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Shareholders to Big Oil: Do more on climate change

Shareholders to Big Oil: Do more on climate change

‘Tis the season for so-called annual general meetings — typically the only time of year when company shareholders can meet with boards of directors, face to face, and ask questions or air grievances about how their money is being spent. In recent years, shareholder votes on company board elections and resolutions at these meetings have become a key tool for activist shareholders to pressure fossil fuel companies to do more to address climate change.

This year was different, of course, as virtual meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic limited the window of opportunity for shareholders to speak to company boards. But voting, which was already largely electronic, was unaffected — and climate resolutions gained significant support.

Some of the first resolutions out the gate were also the most successful. In April, roughly half of shareholders in Australia’s two biggest oil and gas companies, Woodside Petroleum and Santos, voted in favor of climate proposals that called for the companies to set targets to reduce their “scope 3” emissions — which include the carbon footprint of all the oil and gas they sell.

While the resolutions were nonbinding, significant investor support for them puts companies in a tight spot. As Dan Gocher, from shareholder activist group the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, told the Guardian, “Until Woodside explains how its business will align with the goals of the Paris Agreement, the company will be in open conflict with the majority of its shareholders. This is an untenable position for the company.”

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