Church Commissioners Among Investors Challenging ExxonMobil’s Attempt to Silence Climate Change Questions


Investors in ExxonMobil, led by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and the Church Commissioners for England, this week asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States to deny the company's request for permission to block a shareholder proposal for information on how the company will weather the global agreement to rein in climate change.

DiNapoli (as a trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund), the Church Commissioners and other Exxon investors filed a shareholder proposal in December, asking Exxon to explain how its business would be affected by and adjust to the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The company's response was to seek the SEC for permission to block that request from a shareholder vote at its annual meeting in the spring. Investors responded to Exxon's move in a letter to the SEC on Monday.

"Exxon risks becoming an outlier among its peers who have publicly supported reining in climate change," DiNapoli said. "As investors, we need to know how Exxon's bottom line will be impacted by the global effort to reduce emissions and what the company plans to do about it."

Edward Mason, Head of Responsible Investment for the Church Commissioners, said: "We are extremely disappointed that even after the Paris climate change agreement ExxonMobil has contested the relevance of the resolution we have co-filed. We believe that our desire to see reporting on how ExxonMobil's business would fare were warming to be restricted to 2 degrees Celsius is widely shared in the institutional investor community. It is a perfectly reasonable ask. Without this information investors cannot properly assess the resilience of ExxonMobil's business strategy."

The UN Climate Conference in Paris concluded with a commitment from world leaders to hold the rise in global temperatures well below two degrees Celsius and to seek to restrict warming to 1.5 degrees, which would significantly lower carbon emissions and the demand for fossil fuels worldwide.

The shareholder proposal - filed by Comptroller DiNapoli, the Church Commissioners, and co-filers the Vermont State Employees' Retirement System, the University of California Retirement Plan and The Brainerd Foundation - represents nearly $300 billion in assets under management and more than $1 billion in Exxon shares. The group's proposal asks ExxonMobil to make public an analysis of how its business might be affected by the Paris Agreement's 2 degree target, including how lower demand for its products and carbon restrictions would impact the company's oil and gas reserves and resources.

Exxon's stated position is that global governments will not impose restrictions that meet the 2 degree target and that it is "confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become stranded." As a result, the company has argued to the SEC that it has no need to conduct the 2 degree analysis that shareholders are requesting.

In contrast, Exxon's peers, including Shell and BP, have agreed to publicly describe how they will be affected by lower greenhouse gas emissions after the Church Commissioners and other investors filed similar shareholder proposals. More recently, 10 global oil and gas companies, including Shell and BP, announced their support for lowering GHG emissions to help meet the 2 degree goal.

Notes to editors

About the New York State Common Retirement Fund

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third largest public pension plan in the United States. To protect the retirement security of its more than one million members, retirees and beneficiaries from more than 3,000 state and local government employers, the Fund manages a diversified portfolio of public and private equities, fixed income, real estate and alternative instruments. It has consistently been ranked as one of the best managed and best funded plans in the nation. The Fund's fiscal year ends on 31 March 2016.

About the Church Commissioners for England

The Church of England's investment fund, the Church Commissioners for England, manages a fund of some £6.7 billion, held mainly in a diversified portfolio including equities, real estate and alternative investment strategies. The Commissioners' work supports the Church of England as a Christian presence in every community.
The annual objectives of the Church Commissioners include:

  • A return on investments of RPI +5%
  • Supporting poorer dioceses with ministry costs
  • Providing funds to support mission activities
  • Paying for bishops' ministry and some cathedral costs
  • Administering the legal framework for pastoral reorganization and settling the future of closed church buildings
  • Paying clergy pensions for service prior to 1998
  • Running the national payroll for serving and retired clergy

A copy of the latest Church Commissioners annual report can be found here.