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​Pension funds score victory with BP climate change resolution

BP’s shareholders have voted overwhelmingly for a resolution at its AGM calling for increased disclosure on the company’s climate change strategy.

At least 98% of shareholdings were approved the resolution ‘Strategic resilience for 2035 and beyond’, which BP’s board endorsed earlier this year after it was filed by a coalition of institutions that included several of Sweden’s AP funds and the UK’s Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF).

As a result, the company’s annual reporting will now be significantly expanded, with additional transparency around operational emissions management; asset portfolio resilience against 2035 scenarios; low carbon energy R&D and investment; executive incentivisation during the low carbon transition; and public policy activity relating to climate change.

Over 50 institutions worth €209bn co-filed the shareholder resolution, including eight pension funds with assets of over $15bn (€12.3bn) such as Ilmarinen, the UK local authority schemes for Greater Manchester, West Midlands, West Yorkshire and three AP funds.

The resolution was driven by the £170bn (€139.8bn) “Aiming for A” investor coalition, led by charity fund manager CCLA, and including the LAPFF and church investment bodies such as the Church of England Pension Board.

“Aiming for A” was launched in 2012 as a new investor initiative to engage on climate and carbon risk with the ten largest extractives and utilities companies in the FTSE 100. Its name is taken from the highest rating (A) of CDP – formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project – an NGO that rates the performance of global companies on climate and environmental matters. 

In the run-up to BP’s AGM, more pension funds and managers declared their support, including APG, the UK’s Universities Superannuation Scheme, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), Schroders, AXA Investment Managers and, in its first public declaration of voting intentions, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global.

Edward Mason, head of responsible investment at the Church Commissioners, said: “The ‘Aiming for A’ coalition’s engagement with BP has prompted an unprecedented response by an oil and gas major and its institutional investors.

“BP’s commitment to increased disclosure on its climate change strategy will set a new standard and is a significant development in the relationship between institutional shareholders and the oil and gas industry on sustainability.” 

Paul Dickinson, chairman, CDP argued that ensuring management took account of climate issues was part of “sound financial management”.

“For institutional investors this was not just a vote about climate, but about transparency, accountability and financial logic.”

He added: “Today was a landmark day. Investors and companies around the world were watching. And the hard work continues.”

Earlier this week the UK’s Wellcome Trust, the country’s largest charitable trust, had also pledged its support for the resolution, with director Jeremy Farrar arguing that wholesale divestment of fossil fuel companies was not necessarily the best way to help reduce carbon emissions.

In a blog on the Trust’s website, Farrar argued that the institutional community’s influence was most powerful when boards heard similar messages from numerous shareholders.

“Divestment would remove a strong voice that takes climate seriously from these coalitions of persuasion, with no likelihood that those to whom we sell our shares would engage the same way.”

The “Aiming for A” coalition said it will continue to attend AGMs this year to ask questions of the other UK-listed companies with whom it is engaging.

The board of Royal Dutch Shell has recommended that investors back a similar resolution at the company’s AGM on 19 May.

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