VEA Vice Chair Nell Minow is quoted in this article about the disconnect between what fossil fuel companies tell their investors and customers they believe on climate change and what they actually do.
The world’s largest oil companies, including Exxon, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP, are responding to that pressure in varying degrees. Some are publicly supporting climate change-related resolutions, while others have vowed to block investors from voting on certain proposals. For many fossil fuel giants, their stance is perhaps better measured by what they are doing behind the scenes to support or reject efforts by their investors to align their company business models with international climate goals.
Exxon has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to block voting on several climate-related proposals this year.The company succeeded in sidestepping a proposal that would have required the oil giant to set and disclose targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the SEC refused to allow it to block voting on two other proposals. One called for the company to create a new board committee to address climate change and the other asking it to more fully disclose political contributions to tax-exempt organizations, including trade associations and other 501(c)(4) or “dark money” organizations.
Chevron recently avoided a vote on a proposal calling on the company to disclose Paris-aligned emission-reduction targets. A separate resolution requesting Chevron to disclose how it will shift its business model to be in sync with the Paris Agreement will go to a vote this year.
“To give you an idea of how upset oil companies are about shareholder resolutions regarding climate change…and about how they [resolutions] are such a severe threat to the viability of the companies, they [the companies] have put millions into a dark-money coalition to get rid of these resolutions,” said Nell Minow, vice chair of ValueEdge Advisors, a corporate governance consulting firm.
Minow was referring to Main Street Investors Coalition, which, despite its name, was launched last year by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to put the brakes on shareholder proposals involving climate change and other social justice issues. Exxon and Shell both have executives on NAM’s board of directors, as do other fossil fuel companies, including Devon Energy, Southern Company and Koch Companies Public Sector, a subsidiary of Koch Industries.
Further, the companies’ business plans as set forth for upcoming shareholders’ meetings show that none are planning to scale back the core business of extracting fossil fuels, despite increasingly urgent warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that fossil fuel use must quickly decrease to avoid the most catastrophic climate impacts.