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The top ESG themes for 2022

Asset owners will increasingly pressure companies on several key areas in 2022, the top priority being driving net zero emissions engagement and activity.

Preserving natural resources amid the drive for net zero emissions will be top of Robeco's environmental, social and governance agenda this year.

It will expand on its 2020 initiatives that target high carbon-emitting companies that have made some progress but still lag in their transition to net zero.

Robeco wants to make its assets under management carbon neutral by 2050.

This forms part of wider international pledges to meet the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to two degrees celsius or less by 2100, which in turn requires the world to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Its natural resource management engagement will focus on companies that have both water use and water waste as a material issue.

"Water and waste are critical factors that influence planetary boundaries. Environmental regulation is rapidly increasing for both corporates and investors. So, this engagement theme will focus on companies that face environmental issues such as seabed and land mining, emissions of PFA chemicals, water scarcity, agrochemical waste and plastic waste," Robeco senior manager for engagement Peter van der Werf said.

In navigating net zero, BlackRock said: "Climate risk is investment risk, and the narrowing window for governments to reach net zero goals means that investors need to start adapting their portfolios today. The net zero journey is not just a 2050 story, it's a now story."

For companies that undergo a "disorderly transition", the risks are too high - particularly if execution fails to match governments' ambitions to cut emissions.

The world's largest fund manager said it is eyeing sectors with clear transition plans.

"Over a strategic horizon, we like sectors that stand to benefit more from the transition, such as tech and healthcare, because of their relatively low carbon emissions," BlackRock said.

For local companies, Martin Currie said the emphasis on sustainability will continue to be a significant feature in 2022.

"Issues around climate transition, modern slavery, biodiversity and non-financial sustainability targets in remuneration will continue to be a key component of company disclosure and investor engagement," Martin Currie said.

Read more: RobecoBlackRockMartin CurrieParis AgreementPeter van der Werf