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NEWS from the Office of the New York State Comptroller
Contact: Press Office 518-474-4015

Investors Ask SEC to Reject Exxon's Attempt to Silence Questions on Climate Change

Oil Company Would Block Shareholder Proposal Asking How Climate Change Policies Will Impact Its Business

February 24, 2016

Investors, led by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and the Church of England’s investment fund, the Church Commissioners, this week asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to reject ExxonMobil’s plan to block a shareholder proposal for information on how the company will be impacted by public policies seeking to rein in climate change.

DiNapoli, as trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the Church Commissioners and other ExxonMobil investors filed a shareholder proposal in December, asking the company to publish an annual assessment of the impact on its business of public climate change policies, including how lower demand for its products and carbon restrictions would impact its oil and gas reserves and resources. The company’s response was to notify the SEC of its intent to block the proposal from a shareholder vote at its annual meeting in the spring. Investors responded to ExxonMobil’s move in a letter to the SEC on Monday.

“ExxonMobil risks becoming an outlier among its peers who have publicly supported reining in climate change,” DiNapoli said. “As investors, we need to know how ExxonMobil’s bottom line will be impacted by the global effort to reduce emissions and what the company plans to do about it.”

Edward Mason, Head of Responsible Investment for the Church Commissioners, said: “We are extremely disappointed that even after the Paris climate change agreement ExxonMobil has contested the relevance of the resolution we have co-filed. We believe that our desire to see reporting on how ExxonMobil’s business would fare were warming to be restricted to 2 degrees Celsius is widely shared in the institutional investor community. It is a perfectly reasonable ask. Without this information investors cannot properly assess the resilience of ExxonMobil’s business strategy.” 

“The Paris agreement has fundamentally altered the way nations and businesses think about the financial risks of climate change, yet Exxon is standing still as the world changes around it,” said Shanna Cleveland, manager of the Carbon Asset Risk Initiative at the nonprofit sustainability advocacy group, Ceres. “The window is closing for Exxon to adapt for the energy transition that is now underway.”

The recent Paris UN Climate Conference concluded with a commitment from world leaders to hold the rise in global temperatures well below two degrees Celsius and to seek to restrict warming to 1.5 degrees, which would significantly lower carbon emissions and the demand for fossil fuels worldwide.

The shareholder proposal was filed by DiNapoli, the Church Commissioners, and co-filers the Vermont State Employees' Retirement System, the University of California Retirement Plan and The Brainerd Foundation, who collectively represent nearly $300 billion in assets under management and more than $1 billion in ExxonMobil shares.

ExxonMobil’s stated position is that it is highly unlikely global governments will impose restrictions required for a low carbon scenario and that it is “confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become stranded.”

In contrast, ExxonMobil’s peers, including Shell and BP, have agreed to publicly describe how they will be affected by lower greenhouse gas emissions after the Church Commissioners and other investors filed similar shareholder proposals with those companies. More recently, 10 global oil and gas companies, including Shell and BP, announced their support for lowering GHG emissions to help meet the 2 degree goal.

The full text of the investors’ letter to the SEC in response to Exxon is here

About the Common Retirement Fund

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third largest public pension plan in the United States. To protect the retirement security of its more than one million members, retirees and beneficiaries, the Fund manages a diversified portfolio of public and private equities, fixed income, real estate and alternative instruments. It has consistently been ranked as one of the best managed and best funded plans in the nation. The Fund’s fiscal year ends March 31, 2016.

About the Church Commissioners for England

The Church of England’s investment fund, the Church Commissioners for England, manages a fund of some £6.7 billion, held mainly in a diversified portfolio including equities, real estate and alternative investment strategies. The Commissioners' work supports the Church of England as a Christian presence in every community.

The annual objectives of the Church Commissioners include:

  • A return on investments of RPI +5%
  • Supporting poorer dioceses with ministry costs
  • Providing funds to support mission activities
  • Paying for bishops' ministry and some cathedral costs
  • Administering the legal framework for pastoral reorganization and settling the future of closed church buildings
  • Paying clergy pensions for service prior to 1998
  • Running the national payroll for serving and retired clergy

A copy of the latest Church Commissioners annual report can be found at: