Now is just not a good time to be ExxonMobil. Five shareholders, led by New York state’s comptroller, asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to reject the oil giant’s plan to block a climate change shareholder resolution.
Filed in December, the shareholder resolution requests that by 2017 Exxon publish an “annual assessment of long-term portfolio impacts of public climate change policies." It concedes that such an assessment should come "at reasonable cost" and "omit proprietary information.”
ExxonMobil’s response was to notify the SEC that it intends to block the resolution from a shareholder vote at its annual meeting in the spring. So, the New York state comptroller and the four other shareholders who filed the resolution sent a letter asking the SEC to prevent Exxon’s plans to block it. The four co-filers include the Church of England’s investment fund, the Vermont State Employees' Retirement System, the University of California Retirement Plan and the Brainerd Foundation. They collectively represent almost $300 billion in assets under management and over $1 billion in Exxon shares.
The aim of the shareholder resolution is to “ensure that ExxonMobil fully evaluates and mitigates risks to the viability of its assets as a result of public climate change policies, including in a 2 degrees scenario,” the letter to the SEC states.
This is not the first climate change shareholder resolution Exxon has recently tried to block. Earlier this month, TriplePundit reported on a shareholder resolution filed by 34 institutional investors. Led by the Sisters of St. Dominic from Caldwell, New Jersey, the resolution calls on Exxon’s board to “adopt a policy acknowledging the imperative to limit global average temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which includes committing the company to support the goal of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.” Exxon recommended in a letter that the proposal be left out of the 2016 proxy materials.
“The risks from climate change are material financial risks, and fossil fuel companies have a legal obligation to disclose them,” Shanna Cleveland, who manages the Carbon Asset Risk Initiative at the nonprofit sustainability advocacy group Ceres, told TriplePundit. “Energy markets are changing dramatically, and the Paris Agreement has fundamentally altered the way nations and businesses think about the financial risks of climate.”A number of media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate, have reported on Exxon’s failure to disclose climate change risks and lying to the public about those risks. In January, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris launched an investigation into the company for its failure to disclose climate change risks. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a similar investigation into the company last November.
Cleveland points out that Exxon's approach to dealing with climate risk disclosure "has been to dig in its heels, which has led to investigations by the New York attorney general and the California attorney general about whether Exxon has misled investors about climate risk."
“We're calling on AGU to reject ExxonMobil's sponsorship because it poses a serious conflict of interest,” Ben Scandella, PhD candidate in environmental science at MIT and one of the letter’s signatories, told TriplePundit. “ExxonMobil has waged a campaign over the past 30-plus years to confuse the public about climate science and lobby policymakers to prevent meaningful climate policies, and these activities run completely counter to AGU’s core mission to ‘promote discovery in Earth science for the benefit of humanity' and for 'a sustainable future.’”
Scandella added that the AGU has an organizational support policy that says it “will not accept funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science.”
Clearly, the AGU must make a decision whether it wants to keep accepting sponsorship from a company that has engaged in climate denial -- and the SEC has its own choices to make when it comes to Exxon and climate risk.
Image credit: Mike Mozart
Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.