By Victoria Klesty and Gwladys Fouche
OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's $1.1 trillion wealth fund, the world's biggest fund and a long-time advocate of companies being more transparent about their impact on the climate, on Thursday welcomed a shift among European oil and gas firms towards greener policies.
Top energy firms including BP, Repsol, Royal Dutch Shell and Total - as well as Norway's Equinor - have in recent months pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions and provide more information about their role in global warming.
Many environmentalists argue the targets do not go far enough, but the supportive comments from the Norwegian fund - which owns 1.5% of all globally listed equities - could help to persuade other investors that sufficient progress is being made.
"European oil companies have moved a long way, the clever detail and the comprehensiveness of reporting is quite different and much improved from what we saw a decade ago," the fund's chief executive, Yngve Slyngstad, said in an interview.
Slyngstad's comments came as the fund, built up itself from the proceeds of Norway's extensive oil and gas resources, reported a 19.9% return on investment last year and record earnings of 1.69 trillion Norwegian crowns ($180 billion), helped by surging stock markets.
The fund, now worth three times Norway's annual gross domestic product, owns a 2.55% stake in Shell <RDSa.L>, worth $5.9 billion at the end of 2019, according to fund data published Thursday, as well as 2.34% in BP <BP.L>, worth $3 billion, and 2.3% in Total <TOTF.PA>, worth $3.4 billion.
"Shell, BP and Total ... are going quite rapidly into, it seems to me, a strategy that is more adapted to a scenario of climate change," said Slyngstad.
"It is something that in general we welcome as an investor, that the companies are aware of these issues and ... are publicising to us the relevant numbers to see how they move. But we do not get involved in their strategy," he added.
Slyngstad said Europe in general had moved further on tackling climate change than other regions, and that this was reflected in actions taken by companies.
The fund said its return for 2019 was ahead of its benchmark index and amounted to almost $34,000 for each of Norway's 5.3 million people. The overall value of the fund is now equivalent to about $207,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.
Apple <AAPL.O> and Microsoft <MSFT.O> contributed the most to the fund's return in 2019, followed by Nestle <NESN.S>, while the worst performers were Nokia <NOKIA.HE>, Pfizer <PFE.N> and Swedbank <SWEDa.ST>, it said.
The fund holds stakes in more than 9,000 companies globally, and also invests in bonds and real estate.
Slyngstad announced late last year he would step down after a dozen years in the job. A successor, yet to be appointed by the board of Norway's central bank, is expected to take charge within the next few months.
(Editing by Terje Solsvik and Mark Potter)