ExxonMobil’s chairman and chief executive, Darren Woods, sought on Wednesday to win over rebellious shareholders challenging the company over its position on climate change, saying he shared their aim of managing the risks from global warming.
At Exxon’s annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, climate-related shareholder proposals, including a call for an independent chairman, were rejected by investors speaking for most of its shares but won substantial minority support.
Mr Woods told investors that the company agreed with the principles underlying those proposals, and disagreed only on “the best means of achieving these objectives”.
The proposal calling for the company to split the roles of chairman and chief executive, which had been turned into a litmus test of support for the board’s position on climate risk, won support from investors speaking for about 40.8 per cent of the shares, a small increase from the 38.7 per cent backing last year.
New York State and the Church of England had tried to persuade other shareholders to support the plan, after Exxon had denied investors a chance to vote on their earlier proposal that it should set targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Thomas DiNapoli, New York State’s comptroller, who has responsibility for its pension funds, said: “Exxon would ignore this level of support for an independent board chair at its own risk.”
And Edward Mason, head of responsible investment for the Church Commissioners for England, described the large minority vote for an independent chairman as “a warning shot to management”, which reflected “profound dissatisfaction” among investors.
The failure to persuade a majority showed the largest US institutional investors still needed to “step up their expectations of Exxon on climate change”, he said.
Large investors sometimes talked very convincingly about climate risk, he said, “but it’s important for them to use their shareholdings in these companies to do more to steer them in the right direction”.
Other climate-related proposals, including a call for a report on the risks of storms, floods, and rising sea levels affecting Exxon’s chemicals plants, were also rejected by the majority of shares voted.
At the meeting, Mr Woods spoke at length about the steps Exxon was taking to address the threat of climate change, including support for research into new technologies that could eventually help to curb greenhouse gas emissions, including biofuels derived from algae and the capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
“The world needs additional solutions, and that’s where we think we can add significant value,” he said. “We are doing our part to address society’s dual challenge” of providing affordable energy while reducing environmental impacts.