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Church Commissioners turns up pressure on ExxonMobil

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The manager of the Church of England’s £7bn (€8.2bn) endowment fund has co-filed a shareholders’ resolution asking ExxonMobil to disclose the impact of climate change on its business – its second attempt to obtain such disclosure.

The Church Commissioners for England want the oil and gas giant to give more detail as to how it will ensure its business will remain resilient as global efforts to mitigate climate change proceed.

The resolution has also been filed by the New York State Common Retirement Fund, along with a coalition of institutional investors with US$4trn under management, including CalPERS, the Vermont State Treasurer’s Office, and a number of US church organisations.

A similar proposal was filed for Exxon’s 2016 annual general meeting. Exxon asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for permission to strike off the resolution, but this was declined. However, the resolution was defeated at the meeting, despite the support of 38.2% of voting shareholders – a record for a climate change resolution at the company.

This year, the coalition of investors has been bolstered by the support of European institutions including APG, Hermes EOS, MN, Amundi, BNP Paribas Investment Partners, and HSBC Global Asset Management.

The UN Climate Conference in Paris in 2015 committed world leaders to holding the rise in global temperatures well below 2°C. The shareholder proposal – to be put to the board at its annual meeting in May – asks ExxonMobil to publish an assessment of how its portfolio would be affected by a 2°C target through, and beyond, 2040.

The proposal said the assessment should include an analysis of the impacts of a 2°C scenario on the company’s oil and gas reserves and resources, assuming a reduction in demand resulting from carbon restrictions.

The Church Commissioners said that Exxon had acknowledged that regulatory frameworks already adopted and others under consideration could reduce demand for its products, make them more expensive, and delay the implementation of its projects. Last week, price falls forced the company to write off 3.5bn barrels of oil from a tar sands project in Canada as it became uneconomical to extract, although future price rises could reverse this decision.

The Commissioners also said that since last year’s annual meeting, there had been extensive engagement with Exxon regarding the shareholder proposal.

But Edward Mason, head of responsible investment for the Church Commissioners for England, said: “While our discussions have been positive, Exxon has not committed to provide the 2°C scenario analysis investors expect from the oil and gas majors, and we have therefore again co-filed New York State’s resolution. We believe Exxon’s board can and should support our reasonable disclosure request.”

APG told IPE in a statement: “In Paris an agreement was reached to limit global warming to less than 2°C. We and our clients – pension funds ABP, BpfBOUW, SPW, and PPF APG – fully support this goal and we ask from the companies that we invest in, including large oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil, that they at least stress-test their portfolios and investment decisions for scenarios that lead to this 2°C limit.”

APG added: “Last year we voted in favour of a resolution that asked for this type of stress-testing at the ExxonMobil annual shareholder meeting. This year we decided to co-file the resolution, since it explicitly asks the company not only to look at the impact of potential climate policies, but also at technological developments like cost and performance improvements for electric vehicles.”

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