Woodside shareholders send strong climate message
5 May 2020 at 9:10 pm
“They do need to take this seriously, because this is not a fringe issue, this is a concern of mainstream, responsible investors,” corporate activists say.
Australian investors are “waking up” to the gas industry’s lack of action on climate change, activists say, following a record breaking number of Woodside Petroleum’s shareholders voting in favour of the company setting new science-based climate targets.
Over 50 per cent of Woodside Petroleum’s investors voted to support a motion that the company set climate targets in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement to cut its own emissions, as well as “scope 3” emissions released by consumers of its products internationally.
The motions, drawn up by the Australiasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), also called on the company to reveal how new gas investments would align with the Paris goals and whether its executive remuneration policy incentivised meeting emissions targets.
It’s the first time a climate resolution has received more than 50 per cent support in a vote by Australian fossil fuel company shareholders.
The Australian gas giant, which has committed to achieving “net zero” emissions for its own operations by 2050, urged shareholders to vote down the motions, saying it was already supportive of the Paris goals and its gas exports were displacing higher-emissions fuel sources overseas such as coal-fired power.
But Brynn O’Brien, the ACCR executive director, told Pro Bono News that investors were waking up to the fact that gas is still a damaging fossil fuel.
“Gas is still a fossil fuel, and the only way that we can slow the rate of climate change is to keep fossil fuels in the ground and not burn them,” O’Brien said.
“It is difficult for the investment sector to move on. But I do see that they are starting to wake up to this big problem.”
She said the high number of votes was unsurprising following a similar outcome against Australia’s second largest gas company, Santos, earlier in the month.
“We did know it was going to be high, but we are still really pleased with the results,” she said.
Both motions were also supported by several large proxy advisers, including ACSI, Glass Lewis, ISS, PIRC and Regnan, which O’Brien signalled as a win.
“Those systemically important proxy advisers are now saying it is appropriate that companies disclose to their shareholders information about the targets they’re setting on Scope 3, and as far as we’re aware, this is the first time that that proxy advice is lined up in that way,” she said.
While both votes are non-binding, O’Brien said it sent Woodside a clear message on what needed to be done.
“This shows them that they do need to take this seriously, because this is not a fringe issue, this is a concern of mainstream, responsible investors who are looking to protect long-term shareholder value,” she said.
“Our next step is to work with our investor allies to influence that target setting process.”