ExxonMobil beat back shareholder resolutions about climate change that would have reoriented the oil and gas giant toward renewable energy, forced it to disclose lobbying details and installed a board member with expertise in the area of climate change.
But at its annual meeting at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, the company badly lost a vote over a resolution that will make it easier for large shareholders to nominate their own board members and have them included in proxy materials ahead of the annual meeting.
ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson stuck up for the company’s positions. He acknowledged that climate change was a serious problem and said the company would support a tax on the carbon content of fuels, but he said that only oil and gas could meet the world’s needs as the population grows and living standards rise.
“We have to have some technology breakthroughs, but in the meantime, just saying ‘turn the taps off’ is not acceptable to humanity,” he said.
The biggest U.S. oil and gas company has been in the crosshairs of environmental groups probing whether ExxonMobil knew as early as four decades ago the scope of climate change and whether it should be held accountable for harm caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and at least four other attorneys general are investigating the company’s climate policies.
The most successful of the climate-related shareholder resolutions garnered 38.2 percent of the voting shares. Sponsored by the New York State Common Retirement Fund, holding nearly 11 million Exxon shares, the measure would have forced ExxonMobil to report annually on how climate change could affect the company’s ability to operate.
Edward Mason, head of responsible investment at Church Commissioners for England, had argued that the company should have a scenario with “stress tests” as global warming approaches 2 degrees Celsius. He noted that BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total have agreed to issue such reports.
Many critics of ExxonMobil note that while the company says it cares about climate change, it provides funding to trade and lobbying groups that deny or play down its effects. So the United Steelworkers proposed full disclosure of the company’s direct and indirect lobbying expenditures. The measure won support from 25.8 percent of the voting shares.
Tillerson said that the company would continue to fund groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that works mostly at the state and local levels. Tillerson said that Exxon “found our engagement with them to be very productive,” and said “whether we agree or not, we find it very useful.”
ALEC is working to roll back renewable-energy requirements that have been adopted by the majority of state governments.
In 2013, ALEC offered model legislation, as it is known, to state legislators asserting that the science was uncertain about the role of human activity in changing the atmosphere.
A motion to install a board member with expertise on climate change won 20.9 percent of shares cast.
Other shareholders said that if the international community were to stick to its target of limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius, much of ExxonMobil’s 25 billion barrels of proved oil reserves and natural gas equivalents would be stranded and useless.
Tillerson said that there was “no scientific basis” for establishing an international target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and that it was a societal choice. Such choices, he added, must be “grounded in reality. No energy source available on the planet” would be able to sustain “our economies, our way of life or, I would say, our very survival.”
He said energy-efficiency measures would keep down greenhouse-gas emissions, but he said that by 2040 oil and gas would still account for 60 percent of global energy needs, about the same percentage as today.
Not everyone who attended the meeting cared about climate issues. One man, choking up, said, “You personify all that is best in America” and added that “the lives of all of us shareholders are more secure and, in return, happier because of you.”
But most speakers dealt with the resolutions in the proxy.
Sister Patricia A. Daly, a Dominican nun who is executive director of the New Jersey-based Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, advocated a measure that would request the Exxon board to commit to supporting the goal of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Daly said, “as the world moves forward, ExxonMobil stands still.”