More than 90% of votes were cast in favour of a Total resolution on its climate strategy at the French oil and gas major’s AGM today, although the reliability of the vote’s signalling of support has been questioned.
Just over 8% of votes were cast against Total’s climate strategy resolution, which the company this year submitted to a vote for the first time.
NGOs said this compared “unfavourably” with a 16.8% vote in favour of a shareholder climate resolution at Total’s AGM last year, which management opposed.
According to Dutch shareholder campaign group Follow This, the 92% votes in favour proved the necessity of shareholder climate resolutions.
“These advisory votes on climate strategies are hiding what investors really want,” said Mark van Baal, the group’s spokesperson. “More and more investors want the Paris Accord to be achieved and realise Big Oil has a key role to play.”
He warned that Total would use the rate of support for the resolution as “a fig leaf to hide the fact that its current targets are not consistent with the goal of the Paris Accord”.
Bruce Duguid, head of engagement, EOS at Federated Hermes, said votes on companies’ energy transition plans “are not such a clear indicator of how much change investors want”.
He pointed to Total but also the Royal Dutch Shell AGM, where 11% of votes cast were against the company’s resolution on its transition strategy, but 30% were in favour of a shareholder resolution requesting targets aligned with the Paris Agreement.
“There are three times more saying this plan is not good enough than there are prepared to vote against,” said Duguid.
He said there were two camps of investors when it came to votes on energy transition plans, one that voted on an absolute test of alignment with the Paris Agreement and the other voting based on ambition relative to peers and recent progress.
EOS, which leads engagement with Total on behalf of Climate Action 100+ alongside MN and Meeschaert Asset Management, recommended a vote against Total’s climate strategy resolution. MN and Meeschaert voted against, as did investors including Dutch pension funds PME and PMT; French pension scheme Ircantec reportedly intended to vote against, too.
More investors than those that voted against the resolution put their name to a statement at the AGM that pressed the company for answers on topics relating to capital expenditure disclosure and its carbon intensity reduction targets.
“We can expect to see a further tightening of Total’s ambitions and articulation of how the strategy is actually compatible with net-zero by 2050,” said Duguid.
Total’s AGM is the last for an oil and gas major this year. It comes after what has been claimed as a ‘historic’ AGM at Exxon, and a Dutch court ruling that ordered Shell to cuts its emissions by 45% by 2030.
Harry Granqvist, senior ESG analyst at Nordea Asset Management, said: “It remains to be seen whether this ruling survives the appeals process, but it should have already removed any doubt that an unfinished climate transition plan is a highly material source of legal, regulatory and reputational risk for shareholders.”