For years, shareholders at Exxon Mobil have been pressuring its executives to consider the business impacts of climate change. At the May 2017 shareholder meeting, this tide of concern reached a historic peak.
62 percent of shareholders are concerned with the company's future in a world with regulated carbon emissions and a corresponding decline in fossil fuel demand. This is a significant increase in shareholder support compared to last year’s vote on a similar proposal which received 38 percent of the vote in favor. Darren Woods, Exxon’s Chairman and CEO, said that “the board members would factor in the evidently strong support from shareholders” reported NPR. Exxon urged its investors to oppose the resolution.
President Trump claims that withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement will bring back jobs to the fossil fuel industry, but businesses like Exxon are being forced to reflect on a future where "oil and natural gas may be replaced by renewable energy from sunlight and wind." The intentions of fossil fuel companies to move forward or create renewable energy goals for their business were not mentioned.
Exxon isn’t the only fossil fuel company acknowledging, in some venues, the need to act on climate change. Chevron, BP, and Shell have all voiced their support of the Paris Accord. Voicing support, of course, isn’t the same as changing one’s business model and practices. Yet if 195 countries have signed the Paris Agreement, and 149 have ratified it into law, then it’s obvious that addressing climate change is a priority for most the world. Pressure for clean energy will only increase.
Additionally, Exxon claims to support a carbon tax that will be reviewed by Congress, although it is unlikely to move forward considering the current political climate. The tax would make fossil fuel usage more expensive, allowing market forces to dictate the move towards low-carbon energy alternatives; however, Exxon could simply pass the cost of the carbon taxes to their consumers.
The shareholders’ vote at Exxon is a victory on many fronts – for corporate disclosure, for the environment, and for the imperative to address the climate crisis and move toward a clean energy future.