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Support increases for ExxonMobil climate change resolution

Posted on: May 12, 2016 7:56 AM
ExxonMobil's oil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Adbar

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Moves by the Church of England’s investment arm, the Church Commissioners, to force global oil giant ExxonMobil to be more transparent in its plans for responding to climate change have received a boost with the news that the two leading proxy advisers, ISS and Glass Lewis, have declared their support for the move.

A significant number of institutional investors take advice from the two companies on proxy voting, so their advice to support the resolution is likely to have some impact in the levels of support. Their move follows the announcement by the Norwegian Government Pension Fund that they are also supporting the resolution, which now has the backing of investment funds managing more than $8 trillion USD in total assets.

The resolution, co-filed with the New York State Common Retirement Fund, calls on the company to “publish an annual assessment of long term portfolio impacts of public climate change policies.” It says that the assessment “should analyse the impacts on ExxonMobil’s oil and gas reserves and resources under a scenario in which reduction in demand results from carbon restrictions and related rules or commitments adopted by governments consistent with the globally agreed upon two-degree target.”

In its supporting statement to shareholders, the proposers of the motion say that ExxonMobil’s assertion that “an artificial capping of carbon-based fuels to levels in the ‘low carbon scenario’ . . . is highly unlikely’” and that it didn’t test its portfolio against a two-degree scenario; was contrary to the position taken by other energy companies. “ExxonMobil’s peers, Shell, BP, and Statoil have recognised the importance of assessing the impacts of these scenarios by endorsing the ‘Strategic Resilience for 2035 and beyond’ resolutions that received almost unanimous investor support in 2015,” they say.

“BHP Billiton now publishes a ‘Climate Change: Portfolio Analysis’ evaluating its assets against two-degree scenarios, and ConocoPhillips states that it stress tests its portfolio against two-degree scenarios. More recently, ten major oil and gas companies have announced that they will support the implementation of clear stable policy frameworks consistent with a two-degree future.”

The target of capping global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius was agreed by world leaders at the UN’s COP21 climate change talks in Paris last year.

Despite this, the company continues to oppose the motion. They had attempted to remove the resolution from the agenda of the annual shareholders meeting; but the US Securities and Exchange Commission rejected the move. Now, the company have written to shareholders, urging them to oppose the motion, saying: “ExxonMobil believes that producing our existing hydrocarbon resources is essential to meeting growing global energy demand. We enable consumers – especially those in the least-developed and most-vulnerable economies – to pursue higher living standards and greater economic opportunity.

“We believe all economic energy sources will be necessary to meet growing demand, and the transition of the energy system to lower carbon sources will take many decades due to its enormous scale, capital intensity and complexity. As such, we believe that none of our proven hydrocarbon reserves are, or will become, stranded.”

Today, it emerged that more than 1,000 professors from 400 universities in 20 countries, under the banner Positive Investment, are urging shareholders in ExxonMobil to pass it, and several other shareholder resolutions on climate change.

One member of the group, Natalie Jones, told Varsity newspaper “there is a large amount of financial risk in [the company’s] current strategy due to the so-called ‘carbon bubble’ caused by un-burnable fossil fuel assets”.

She argued that it was in the financial interests of investors to back the proposals. “The upcoming votes are a crucial opportunity to set these companies on the right track, and it's important not to waste this chance,” she said. “Although there are AGMs every year, and shareholders can subsequently improve upon the resolutions which will hopefully be passed this year, the sooner we tackle climate change the better it will be for all of us.”
 
Edward Mason, the Church Commissioners’ head of responsible investment, said: “With declarations of support for this resolution now in from investors with over $8 trillion in assets, and the backing of both main proxy voting advisors, it is clear that our concerns about Exxon’s approach to climate risk are very widely shared.

“We hope that this vote will be the moment when shareholders give an unequivocal signal that, following the Paris Agreement, the time for climate risk reporting has arrived.”

The resolution will be put before ExxonMobil’s AGM on 25 May.