BREAKING: A climate upheaval at Exxon

Exxon’s morally inept and fiscally questionable long-term climate strategy is finally catching up with it.

Something really wild just happened at ExxonMobil, the 11th-biggest climate-polluting U.S. company. Activist shareholders concerned about climate change have secured a win that could change the trajectory of the historically climate-hostile company.

At the annual shareholder meeting, an activist investor that owns only about 0.02% of the oil giant’s stock secured at least two seats on the oil giant’s board or directors. The activist fund, called Engine No. 1, launched a challenge against the company’s leadership last year, on the basis that that Exxon “lacked a coherent plan for surviving a global transition to cleaner energy sources.”

The votes are still being counted, and it’s possible that at least two more of Engine No. 1’s directors could be selected to Exxon’s board. But even if that doesn’t happen, the outcome is a sign that Exxon’s morally inept and fiscally questionable long-term climate strategy is finally catching up with it.

Exxon’s long-term strategy, you may remember, is to significantly ramp up oil production over the next decade, climate crisis be damned. The company released an absolutely laughable “climate plan” a few months ago, which allows the company to increase its carbon emissions in line with that strategy.

The oil giant has also faced heat in recent months for refusing to fully explain to investors how climate change poses a risk to the company; how much and to whom is it giving political contributions; and where its political lobbying efforts are focused.

Engine No. 1’s letter to Exxon’s board back in February railed against all these omissions and contradictions. It said Exxon’s “true [emissions] trajectory is nowhere near” in line with the Paris agreement, and that “none of the Company’s new claims change its long-term trajectory, which would grow total emissions for decades to come.”

“Without new members of the Board with the necessary expertise and experience, ExxonMobil will have little choice but to continue seeking to create the appearance of transformative long-term change, rather than working to make it a reality,” the letter continued.

Now, it appears many of Exxon’s other shareholders agree with Engine No. 1 — including BlackRock, Exxon’s second largest shareholder, which reportedly backed three of Engine No. 1’s four candidates for the board. The world’s largest asset manager has previously pledged to make climate change central to its investments, and has received a good deal of praise for it.

Twitter avatar for @steelewheelzgraham steele @steelewheelz
Seems like large funds' voting can make an impact.
reuters.com/business/energ…

Dave Benoit @DaveCBenoit

One of the biggest activist election wins ever today. And the implications of changing Exxon’s strategy are a lot bigger than salting the pasta water or pricing your razor. https://t.co/IXyCv01Y2M

Still, BlackRock did not back all of Engine No. 1’s candidates. And, as the BlackRock-tracking climate accountability Twitter user @BLKsBigProblem noted yesterday, BlackRock still likely voted to retain Exxon CEO Darren Woods—who has been central to pushing the oil giant’s current strategy—as director of the board.

Still, even though Woods remains director of Exxon’s board, the election of Engine No. 1’s candidates means his influence is in jeopardy, reports World of Oil:

Any dilution of Woods’s influence over the board could derail his long-term plans and force strategic and tactical changes he has previously rejected.

Although Engine No. 1 hasn’t targeted Woods for removal, even a partial victory for the activist would be a serious, and perhaps fatal, blow to his leadership, according to Ceres, a coalition of environmentally active investors managing $37 trillion.

“I don’t see how Darren Woods remains as CEO if one of the dissidents, let alone all four, are elected,” said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas at Ceres. “It would be such a sign of fundamental dissatisfaction with the status quo that something would have to change. And that starts with the CEO.”

In any case, this is still a developing story with moving parts. But if we can take anything from it so far, it’s that climate activist investors perhaps pose a bigger threat to Big Oil giants than some thought. I’ll update you tomorrow as the whole thing unfolds.


Catch of the Day:

Fish sits regally in his position as the unelected chairman of HEATED’s board. Whomst would launch a challenge to this handsome pup?

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