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Church of England and AP7 tackle Rio Tinto over lobbying support

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The Church of England Pensions Board and Swedish national pension fund AP7 have joined Australia’s Local Government Super in confronting mining group Rio Tinto over its membership of lobby groups they say are hampering progress on climate change.

The three pension funds have thrown their weight behind a shareholder resolution coordinated by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) and to be heard at the company’s AGM this year.

ACCR, a not-for-profit shareholder lobby group, says it is recruiting investors to act as co-filers on the resolution because Rio Tinto is using shareholders’ money to pay for an expensive membership of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA).

“Rio Tinto and the MCA’s positions on climate change and energy policy drift further apart every year,” ACCR said.

The Church of England Pensions Board said it and the other investors behind the resolution have assets totalling nearly £50bn (€56bn).

The UK pension fund said the resolution calls on the company to review and fully disclose its relationships with industry bodies including the MCA that block progress on Australian and global climate and energy frameworks.

Adam Matthews, the fund’s head of engagement, said: “It is a matter of public record that Rio Tinto has supported the Paris Agreement and limiting climate change to 2 degrees.

“However, that position is undermined when industry associations and lobbying groups, financially supported by Rio Tinto, take contrary lobbying positions,” he said.

Meanwhile, AP7, which runs the default option in Sweden’s premium pension system, said it owned shares in Rio Tinto worth around SEK800m (€78.6m).

“I find it unacceptable that companies directly or through their industry associations, are lobbying against effective climate policy, and therefore jeopardising the long-term value growth of our pension portfolios,” said Richard Gröttheim, AP7’s chief executive.

Australia’s Local Government Super (LGS) said that as a long-term shareholder in Rio Tinto, it wanted to get a better understanding of the shareholder value it received from the company’s third-party industry groups, whose policy stance seemed to contradict the mining firm’s formal commitment to the Paris Agreement’s target.

“Our research shows that Rio provides significant funding to these industry groups whose policy advocacy position has helped create the prolonged energy and climate policy stalemate in Australia,” it said.

This deadlock had in turn created the recent strong increases seen in electricity prices, LGS said. This had happened as the policy uncertainty deterred “the much-needed investment in new energy generation across Australia,” it added.

“We estimate these high electricity prices are adding tens to hundreds of millions of dollars extra to Rio’s overall costs,” the Australian pension fund said.

The AGM for Rio Tinto plc will take place in London on 11 April, while Rio Tinto Limited’s AGM is to be held in Melbourne on 2 May.

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