The world's largest sovereign wealth fund announced Tuesday that it would back shareholder resolutions requiring Chevron and ExxonMobil to report on how climate change could threaten assets during extreme weather events or put revenues at risk due to government efforts to transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources.
The company that manages Norway's $872 billion fund said the boards of directors for the oil giants should better anticipate those risks — as well as any upsides — and report on them to shareholders.
"We believe that boards should recognize the necessity of integrating climate change related challenges and opportunities in the investment planning and risk management, and ensure that responsibility is clearly defined within the organization," Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) said in a statement.
The bank said that at the end of 2015 it held a 0.78 percent stake in Exxon, valued at $2.54 billion, and a 0.85 percent stake in Chevron, which it valued at $1.45 billion. Norway's sovereign wealth fund is financed by the proceeds of the country's petroleum industry.
Both ExxonMobil and Chevron are urging shareholders to vote against the resolution.
Chevron's board said in a statement notifying shareholders of its annual meeting on May 25 that the company shares concerns about climate change and recognizes that fossil fuel burning contributes to increased amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But, the board added, the proposal is based on "the flawed premise that a global agreement to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius requires each individual fossil fuel producer to curtail development of resources proportionately."
Over 170 nations have agreed to a UN climate change pact that aims to keep global temperature rise to within 2C (3.4 Fahrenheit) compared to the mid-19th century by committing to rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and ramping up cleaner forms of energy production.
Exxon's board also opposes the shareholder resolution and, in an April statement to shareholders, the company said it "is confident that the Company's robust planning and investment processes adequately contemplate and address climate change related risks."
Exxon had initially refused to even allow a vote on the resolution, which was submitted by the $180 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund — the third largest public pension fund in the United States. But the US Securities and Exchange Commission ruled in March that the company was obliged to put the resolution to a shareholder vote.
Neither Chevron nor Exxon responded to a request for comment.
Matthew Sweeney, a spokesman for New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees New York's pension fund, said there was broad support among investors.
"Companies that fail to address global warming, and the worldwide effort to curb it, put their bottom line at risk," he said.
Yngve Slyngstad, NBIM's chief executive officer, told a Norwegian parliamentary committee on Friday that the bank has worked to address climate change since 2006. The fund, he said, has sought to divest from companies that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation and to measure the carbon footprint of its investment portfolio.
Norway's fund is among a growing number of entities taking aim at ExxonMobil. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have come out in support of a US congressional push for the Department of Justice to investigate the company for potentially misleading the public about when — and what — it new about global warming. The attorneys general for California and New York, as well as those in more than a dozen other states, are also looking into potential fraud. The Rockefeller Family Fund announced in March that it would divest its holdings in the fossil fuel industry, including Exxon. And in April, Standard & Poor's downgraded Exxon's credit rating for the first time since the Great Depression.
Slyngstad has declined to speculate publicly on how Exxon and Chevron shareholders will vote later this month. But even if the resolutions fail, Norway's support of them indicates that corporations will increasingly be called upon to incorporate climate change in their business plans, said Robert Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University.
Brulle said he was glad Norway and other "progressive" stockholders are trying to force corporations like ExxonMobil and Chevron to change their practices. And, he said, it's safe to say that pressure will keep coming.
"This is just common sense," he said. "All companies usually try to take into account changing factors that are going on around them. Not taking into account climate change is almost willful ignorance on the part of corporations."
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