The pressure is on: More and more investors demand transparency on climate lobbying
A growing number of corporates are facing investor scrutiny when it comes to their climate policy engagement efforts
Nearly eight years ago, the Paris Accords dominated headlines around the world. The herculean task of multilateral cooperation on climate action was the talk of the global business community.
While policymakers focused on the carbon footprint of corporates, it was around this time that the non-profit InfuenceMap took the dialogue one step further.
The organisation behind what is generally seen as the world's largest database of corporate and industry association lobbying of climate policy around the globe focused its attention on a hitherto grey space in climate policy: the interactions between policymakers and companies.
'Carbon Policy Footprint', as InfluenceMap called it.
This year's proxy season
Fast forward to 2023: During this year's proxy season, investor engagement will be about much more than emissions reduction. Climate lobbying or what some refer to as 'scope 4 emissions', will be one such issue.
Later this month, AGMs at aircraft manufacturer Boeing and truck manufacturer Paccar will kick off this season’s shareholder resolutions seeking transparency in climate lobbying.
Climate lobbying refers to a wide range of methods through which corporates exert both direct and indirect influence on climate policy.
Some tend to join industry groups that provide policy inputs, some support think tanks while others prefer direct contact with politicians or regulatory agencies.
In addition, the influence can be both positive and negative: some firms push for tighter rules on emissions, some lobby against it.
Climate policy by its very nature tends to produce winners and losers in the economy, an outcome that lends itself to corporate lobbying. Research from the Grantham Research Institute shows that that this is not new.
For example, in the 1990s, the petroleum industry successfully lobbied to stall the Kyoto Protocol process.
Investors, on their part, have become increasingly concerned about the potential pitfalls of climate lobbying. They even developed a standard, the “global standard on responsible climate lobbying” in the hopes of defining when lobbying helps and when it does not.
In a statement supporting the standard’s launch in 2022 a group of investors wrote that “as investors and investor groups, we recognise that lobbying that seeks to delay, dilute, or block climate action runs counter to our interests. We therefore expect all economic actors to use their influence positively”.
The standard is supported by asset owners AP7 and the Church of England Pensions Board.
This proxy season, two American companies are set to become the first companies to vote on and potentially deliberate upon climate lobbying.
Investors have filed a resolution at Paccar Inc, the truck manufacturer, requesting a report that discloses the company’s climate lobbying both direct and indirect. They pointed out that recent lobbying activity from the company has been of concern:
“Of particular concern is Paccar’s membership in a trade association that has actively sought to impede proposed clean truck regulations”, the resolution reads. This, the investors argue, is not consistent with the company’s pledge to align with the Paris Accords.
In addition, the resolution points out that Paccar’s close competitor Volvo has a “specific commitment to conduct its direct and indirect lobbying”.
Initially, the company had written to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seeking to exclude the resolution from the 2023 AGM on the grounds of “substantial implementation”. Meaning that disclosures relevant to the resolution had already been made and investor concerns have been previously addressed.
In response, the SEC rejected Paccar’s attempts. On 9 March 2023, the SEC concluded, “it appears that the company’s public disclosures do not substantially implement the Proposal”.
The proposal, filed by Calvert Research and Management, will be on the AGM agenda. The Board has recommended that shareholders vote against it.
Another motion worth paying attention to is at plane manufacturer Boeing. The shareholder demand at Boeing is strikingly similar to Paccar: shareholders simply want to know more about how the aircraft manufacturer spends its political capital.
Historically, the company has been politically active. It has a political action committee which funds campaigns as well as a dedicated government operations divisions to oversee its relations with policymakers.
What’s different in the Boeing case is that the proposed resolution targets “grassroots lobbying communication” at all levels of government. The phrase is used by the investors to imply any communication that attempts to alter public perceptions of a given regulation.
Evidence cited in the supporting statement shows that Boeing spent over $192 million in federal lobbying expenditures between 2010 – 2021. In addition to the amounts, it is the lack of transparency that investors are concerned about.
“We are concerned that Boeing’s lack of disclosure presents reputational risk when its lobbying contradicts company public positions”, the proposal reads.
In response, the board has recommended voting against the resolution. The company says it has already discussed its political footprint with shareholders and even launched a website dedicated to lobbying to address transparency concerns.
Data from InfuenceMap suggests that many global corporate behemoths will face questions on their climate lobbying this proxy season. Energy sector giants Glencore, Coterra Energy, CNX Resources, Cenovus and Enbridge are amongst them.
In 2022, 25 shareholder resolutions targeted climate lobbying, up from 17 in 2021. However, the proportion of successful resolutions has been dismal.
This year, the momentum will carry through. Will they be gather more support than before? Only time will tell.