Despite company CEO Ben van Beurden’s fine rhetoric on carbon pricing and innovation, nearly 94% of Royal Dutch Shell shareholders voted this week to reject a proposal to set production targets in line with the targets in the Paris agreement.
Reuters describes the decision as “a setback for climate activists who are increasing pressure on global oil companies, including U.S. firms ExxonMobil and Chevron, to become more ambitious in helping combat climate change.”
During the AGM in The Hague, shareholders “spent hours questioning Shell’s board members, who said that while the company supported the Paris agreement, setting company targets was ‘not in the best interest of the company,’” The Independent reports.
Van Beurden maintained Shell is making progress on emission reductions, but said action by Europe’s largest company by revenue would depend on broader coordination and government support.
““Even though we are a large company, we are a small company in relation to the overall energy system. We are not going to have a quicker transition,” he said. If Shell had adopted the resolution, he warned during the shareholders’ debate, “we will see our competitors benefit, and it may actually have an adverse effect on greenhouse gas emissions.”
While van Beurden committed to greater shareholder engagement, he claimed that “the resolution is an unreasonable ask.”
The shareholder behind the mini-uprising, Follow This Activist founder Mark van Baal, said the resolution gave management full flexibility to decide how to implement the emissions reduction. “You are truly the most innovative company in your sector,” he said. “Apparently, we have more trust in you than you have in yourself.”
Engagement Manager Matt Crossman of Rathbone Greenbank Investments commented that “no one wants Shell to put itself at a competitive disadvantage.” But “given the scale of the issue facing society, we urge oil and gas companies to do more to show how they aim to lower emissions associated with the end use of their products.” Shareholder climate resolutions are certain to gain momentum over time, he warned, and “until Shell’s board can provide a response that reassures its shareholders, it should be prepared for a bumpy ride.”