Exxon ordered to put vote on carbon risk before shareholders
As Rockefeller family sells off shares, oil company faces probe over climate denial from New York state
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has ordered ExxonMobil Corp to put a climate change resolution to a shareholder vote at its annual meeting in May.
The proposal, put forward by New York state's comptroller, would force the company to account annually for risks that climate change or legislation designed to control carbon pollution would post to the company.
Exxon had argued the proposal was vague and pointed to the carbon-related information it already publishes for shareholders, including a 2014 report titled Energy and Carbon — Managing the Risks.
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But the SEC ordered the company to go further in disclosing carbon risk.
Investors are taking an increasing interest in carbon risk, including the risk that oil and gas might have to remain in the ground to meet climate change targets set in Paris last year.
Investment manager BlackRock has said it now takes note of the issue as it manages investments and the Bank of England is studying the potential impact of a carbon bubble that could wipe out company value.
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The Rockefeller Family Fund, which signalled a plan to divest from fossil fuels in 2014, said Wednesday it plans to immediately "eliminate holdings" of Exxon, the company that helped build the family fortune.
Criticism from the Rockefellers
It also was critical of Exxon for working since the 1980s to try to debunk climate change calling it "morally reprehensible conduct."
New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees the state's $178.3 billion pension fund, called the SEC's decision a "major victory" for shareholders.
"Investors need to know if ExxonMobil is taking necessary steps to prepare for a lower carbon future, particularly now in the wake of the Paris agreement," DiNapoli said in a statement.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating whether the company misled the public and shareholders about the risks of climate change and has subpoenaed Exxon for records, emails and other documentation.
Exxon has significant investments in Canada's oilsands including Kearl and Cold Lake projects. Its latest annual report predicts a sharp rise in oilsands production over the next 15-20 years.
Exxon did not comment on the SEC resolution, but said it would send a recommendation to shareholders about the proposal ahead of the vote.
According to Reuters, Exxon shareholders have never approved a climate change-related proposal, and last year rejected a request that a climate expert be appointed to the company's board.
With files from Reuters