On August 1 the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and
Public Works held the chambers first hearing on climate
change in more than three years. Among those called to testify
was John Griffin, secretary of the Maryland Department of
Natural Resources. Griffin spoke about his states
long running efforts to research, plan and prepare for
the impact of sea level rise, extreme storms and climate
The states efforts date back to the early 1990s when
the Department of Natural Resources teamed up with the
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science to
research the impact of rising sea levels on costal communities
and marsh systems within the Chesapeake Bay.
In the years since, however, one has hardly needed a
scientist to see the impact climate change has had on the
scenic Maryland coastline. The state is currently losing
approximately 580 acres a year to shore erosion. Already 13
Chesapeake Bay islands have been consumed by water.
Approximately 5,000 acres of Blackwater National Wildlife
Refuge, home to the largest natural population of Delmarva fox
squirrels and, outside of Florida, the largest breeding
population of American bald eagles on the East Coast, have been
subsumed. And, in 2011 Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee
hit the Maryland coast.
Griffin is not the only one sounding the alarm. Maryland
State Treasurer Nancy Kopp is deeply troubled about climate
change and its consequences on her state. So much so that she
too is seeking ways to do something about it. There is a
shared sensitivity to the impact we are seeing in
Maryland, Kopp told Institutional Investor in an
interview. There is an awareness of the broad global
impact of climate change. That awareness extends to the
$37.6 billion Maryland State Retirement and Pension System for
which Kopp serves as chair to the 14-person board of trustees.
Kopp says that members of the board as well as the pension
investment staff share her awareness of the potential long-term
impact of climate change on the value of the funds
Among public pension funds in the U.S., the large California
plans, the $239 billion California Public Employees' Retirement
System and $152 billion California State Teachers' Retirement
System have long been the most public and progressive when it
comes to considering the impact of so-called ESG issues, that
is the environment, social matters and corporate governance, on
their investment portfolio. Increasingly they are not alone.
And Maryland is at the vanguard of a host of other pension
systems, as well as some foundations, endowments and sovereign
wealth funds, grappling with these issues.