Church fund urges other ExxonMobil investors to sack board over climate

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.

The Church Commissioners and New York State Common Retirement Fund have written to fellow ExxonMobil investors ahead of an annual shareholder meeting on 27 May, hoping to support for the protest votes, which include forcing ExxonMobil to disclose its lobbying activities and their cost .

“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.

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.

The C of E holds a small stake in Exxon, worth about £7m 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.

Last year, ExxonMobil appealed to US regulators and successfully blocked a C of E-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 though 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.

It also recently emerged that ExxonMobil met key European commission officials in an attempt to water down the European Green Deal in the weeks before it was agreed, according to a climate lobbying watchdog.

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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