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IPE special report May 2018

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SEC should deny Exxon request to drop climate vote – Church Commissioners

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The Church Commissioners for England has joined other investors calling on the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to deny a request by ExxonMobil to not hold a vote on a shareholder resolution on climate change at its 2016 AGM.

The Church Commissioners run the Church of England’s £6.7bn (€8.7bn) endowment fund.

As previously reported, the resolution – co-filed by the likes of the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System – calls on ExxonMobil to disclose the resilience of its business model in the wake of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

More specifically, it asks the oil and gas company to make public an analysis of how its business might be affected by the agreement to cap global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, including how lower demand for its products and carbon restrictions would impact the company’s reserves and resources.

However, ExxonMobil wrote to the SEC last month, asking for permission (“no-action”) to omit the proposal from its 2016 proxy materials.

It said that the proposal should be excluded because it is “inherently vague and misleading” and because the company had alraedy “substantially implemented the esssential objective of the proposal”.

According to the Church Commissioners, Exxon’s stated position is that global governments will not impose restrictions that meet the 2 degrees target and that it is “confident none of our hydrocarbons reserves are now or will become stranded”.

The Church Commissioners for England joined investors in responding to Exxon’s stance in a letter to the SEC on Monday, with Edward Mason, head of responsible investment for the Church Commissioners, saying it was “extremely disappointed” that ExxonMobil had contested the relevance of the resolution.

“Our desire to see reporting on how ExxonMobil’s business would fare were warming to be restricted to 2 degrees Celsius is widely shared in the institutional investor community,” he said.

“It is a perfectly reasonable ask. Without this information, investors cannot properly assess the resilience of ExxonMobil’s business strategy.” 

Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), said the fate of ExxonMobil’s request to the SEC would be “watched keenly by many investors”, with shareholder resolutions such as the one in question being “very significant developments”.

“Pension funds and other institutional investors that manage assets over the long term must look closely at how oil companies and others in a carbon-intensive sector are adjusting their business strategy to reflect the likely consequences of the Paris Agreement,” she said.

A statement from the Church Commissioners noted that similar shareholder resolutions that it and other investors had filed with peers of Exxon have had a positive impact, with the likes of Shell and BP having agreed to publicly describe how they will be affected by lower greenhouse gas emissions.

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