BUSINESS
05/31/2017 12:50 pm ET Updated May 31, 2017

Exxon Shareholders Push Company To Be More Transparent About Climate Risks

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump reportedly plans to pull the U.S. out of the historic Paris climate pact.

WASHINGTON — As news spread that President Donald Trump reportedly plans to remove the U.S. from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, Exxon Mobil Corp. shareholders voted in favor of a measure calling for the company to disclose the risks that climate change policies pose to its business.

Sixty-two percent of shareholders voted in favor of the nonbinding proposal. It requests that Exxon report on the financial impacts of the Paris pact’s goal of cutting carbon emissions in an effort to keep global temperatures from warming an addition 2 degrees Celsius.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the New York Common Retirement Fund, said in a statement that the vote was “an unprecedented victory for investors in the fight to ensure a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy.” The fund holds nearly $1 billion in Exxon shares. 

“Climate change is one of the greatest long-term risks we face in our portfolio and has direct impact on the core business of ExxonMobil,” DiNapoli said. “The burden is now on ExxonMobil to respond swiftly and demonstrate that it takes shareholder concerns about climate risk seriously.”

Kathy Mulvey, the climate accountability campaign manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called Wednesday’s vote “groundbreaking.” A similar proposal put forth last year had received support from only 38 percent of Exxon shareholders.

“It’s a really strong signal to Exxon Mobil and to other major fossil fuel companies that investors want to see them get serious about a low-carbon future,” she told HuffPost. “It has implications that go beyond Exxon itself, particularly at a time when we’re hearing ongoing waffling by the Trump administration about whether the U.S. will stay in the Paris agreement. It shows that the business and investor community is serious about making the commitment to a low-carbon future.”

It has implications that go beyond Exxon itself, particularly at a time when we’re hearing ongoing waffling by the Trump administration about whether the U.S. will stay in the Paris agreement. Kathy Mulvey, climate accountability campaign manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Exxon had urged investors to vote against the resolution that shareholders approved during their annual meeting in Dallas

CEO David Wood said Wednesday that the company believes the “risks of climate change are serious and warrant action — thoughtful action.” However, he argued that Exxon has “adequately assessed the potential impacts of future policy developments” and shared those findings with its investors. 

Exxon’s board will now consider the climate resolution, Wood said. 

The vote indicates that Exxon shareholders “are finally acknowledging what the company still refuses to — that the age of oil of nearly over,” said Naomi Ages, a senior climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace USA.  

Exxon has faced mounting legal trouble in recent years, including investigations by multiple state attorneys general looking into whether the company lied to the public and its investors about the risks of climate change. Those probes stem from InsideClimate News and Los Angeles Times reports indicating that Exxon executives were aware of the climate risks associated with carbon dioxide emissions but had funded research to cover up those risks and block solutions.

Exxon is also among several oil and gas companies that have warned Trump against withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris agreement, a deal it called an “effective framework for addressing the risks of climate change” and the “first major international accord” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Numerous media outlets reported Wednesday that Trump plans to withdraw from the Paris accord, a move that would put the U.S. in the same category as Syria and Nicaragua. 

Woods said Wednesday that the company stands by its position on the Paris climate agreement. 

“[Climate change] is a global challenge which requires global participation,” he said. “We think the advantages of the Paris framework is it engages and involves communities all around the world, countries all around the world, irrespective of their economic development.”

This story has been updated throughout. 

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