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ExxonMobil Amps Up Cleantech Investment While Blocking Shareholder Vote on Climate Disclosure

Researchers at REG Life Sciences are working with ExxonMobil to develop biodiesel from cellulosic sugars using REG proprietary technology. | Image Credit: REG

Global fuels giant ExxonMobil seems to be unmoved by the investigations into its climate change lies – first in New York and now in California – and the international Paris Agreement that calls for limiting global temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Even as the company is increasing its investment in renewable energy, it is still trying to keep quiet on climate.

ExxonMobil recently announced a new partnership with REG Life Sciences to study biodiesel production from cellulosic sugars. Their research will focus on using microbes to convert sugars from non-food sources to biodiesel through a one-step fermentation process, based on a patented technology developed by REG.

“As we research renewable energy supplies, we are exploring future energy options with a reduced environmental impact,” said Vijay Swarup, VP of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “Our first challenge is to determine technical feasibility and potential environmental benefits during the initial research. If the results are positive, we can then take the next step and explore the potential to expand our efforts and explore scalability.”

The researchers hope to develop lower cost, lower-carbon feedstocks for chemicals, fuels, and other products through the project.

“The science is extremely complex, but we hope to identify new affordable and reliable supplies of energy for the world that do not have a major impact on food supplies,” Swarup said.

Meanwhile, the science behind climate change is clear: it is happening, and it poses a major risk to companies. In October, some ExxonMobil investors concerned about the business and societal risks of climate change submitted a climate justice proposal to be voted on at the company’s annual general meeting, taking place on May 25. In January, ExxonMobil responded by trying to exclude it from the proxy ballot.

The resolution calls on ExxonMobil’s Board to adopt the 2°C target accepted by 187 of the 195 nations that participated in the United Nations’ COP21 conference, and 118 companies through the Science-Based Targets initiative. ExxonMobil claims that the proposal’s request is “vague” and that it “has been substantially implemented” as grounds for omitting it from its proxy materials.

The 34 institutional investors who co-filed of the resolution argue that the company “has not met the principal request of the proposal: a commitment to support the 2°C goal to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change on the poor and the planet.” They plan to appeal ExxonMobil’s challenge with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).

“Investors see the enormous risks Exxon Mobil faces related to climate change and are frustrated by this recent attempt to once again shirk its responsibility to address it,” said Sister Patricia Daly, OP of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ and one of the sponsors of the resolution. “As we have for the last 25 years, we will continue to make the moral case for climate action whether through the shareholder resolution process or in our ongoing dialogues with management.”

A separate coalition of investors representing nearly $300 billion in assets under management and more than $1 billion in ExxonMobil shares, also recently called for more climate disclosure from ExxonMobil. Specifically, they are requesting that the company publish an assessment of how its portfolio would be affected by the 2 degree limit to, and beyond, 2040, including an analysis of the impacts of that limit on the company’s oil and gas reserves.

The group includes New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the Church Commissioners for England, the Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System, and the University of California Retirement Plan.

“The unprecedented Paris agreement to rein in global warming may significantly affect Exxon's operations,” said DiNapoli, who is Trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund. “As shareholders, we want to know that Exxon is doing what is needed to prepare for a future with lower carbon emissions.”

“We need more transparency and reporting from ExxonMobil to be able to assess how they are responding to the risks and opportunities presented by the low carbon transition,” added Edward Mason, Head of Responsible Investment for the Church Commissioners of England.

In 2014, ExxonMobil agreed to report on climate change and carbon asset risks in response to a resolution filed by Arjuna Capital and As You Sow. In 2015, 62 institutional investors representing nearly $2 trillion in assets called on the SEC to push for better climate disclosure by oil and gas companies, and a record number of climate-related shareholder resolutions were filed, including several to ExxonMobil and Chevron by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR).

Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]

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