This past Friday, I blogged about the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent decision to allow a vaguely worded proxy resolution proceed to a vote. The resolution was submitted by, among others, members of the religious shareholder activist group the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.
The ICCR resolution calls upon ExxonMobil Corporation to take action intended to mitigate climate change. ExxonMobil requested the SEC deny the ICCR resolution on the grounds it was based mainly on nonspecific greenhouse-gas reduction targets and unclear strategies to achieve them.
Since that post, I received an email from a subject matter expert that helps place the SEC’s decision in perspective. Legal Director Allen Dickerson from the Center for Competitive Politics, a free-speech nonprofit, commented:
The SEC’s decision was routine. It is extraordinarily easy, under U.S. securities laws, to put a proposal before a company’s shareholders, and politically active groups have done so with increasing frequency in recent years. But these policy proposals are seldom adopted. Shareholders generally want corporations to maximize the value of their investment, as management is legally obligated to do, and rebuff attempts to turn the annual meeting into an extension of the broader political arena.
Just so. ICCR members are performing a disservice to the companies in which they invest as well as fellow shareholders. Compare Mr. Dickerson’s comments to these from an ICCR press release quoting Sr. Patricia D. Daly, OP, of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ, the lead filer of the resolution:
This year’s Holy Days are celebrated in the midst of violence and ecological turmoil. As people of faith attempt to respond to the needs of the world, it is critical and timely that our call for ExxonMobil to acknowledge the moral imperative of limiting global warming to 2 ̊C will go to their shareholders for consideration. ExxonMobil and its shareholders now face a choice: acknowledge the untold suffering that climate change will cause and work towards solutions, or remain willfully blind to the impacts of their ‘business as usual’ approach …
The moral responsibility to acknowledge the impacts of human dependence on fossil fuels and take action remains an urgent priority for all, none more so than the producers of these fuels. In asking ExxonMobil to acknowledge the imperative of limiting global warming to 2 ̊C, this resolution seeks to bring Exxon in line with the consensus of over 190 nations, which adopted this goal in the Paris Climate Agreement this past December, as well as the numerous oil and gas companies that have expressed support for the 2 ̊C target. We strongly encourage all shareholders to support the resolution at ExxonMobil’s annual general meeting on May 25th …
The press release continues, reiterating the “scientific consensus” canard as if ICCR was advertising toothpaste recommended by four out of five dentists. There exists no consensus in the first place, and even if there were, science isn’t a democratic process wherein a majority opinion must inherently be perceived as correct.
It is widely acknowledged in the scientific community that global warming must not exceed 2 ̊C above pre-industrial levels if the worst impacts of climate change are to be avoided. Indeed, this decision from the SEC comes only days after the release of a new study from 19 leading climate scientists, including James Hansen, warning that catastrophic impacts may occur even if warming is limited to 2 ̊ C.
Rather than going into the weeds refuting the vague claims above, ExxonMobil explained to the SEC already that, even if such predictions are correct, it’s widely acknowledged that the Paris Climate Agreement wouldn’t come close to achieving a 2 ̊ C target. Furthermore, the Clean Power Plan, which was the U.S. strategy to reduce its carbon footprint to achieve the 2 ̊ C goal, was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court prior to the SEC determination on the ICCR proxy resolution. With all this lack of clarity on the climate-change public policy front, the SEC decision is all the more puzzling.