With AGM season nearing the mid-way point, IPE has spoken to asset owners, consultants, and experts on what the key themes and lessons are so far this year

A surge in lobbying, addressing Scope 3 emissions, clean energy financing ratios and a worrying trend in companies ignoring questions lodged by shareholders appear to be top of mind for the Church of England Pensions Board, Morningstar and ShareAction this annual general meeting (AGM) season.

US voting profiles and themes

“Broadly speaking, things are progressing in the way that I expected. I haven’t seen any radical changes in voting profiles from say, Blackrock or Vanguard voting records for this year,” said Lindsey Stewart, director of stewardship research at Morningstar.

US political influence is still a big focus, with a lot more specific resolutions on the environment, and questions still being asked around the risks posed by artificial intelligence (AI) and impacts of technology as well, Stewart noted.

“We saw a low number of key resolutions last year, those with 40% of independent support compared with the total, dropped from around one third to one sixth – which seems to be around the same ballpark at the start of this year,” he added.

UK and company pushback

In the UK, there hasn’t been a big climate moment so far compared to last year, due to there being no proposal on either side at BP this season, which means a lot rests on what happens at the Shell AGM on 21 May. Co-filers have asked the oil major to align its growth plans to the Paris Climate Agreement, something the firm has directly opposed.

There is a growing focus on corporate governance and employee rights, according to Simon Rawson, director of corporate engagement at ShareAction. Who added they are focusing on living wage proposals at firms such as Walmart and Target.

Mirroring Morningstar’s Stewart, Rawson added that this year felt much the same as last year, with the trend of US managers being a lot less likely to support resolutions  when compared to their European counterparts.

Tensions between asset owners and oil and gas companies are getting stronger and louder, according to Laura Hillis, director, climate and environment, responsible investment at The Church of England Pensions Board, who also said she has seen an interesting shift towards more companies pushing back against shareholders this year.

Hillis’s own question was ignored at the HSBC AGM earlier this month she confirmed – something she added was “unacceptable”.

Additionally, banks’ fossil fuel lending is another key theme this year according to Hillis. Furthermore, from an asset owners’ point of view she added it has been incredibly disappointing to see asset managers leaving Climate Action 100+.

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