ExxonMobil held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) for shareholders in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday. This event draws attention from activists each year, and Greenpeace certainly wasn’t going to miss the party. In the days leading up to Exxon’s investor prom, we put up billboards and flew our airship with a warning to financial audiences and concerned citizens alike — we all pay the price for Exxon’s greed.
However, the most important moment of the day came from within the usually stodgy and perfunctory meeting itself. For the first time, Exxon shareholders — by an impressive 62% majority — voted for a resolution that requires the company to publish an annual report detailing the risks of climate policies and technological advances to its oil and gas holdings. The full text of the resolution is here:
This might not sound like much, but it is in fact a huge deal. Socially responsible investor groups, pension funds, and others have introduced climate change resolutions at oil company AGMs for years. Unfortunately, they’ve been voted down by the large institutional investors — companies like Blackrock, State Street, and Vanguard — who typically vote in line with management on these issues. But this year was different! These same massive investors led the charge, or as the Washington Post put it, “the rebellion,” to pass this resolution.
Blackrock, Vanguard, and State Street are not just any investors. Blackrock, through its managed investments and funds managed through its Aladdin software, has sway over $15 trillion of assets. That’s 7% of the world’s assets. Vanguard and State Street are the largest Exxon shareholders and some of the largest shareholders in almost any Fortune 500 company you can name. Their understanding of risk and opportunity has almost unparalleled influence over equity markets.
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So when Blackrock says it is concerned about a failure to account for climate risks, it’s clear that this is an issue with deep financial implications. Here’s Blackrock’s own language:
“As a long-term investor, we are willing to be patient with companies when our engagement affirms they are working to address our concerns. However,when we do not see progress despite ongoing engagement, or companies are insufficiently responsive to our efforts to protect the long-term economic interests of our clients, we will not hesitate to exercise our right to vote against management recommendations.”
Even more stunning is the contrast between today’s vote and today’s “scoop” that Trump will be pulling out of the Paris Agreement. To date, only two countries have opted out of the accord– Nicaragua (because they felt it was too weak) and Syria (because they were mired in a civil war). Trump’s decision to withdraw would be a stunning display of isolationism that reveals his administration’s deep ignorance of energy and financial markets. Trump is pretty good at building gold facades and regurgitating coal company talking points; firms that successfully manage trillions of dollars are moving forward with climate policies
Exxon and other oil companies are feeling pressure on all sides, whether it’s investigations from Attorneys General, shareholder rebellions, or growing grassroots resistance to dirty energy infrastructure. After decades of deception, powerful forces are demanding transparency and accountability. Anyone betting that a Trump administration is enough to reverse trend should prepare for some serious losses.