we have to take action and push the social society tipping point. When we can give alternative fuels like Hydrogen and build infrastructure needed to make the change. Then the oil will stay in the ground. It starts with one person. @ingmar Rentzhog . Let us move the needle for change. Everyday is one won if we take action.

    11
    • Munene Mugambi

      11 w

      @jeroen_ehlen_818 precisely. When we have other better competitive fuels, fossil fuels will lose their hold on the energy industry

    • Carl Bärstad

      11 w

      Thanks for translating this article!

      4
      • Johannes Luiga

        11 w

        Let´s really hope AP7 will sell their shares in Saudi Aramco oil. As a result I have sold all my pension savings in AP7

        4
        • Munene Mugambi

          11 w

          @Johannes_Luiga now more people need to take the step you took. You took action and more people do so, we have a fighting chance

        • Tabitha Kimani

          11 w

          Focusing into the future is a responsibility of visionary leaders who hold authority and influential positions. AP7 should pull off Aramco investment and instead reinvest in renewable energy

          3
          • Munene Mugambi

            11 w

            @tabitha_kimani the backlash from the public has been immense. We can only hope it makes a difference

          • Munene Mugambi

            11 w

            I'm highly sceptical of if they're going to back out of this deal. In fact, there's a possibility they're exploring more such deals

            • Sarah Chabane

              11 w

              Thanks for your advocacy! We should be investing in our future, not in the destruction of the planet, otherwise, what's the point of having pension funds?

              3
              • Munene Mugambi

                11 w

                @sarah_chabane_874 @sarah_chabane_874 the pension fund seems to be interested in short term profits over long term benefits to the planet and the people investing in it

              • Abraham Jok Atem

                11 w

                This is a good idea from AP7. I hope they have look into it's pros and cons

                1
                • Munene Mugambi

                  11 w

                  @abraham_jok_atem it's a terrible idea to invest in Saudi Aramco. It's practically investing in the planet's downfall

                • Kevin

                  11 w

                  AP7 should relook this decision

                  3
                  • Munene Mugambi

                    11 w

                    @Kevin They have to reconsider this decision as it hugely affects our planet's welfare and directly contributes to increase of carbon emissions

                  • Simon Bergbom

                    11 w

                    Thanks for sharing this. I really hope that AP7 will reverse their decision.

                    15
                    • Markus Lutteman

                      11 w

                      Great piece. I am very much in favor of investors using their influence to try to push for change from the inside, but only when they have a chance to succeed. This is clearly NOT the case here.

                      18
                      • Munene Mugambi

                        11 w

                        @markus_lutteman_982 if the investors backed this decision to invest in a fuel business, perhaps it's why this move went through.

                      • Ingmar Rentzhog

                        11 w

                        Here is the original climate warning. All the attention around this issue was the reason that AP7 CEO was summoned for interrogation by the Finance Committee of the Swedish Parliament. The public opinion around oil investments has shifted since the COP28 agreement. Very hopefully. Now AP7 just needs to change themselves. https://app.wedonthavetime.org/posts/f0990048-08be-45a7-a12c-741e0f7c4e86

                        7
                        • Munene Mugambi

                          11 w

                          @Rentzhog glad someone noted this and raised it as an issue and hopefully it leads to a change in investment strategy

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