Over the past two weeks, activist hedge fund investor Engine No. 1 scored a victory for the climate change movement by wresting three board seats at ExxonMobil with the support of the “Big Three” institutional investment firms BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. But the episode also marks a failure in ExxonMobil’s “corporate diplomacy” because of its inability to convincingly demonstrate that it is committed to mitigating climate risks and protecting its long-term business value, according to Wharton management professor Witold Henisz.
Engine No. 1 has only a 0.02% stake in ExxonMobil, but the climate risk issues it pushed for were sufficient to get the three big investment firms on its side. In explaining its stance, BlackRock stated that the energy major needs “to further assess the company’s strategy and board expertise against the possibility that demand for fossil fuels may decline rapidly in the coming decades.” BlackRock CEO Larry Fink had reiterated his company’s commitment to combating climate change in his 2021 annual letter to CEOs; in his 2020 letter to CEOs, he had said that “climate risk is investment risk.”
A proposed mandate to shutter the $5 billion Prairie State coal energy campus and a Springfield, Illinois? plant by 2035 would hit local ratepayers with the double burden of funding new energy sources while still paying down project bonds, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers warn.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker backs a state mandate to end coal generation by 2035 to meet de-carbonation targets included in pending energy legislation. The package stalled during the General Assembly?s spring session that ended last week, but Pritzker said he expects lawmakers will return in the coming weeks for a vote.
Retiring Prairie State early would mark the latest headache for some of the nine public utilities in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio that issued $4.5 billion of debt, some it under the federal Build America Bond program, to finance their ownership in project.
Peabody Energy Inc. initially sponsored the project in Washington County promoting it as an affordable source of energy with an adjacent mine and a cleaner one given its state-of-the-art technology at the time. Bechtel Power Corp. built it. It initially carried a $2 billion price tag that rose to a $4 billion fixed cost under the 2010 contract with utilities but cost overruns drove the price tag up to $5 billion.
An activist investor is likely to pick up a third seat on the board of Exxon Mobil Corp., giving it additional leverage to press the oil giant to address investor discontent about diminished profits and its fossil-fuel focused strategy amid concerns about climate change.
Exxon said Wednesday that an updated vote count showed shareholders backed a third nominee of Engine No. 1, an upstart hedge fund that had already won two board seats at Exxon’s annual shareholder meeting last week. The final vote hasn’t been certified, Exxon said, and could take days or weeks to be finalized, according to people familiar with the matter.
Engine No. 1, which owns a tiny fraction of Exxon’s stock, had sought four seats on the board and argued the Texas oil giant should commit to carbon neutrality, effectively bringing its emissions to zero—both from the company and its products—by 2050, as some peers have. If the preliminary voting results hold, it will control a quarter of Exxon’s 12-person board.
Shareholders representing nearly 56% of shares that were eligible to vote supported a proposal calling for Exxon to disclose more about direct and indirect lobbying spending and policies, while about 64% voted for Exxon to release a report on how its lobbying aligns with Paris climate accords.
The New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) will restrict investments in oil sands companies that have not demonstrated that they are prepared for the transition to a low-carbon economy, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the third largest public pension plan in the country, announced today.
“As nations around the world become increasingly serious about addressing the threat of climate change and as market forces drive a low-carbon economic transition, we need to make sure our investments line up with this reality,” said DiNapoli. “We have carefully reviewed companies in the oil sands industry and are restricting investments in those that do not have viable plans to adapt to the low-carbon future. Companies responsible for large greenhouse gas emissions like those in this industry, pose significant risks for investors.”
Publication Date: 12 April 2021
Publication Site: Office of the NY State Comptroller
The Fund committed approximately $300 million to Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners IV, a European investment fund that will focus on investments in renewable assets including onshore and offshore wind and solar, as well as climate infrastructure assets that support renewable power.
Additionally, the Fund committed $100 million to Excelsior Renewable Energy Investment Fund I, a North American-focused investment fund that will target investments in renewable power assets such as solar and wind.
Publication Date: 20 April 2021
Publication Site: Office of the NY State Comptroller
The most comprehensive proposal being floated so far is one from House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
That discussion draft would extend the program for an additional five years and limit the government’s ability to raise the price of flood insurance amid growing concerns about affordability (E&E Daily, April 14). Current authorization for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is set to expire in five months.
Jerry Theodorou, director of the finance, insurance and trade program at the R Street Institute, said subsidies mask the real costs of building and living in flood-prone areas and that the Peters-Barr bill would ensure that policyholders aren’t “undercharged.”
Theodorou said the Waters bill instead would kick the can down the road, and he criticized the measure for seeking to cancel the program’s historic $20.5 billion debt.
The commitments are part of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s climate action plan to lower investment risks from climate change and help shift the pension fund to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within the next 20 years.
New York’s state pension fund is restricting investment in six Canadian oil sands companies because they have not shown they are prepared for a transition to a low-carbon future, the fund’s Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said on Monday.
The New York State Common Retirement Fund will divest more than $7 million in securities already held in the companies, and not make any further investments in them, DiNapoli said in a statement.
Canada’s oil sands hold the world’s third-largest crude reserves and have some of the highest emissions intensity per barrel, due to the carbon-intensive production process of extracting tar-like bitumen from the ground.
Democratic lawmakers have called on U.S. insurers including American International Group Inc., Berkshire Hathaway, Chubb Ltd., Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., MetLife Inc. and Travelers Cos. Inc. to explain how their fossil fuel underwriting policies align with their commitments to sustainability.
In a letter dated March 24, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Senators Jeffrey A. Merkley, D-Oregon, Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, request information on each insurer’s fossil fuel underwriting and investment policies.
“An increasing number of your competitors have stopped underwriting coal and other fossil fuel projects and/or restricted their investments in coal and certain dirty and environmentally damaging oil and gas projects such as tar sands,” the letter said.
LAST YEAR’S clear spring skies foreshadowed it and the numbers bear it out: covid-19 lockdowns caused a sharp drop in emissions from burning fossil fuels, the largest such drop since the second world war. The latest data, published on March 3rd by the Global Carbon Project, an international consortium of climate researchers, puts industrial carbon-dioxide emissions produced in 2020 at 34bn tonnes, 2.6bn tonnes (7%) lower than in 2019.
Clearly, 2020 was an unusual year and emissions have already started to rebound. What is more, the drop came at a huge cost to economies and societies. Yet, in order to meet the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to between 1.5°C and 2°C above pre-industrial levels, more big cuts will be needed for the rest of the decade. “We need a cut in emissions of about the size of the fall [from the pandemic] every two years, but by completely different methods,” said Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, one of the lead researchers on the study.