ExxonMobil Gives in to Shareholders on Climate Risk Disclosure

December 12, 2017, 8:51 AM UTC

ExxonMobil (XOM) said it would publish new details about how climate change could affect its business, in a move aimed at appeasing critics and forestalling another proxy fight next year.

The largest U.S. oil and gas producer said in a filing to U.S. securities regulators that its board agreed to provide shareholders with information on “energy demand sensitivities, implications of two degree Celsius scenarios, and positioning for a lower-carbon future.”

Until now, it had opposed such a move, in contrast to other western oil and gas majors such as Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total. Such impact assessments, which factor in the cost of likely climate-related taxes and levies to cut carbon dioxide emissions, can have a big influence on determining whether parts of an oil company’s portfolio are economic or not. Exxon earlier this year wrote off some 15% of its reserve base, implicitly acknowledging that it was too expensive to develop its oil sands reserves in Canada against a background of relatively low crude prices. A large carbon footprint is one of the factors that make oil sands hard to commercialize.

Scientists have warned that world temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F) this century, surpassing a “tipping point” that a global climate deal aims to avert.

Exxon’s statement, which came three days before the deadline for its 2018 annual meeting resolution submissions, said additional information would be released in the near future, but did not provide details. The company’s board originally opposed providing shareholders with a report outlining the potential impact of global warming on Exxon’s long-term outlook.

Thomas P. Di Napoli, New York state’s comptroller, heads one of the two lead sponsors of a shareholder resolution calling for Exxon to issue a climate-impact report. He called Monday’s decision “a win for shareholders and for the company’s ability to manage risk.”

Read: Exxon Has to Release Decades of Internal Climate Change Documents, a Massachusetts Judge Rules

However, another sponsor noted the lack of specificity in the company’s statement. “This is giving no detail,” said Tim Smith, who leads shareholder engagement efforts at Walden Asset Management, a co-filer of last spring’s resolution. He said Exxon’s statement “needs to be expanded to assure shareowners that they’re responsive to last year’s request.”

An Exxon spokesman declined to comment beyond the filing.

Some 50 shareholder and climate activists earlier this year demanded the company produce an annual report on the risks to its business from extreme climate and government policies seeking to reduce carbon emissions. The resolution was backed by 62 percent of shares voted in Exxon’s May annual meeting.

Read: Meet Exxon’s Next CEO

Other energy companies already have begun detailing their view of climate-related risks to their businesses. Refiner Marathon Petroleum Corp recently published a report, “Perspectives on Climate-Related Scenarios,” meant partly to address suggestions from the global Financial Stability Board about how to measure and respond to such risks.

Members of the shareholder group had said they were considering refiling had Exxon not agreed to a detailed plan. Big investors including BlackRock Inc (BLK) and Vanguard Group (VANGUARD) backed the May resolution and have made climate change a priority in their governance efforts.

BlackRock and Vanguard representatives last week declined to comment on their outreach to Exxon.

Read: Exxon’s Big Oil Sands Write-Off Could Help It Dodge SEC Troubles

The report will carry weight beyond the company’s next shareholder meeting. Exxon faces investigations by the Massachusetts and New York attorneys general into whether it has misled the public and investors by soft-pedaling climate change risks. Exxon has described the probes as politically motivated and intended to force it and others to change their positions on climate change.

The big funds would likely cast more critical votes in 2018 if Exxon did not respond adequately to the resolution, Jason Malinowski, chief investment officer for the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System, which has about 115,000 Exxon shares, said on Friday.

Malinowski’s agency and leaders of two other pension funds separately have asked Exxon director Steven Reinemund to discuss governance reforms, such as changing pay programs and bringing in directors with “climate-competent” perspectives.