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ExxonMobil Bends to Shareholders, Agrees to Disclose Climate Change Risks

ExxonMobil Corp. has agreed to reveal the risks its businesses face from climate change, the supermajor said Monday.

The board “has reconsidered the proposal requesting a report on impacts of climate change policies...that the New York State Common Retirement Fund submitted for the 2017 annual shareholders meeting,” the Irving, TX-based producer said in a Form 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

With more than $5 trillion in combined assets, the New York fund and the Church Commissioners of England last May led a shareholder proposal at the annual meeting, considered nonbinding, to require ExxonMobil to assess and disclose how it is preparing for a transition to a low-carbon future. More than 63% of shareholders voted in favor of the proposal, which did not mandate any action by ExxonMobil.

The proposal, Item 12 on the shareholder ballot, would require ExxonMobil to analyze the impacts on its “oil and gas reserves and resources under a scenario in which reduction in demand results from carbon restrictions and related rules or commitments adopted by governments consistent with the globally agreed upon 2 degree C target." The reporting "should assess the resilience of the company's full portfolio of reserves and resources through 2040 and beyond, and address the financial risks associated with such a scenario,” the proposal said.

Upon further review, the board said it is time to enact it.

“In reconsidering the proposal, the company sought input from a number of parties, such as the proponents and major shareholders. As such, the board has decided to further enhance the company’s disclosures consistent with the Item 12 proposal and will seek to issue these disclosures in the near future.

“These enhancements will include energy demand sensitivities, implications of 2 degree C scenarios, and positioning for a lower-carbon future.”

Several big oil and gas operators, including BP plc, Royal Dutch Shell plc and Total SA, as well as Houston-based ConocoPhillips, already have endorsed the 2 C target.

Pressured by shareholders in 2014, ExxonMobil is publishing annual carbon asset risk reports describing how it assesses the risks of stranded assets from climate change. The report is published on its website, offering investors transparency into how it is planning for a future "where market forces and climate regulation make at least some portion of its carbon reserves 'unburnable.'"

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who spearheaded the shareholder proposal, called ExxonMobil's reversal a "win for shareholders...Exxon's decision demonstrates that investors have the power to hold corporations accountable and to compel them to address our very real climate-related concerns.”

The voluntary international climate change accord reached in December 2015, aka the Paris agreement, asks countries to limit global average temperature rise to below 2 degrees C. The Trump administration signaled earlier this year it plans to withdraw from the accord in 2022, which would make it the only major economy on earth to reject it.

However, private interests and foreign governments are pressing on. To celebrate the accord’s two-year anniversary, a “One Planet” summit this week led by French President Emmanuel Macron has led to several major announcements, including an agreement by near 240 companies to disclose their risks from climate change.

The World Bank also has joined lending giants including JPMorgan Chase in announcing it would end financing projects involving oil and gas exploration beginning in 2019.

Macron in an interview with CBS News, said the U.S. withdrawal from the climate accord “created a huge momentum to me to create a counter-momentum.”

The One Planet summit is working on practical ways to meet climate change goals without U.S. participation. By focusing on privately financed initiatives, the summit is working to encourage investors to fill an estimated $210 billion annual gap needed to be meet the Paris agreement’s goals.

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is vowing he will persuade companies to take action on climate change, said in Paris on Tuesday that the “America’s Pledge” initiative announced last June after Trump said he would withdraw from the climate accord is on track to meet its initial goals.

“Our coalition now represents more than half of the U.S. economy,” Bloomberg said. “It continues to grow,” noting that many major U.S. cities and states have joined forces with businesses. “Together we are going to meet the goal that this country set in Paris by reducing emissions by at least 26%. There isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us.”

There are business incentives too, he added.  “Clean energy is now cheaper than coal, energy efficiency saves money and improves your bottom line, and talented people want to work for companies that care about the planet.”

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