Exxon faces activist pressure as world governments agree to slash emissions further

Hedge fund Engine No 1 found that Exxon captured less than 1% of its emissions

Exxon's shareholders include the world's largest asset manager BlackRock and Vanguard, who have become increasingly vocal about climate risks. AFP 
Exxon's shareholders include the world's largest asset manager BlackRock and Vanguard, who have become increasingly vocal about climate risks. AFP 

ExxonMobil faces an "existential business risk" due to its large portfolio of fossil fuels and slow progress in energy transition, according to activist hedge fund Engine No 1. The censure and push to overhaul the major’s board follow the US’ pledge to lower its emissions by 50 per cent by 2030.

“ExxonMobil still has no credible plan to protect value in an energy transition,” the fund said in an 80-page investor presentation obtained by the Financial Times.

It called for an overhaul of Exxon's board in order to make the Western world’s largest oil explorer follow the global agenda on fossil fuel emissions.

The activist investor warned that Exxon faced “value destruction” due to its “refusal to accept that fossil fuel demand may decline”.

Exxon Mobil's efforts at increasing carbon capture and producing biofuels have "delivered more advertising than results”, said Chris James, who established the hedge fund last year.

Engine No 1, which holds a $50m stake in Exxon, found that the company captured less than 1 per cent of its emissions. The company's total emissions, including the products it sells, will continue to rise by 2025.

“Arguing that reducing emissions intensity ... while ExxonMobil continues to pursue production growth and thus increases overall emissions, puts it on a ‘Paris consistent’ path, fails the basic test of logic,” according to the document seen by the FT.

Exxon's shareholders include the world's largest asset manager BlackRock and Vanguard, who have become increasingly vocal about climate risks. Both investors have not publicly commented on Exxon's business.

The US oil major dismissed Engine No 1's concern calling it a "vague plan" that aims to undermine its future.

Exxon said it would continue investing in "low-cost, high-return" barrels to safeguard its returns to investors.

While rivals such as BP have begun a pivot to cleaner energy, Exxon the has staked its future on large oil projects in the US shale patch, offshore oilfields in Guyana and Brazil and refining and petrochemicals.

Oil majors in the US, the world's biggest producer of oil and gas, are facing increasing scrutiny as President Joe Biden’s administration continue to push for a transition to cleaner sources of energy in a bid to lower emissions. It has frozen new exploration activities on federal lands and has brought the US back to the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit emissions to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, preferably about 1.5°C.

The US also plans to lower its carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 from its 2005 levels.

In March, the US Securities and Exchange Commission rebuffed attempts by ConocoPhillips and Occidental Petroleum to dismiss shareholder motions on emissions targets, a move that will force them to detail plans to cut their 'Scope 3' emissions.

The companies sought to strike out the motions, alleging that such proposals would allow shareholders to "micromanage" their operations but the federal body dismissed their requests.

Published: April 26, 2021 10:12 AM

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