Suncor investors approve more climate disclosure, but not lobbying

Suncor shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of the company providing more information about its climate change exposure, while stopping short of full disclosure of its political lobbying.

An advocacy group wanted all information about money given to lobbyists and other groups

Steve Williams, president and CEO of Suncor Energy, checks his note before addressing the company's annual meeting in Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Suncor shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of the company providing more information about its climate change exposure, while stopping short of full disclosure of its political lobbying.

The vote results were announced immediately after Suncor's annual general meeting on Thursday.

NEI Investments made the first shareholder proposal for Suncor to regularly report on how it is assessing its future in a low-carbon economy. It also called for information about Suncor's emission reduction targets, energy diversification strategies and stress-testing against low carbon scenarios.

"The risk of stranded assets in the fossil fuels sector has been raised by notable institutions such as Standard & Poor's, Goldman Sachs and the Bank of England," the shareholder proposal stated.

Suncor's board recommended shareholders approve the proposal, which they did with 98.18 per cent in favour. 

Suncor is committed to transparency, we set the standard in the industry- Steve Williams, Suncor

For more than a year, CEO Steve Williams has called for the need for broad based carbon taxes. He was on stage for the Alberta government's announcement of its climate plan in November and he also travelled to Paris for the UN climate change conference in December.

Suncor says it has reduced its emissions per barrel of oil produced by about 35 per cent over the last decade.  

While oilsands operators have been described as producing 'dirty oil' because of the carbon intensive operations, at one point during the meeting, Williams joked oilsands companies are "the biggest cleanup operation in the world. We're taking millions of barrels of oil saturated sand, cleaning it up and putting it back."

Political lobbying

Support was lower for the second shareholder proposal about the company's political lobbying.

Vancouver-based advocacy group SumOfUs called on the company to disclose payments to lobbyists, trade associations, and public policy campaigns.

Suncor opposed the proposal and 60 per cent of shareholders voted against it.

"Suncor is committed to transparency, we set the standard in the industry," said Williams. "The problem, and the reason we recommended to shareholders to vote against it, is because of the technical difficulty. It's a pure technical issue, we don't have access to some of the information that is requested."

Williams added Suncor largely agrees with the proposal. The company will meet with the advocacy group on Friday to further discuss the issue.

"We're definitely encouraged by this motion and the real positive reception we received," said Emma Pullman, with SumOfUs, who was pleased to see 40 per cent in favour of the proposal. "The company could do more. I think it doesn't just come down to a technicality."

Meanwhile, shareholders supported the company's compensation levels for executives, although one shareholder repeatedly complained that board members and senior officials were making too much money considering the oil downturn and the company's dividend.

Syncrude purchase

Suncor now has majority control of the Syncrude oilsands operation after announcing a $937-million deal to buy Murphy Oil's ownership stake in the mine. The company said it is happy with its current position.

"We have no explicit ambition to expand our interest in Syncrude," said Williams. "We are in a good position. We are committed to getting value out of those [deals] through synergies and getting the reliability of the plant up."

Syncrude's costs for producing a barrel of oil have fluctuated in the $30s and $40s in the last year, said Williams, while Suncor averaged under $25 per barrel in the last quarter.

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