It took 28 years, but last night ExxonMobil shareholders did the unexpected: They mustered a majority in calling for Exxon to disclose the impacts of climate change to its business.
The voice has been growing amongst ExxonMobil investors, many of whom are upset by the lack of disclosure that the company may have known years ago the impact of carbon emissions on the climate. Last year 38 percent of the shareholders voted in support for disclosure. This year, the tally was 62 percent, mirroring a growing concern that climate change may have a decisive impact on the company's bottom line.
And it's not just ExxonMobil that is feeling the pressure. In the past few months there have been calls for other oil and gas companies to "come clean" about climate risk, pushing for detailed analysis of the impacts that would affect shareholders' investments. Fifty-seven percent of shareholders at PPL, Pennsylvania's largest utility company, passed a resolution for the company to detail how current technologies and policies aimed at reducing global warming will affect the company's success.
Earlier last month, investors of the oil and gas development company Occidental Petroleum mustered a majority as well, calling for the board to provide disclosure of how the company will be affected by global warming (Occidental Petroleum did not disclose a final tally of the majority vote). While the board urged investors to vote against the resolution, it acknowledged its passage saying it would "look forward to continuing our shareholder engagement on the topic and providing additional disclosure about the company’s assessment and management of climate-related risks and opportunities."
The record vote at Occidental Petroleum was spearheaded by a group of investors, including the California Public Employees Retirement System and supported by asset manager, BlackRock, Inc, the global leader in asset management.
Chevron, which opened its shareholder meeting this Wednesday, also reviewed calls from shareholders to take steps to address the impact of climate change on its business. The board, which is urging investors to vote "no" on the proposals, argues that it has already taken steps to recognize the existence of climate change in a recent report. But shareholders are not convinced that step is enough.
It is also notable that the none of the proposals are binding. Yet Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and to an extent, ExxonMobil have all taken steps to recognize the growing call from oil and gas industry shareholders.
Earlier this year, BlackRock called climate change a "systemic risk" and warned companies to begin addressing how climate change would affect its portfolios. It published several papers to help educate companies about the impact that climate change could have on their bottom lines, and how to limit their liability.
It also urged President Donald Trump not to cut back on proactive steps to limit climate change, a call that was apparently ignored when the administration announced that the U.S. would be pulling out of the Paris accord.
Trump's announcement is being seen by some analysts as a nod to oil and gas companies that oppose environmental regulations designed to reduce global warming.
But it is also being roundly criticized by world leaders who feel that the U.S. is missing a key opportunity to lead reform in how climate change is addressed in industry sectors.
In Canada, the Trudeau administration reassured voters that Prime Minister Trudeau was a supporter of addressing climate risk and didn't intend to follow the principles Trump has endorsed. While in Europe this week, Prime Minister Trudeau went on record to criticize those who weren't addressing climate change risks and feel they can "turn back the clocks" on the issue. His comment was seen as a veiled criticism of the Trump administration, but also as a message to the broader global audience that was holding back on decisive action.
With the growing pressure both on the world stage and by shareholders, it will be interesting to see how oil and gas companies really talk about the elephant in the room: what impact emissions have not only on the environment, but on companies' ability to remain sustainable.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.