ESG Essentials: Exxon takes investors to court and new US Climate Envoy

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Shareholders vs. Supergiant: Exxon takes investors to court over climate resolution

Investors have withdrawn a proposed climate resolution at ExxonMobil after the oil giant sued them. The resolution urged Exxon to set more ambitious climate targets and was dropped in response to the lawsuit.

The withdrawn proposal called on Exxon to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including Scope 3, beyond its current plans. Exxon took the unusual step of suing the investors, arguing that the proposal breached certain guidelines. 

Despite the withdrawal of the resolution, Exxon is still continuing the legal case, claiming that there are still important issues for the court to resolve. 

This move by Exxon raises concerns about shareholder activism ahead of AGM season as companies are resorting to legal battles instead of allowing votes on ESG matters, putting both shareholder freedom and corporate accountability at risk.

Carbon on the cheap

The price of UK carbon emissions permits hit an all-time low last Monday, sparking concerns about the weakening incentive for cleaner energy. Carbon prices in the UK have dropped 43% in a year, reaching the lowest point of £31.48 per tonne of carbon since the trading scheme began in 2021.

The decline is attributed to factors such as a mild winter, reduced demand and an oversupply of the permits. This raises concerns about how efficient the scheme is, particularly as it’s considered the UK’s primary decarbonisation tool, as low prices send conflicting signals about the UK’s commitment to net-zero goals.

Despite these short-term concerns, some analysts anticipate a rebound in carbon prices later this decade as the emissions scheme tightens.

New US Climate Envoy announced

US President Joe Biden named John Podesta the country’s top climate diplomat, succeeding John Kerry as the new representative on climate. Environmental groups have welcomed this new appointment as he is seen as ‘uniquely qualified’ for the role. 

Podesta is already a key figure in climate advisory, notably his work on implementing the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocates funds towards clean energy production and climate change mitigation. He has a big task ahead of him – oil and gas production in the US hit a record high in 2023, and 2024 could be the hottest year on record-  to name just a few of the challenges he will face. 

It will be interesting to see how Podesta fairs with the upcoming US election, with some activists fearing it will detract focus from important climate affairs, such as pressing ahead with last year’s COP28 agreement to transition away from fossil fuels.

Clean energy soars in China

Clean energy was the main driver of economic growth in China last year, a new analysis from Carbon Brief and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air found.

Solar power, electric vehicles and batteries were the main focus of clean energy investments in China in 2023. China’s $890bn investment in clean energy almost rivals the global investment in fossil fuels in 2023.

The graph highlights the surge in clean energy production in recent years. Such a surge in production and investment not only solidifies the clean energy sector’s significance in China’s energy and climate initiatives, but also establishes it as a key element of the country’s broader economic and industrial policy.

The growing importance of clean energy gives China a significant economic stake in the global transition to these technologies. 

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