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Does God hate Exxon too? Church urges shareholders to fire entire board

PortandTerminal.com, April 25, 2020

The Church of England’s investment arm has urged shareholders in ExxonMobil to vote against re-electing the oil company’s entire board for failing to take action on the climate crisis.

NEW YORK – Two major investment funds have written an open letter to ExxonMobil shareholders urging them to vote against re-electing the oil company’s entire board for failing to take action on the climate crisis.

One of the two organizations to make the complaint is the Church of England’s investment arm.

Priests in white entering a large stone cathedral
The Church of England is the main church in England with 25 million members.

Wait, what? The Church of England has an investment arm?

Yes, they do – those churches don’t pay for themselves. The Church Commissioners manages an £8.3bn ($10.3 USD) investment fund in what they emphasize is an “ethical and responsible way.”

The Church of England (C of E) holds a small stake in Exxon, worth about £7m ($8.7 m) compared with the oil company’s market value of more than $183bn (£146bn). However, the Church Commissioners have proven to be influential shareholders regardless of their size.

The other organization to make the complaint against ExxonMobil is the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third-largest public pension fund in the United States. This fund is seriously large, managing $210.5 billion in assets.

Together, the two funds issued an open letter to ExxonMobil shareholders urging them to vote against re-electing the oil company’s entire board for failing to take action on the climate crisis.

ExxonMobil has been uniquely resistant to accepting responsibility for the emissions associated with its business.

Church Commissioners for England & New York State Common Retirement Fund

What’s their complaint?

“Our voting intentions are, again, a measure of our profound dissatisfaction with ExxonMobil’s approach to climate change risks and the governance failures that underpin it,” the letter said.

“As the world, ExxonMobil’s peers and investors confront the climate emergency, ExxonMobil is carrying on as if nothing has changed. It is crystal clear to us that ExxonMobil’s inadequate response to climate change constitutes a broad failure of corporate governance and a specific failure of independent directors to oversee management,” the letter added.

The oil and gas industry should be the leader in developing some of the solutions to tackling climate change, rather than continuously being seen as the problem or the blocker.

Tim Eggar, chairman of the UK’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA)

The Guardian is reporting that a report released last year found that ExxonMobil would need to slash its oil production by 55% by 2040 to meet global climate targets and avoid driving temperatures 1.5C higher than pre-industrialised levels.

READ: Oil and gas sector “losing its social licence to operate”, UK industry boss warns

Last year, ExxonMobil appealed to US regulators and successfully blocked a Church of England-led resolution that would have forced the oil firm to disclose its emissions reduction targets. In protest, the C of E called for ExxonMobil to install an independent chairman, and it gained 40% backing.

The Church Commissioners have again filed a resolution calling for the chief executive and chairman roles – held by Darren Woods – to be separated.

But Exxon is again at odds with the Church Commissioners voting plans. The oil giant is recommending that investors vote in favour of re-electing all of its board members, but is recommending they reject the shareholder resolutions, including the lobbying report.

A Guardian investigation last year found that Exxon had spent €37.2m (£32.4m) lobbying the EU since 2010, according to data released through the EU’s transparency register. That is more than other major oil companies including Shell and BP, which spent €36.5m and €18.1m respectively on lobbying Brussels officials to shape EU climate policy.

READ: BP’s annual Statistical Review of World Energy is terrifying

ExxonMobil was not immediately available for comment, but in a document released ahead of its AGM, it said that its position on key issues and lobbying were publicly available on its website and that it followed all applicable disclosure laws.

The company also defended the board’s approach to the climate crisis, saying it “routinely reviews environmental stewardship and discusses issues related to the company’s business, including the risks related to climate change”.

ExxonMobil has rejected calls for an independent chairman, saying that the rest of the board was already made up of independent directors and that the change would not improve oversight or be in shareholders’ best interest.

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