Shell’s scope 3 emissions face scrutiny in fractious AGM
Shell's 2023 AGM drew focus on the oil giant's energy transition strategy but shareholders rejected a resolution demanding clearer commitments for Scope 3 emission targets.
A call for shareholders to vote against the renewal of Shell’s board was rejected by more than 90% of investors, while a resolution in favour of clear Scope 3 emission targets filed by NGO Follow This received only 20.2% of investor backing, according to initial proxy voting results.
In advance of the event, some institutional investors, including Dutch pension fund PGGM, the Church of England Pension Board, Nest, Border to Coast and Brunel Pensions Partnership announced their intention to vote against the reappointment of Shell’s chair and directors to express their dissatisfaction with the company’s energy transition strategy.
A resolution filed by Follow This asked Shell to align its Scope 3 emissions with the 1.5% target set out in the Paris Agreement, but the resolution was opposed by Shell’s board and by proxy voting services Glass Lewis and ISS.
Despite tight security provisions, the AGM was interrupted by a group of Extinction Rebellion protestors, who accounted for about a quarter of all attendees physically present. While protestors delayed the opening of the AGM by about an hour, some 61% of votes were placed through proxy voting services in this time.
Shell’s chair Andrew Mackenzie opened the meeting by announcing that the company had returned about $26 billion to shareholders through buybacks and dividends and has made “significant investments towards solar, wind power, biofuels and hydrogen” a claim that was challenged by protestors in the room. In 2022, Shell said it has invested $4.3 billion in low-carbon energy solutions and $12.5 billion in oil and gas products.
Shell also said that it had reduced its carbon emissions by 30% since 2016 and that it was about halfway towards meeting its 2030 target for reducing carbon emissions. Investors who backed the Follow This resolution pointed out that this measure excludes Scope 3 emissions, which account for the majority of Shell’s overall emissions.
Last year, Shell emitted just over 700 million tonnes of CO2, 99 million of which were Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions while 601 million tonnes of CO2 were Scope 3 emissions which currently do not fall under Shell’s carbon reduction targets, according to MSCI research.
Mackenzie said that the board disagreed with the Follow This resolution because it asked for “absolute Scope 3 targets, which would weaken our business.”
Laura Hillis, director for climate and environment at the Church of England Pension board said that the pension fund had backed Shell’s board in 2021 but that this had been on the condition that Shell ramped up its ambitions for its climate transition plan.
She now described Shell’s energy transition strategy as “deeply concerning” highlighting that Shell’s capital expenditure on renewables was far lower than that of its peers and that she was alarmed by increased spending on oil and gas extraction.
Meanwhile Christian Schubart, head of ESG at Danish PFA Asset Management also challenged Shell’s leadership on the lack of transparency in setting its interim targets.
Speaking on the floor, Follow This founder Mark van Baal asked the Shell board: “Do you seriously think that you can be Paris aligned without large-scale commitments to cut back Scope 3 emissions?”
His stance was being challenged by Shell’s chair Andrew Mackenzie, who described Shell as “strongly Paris aligned” to which van Baal retorted: “You know this is not true, you are not only misleading your shareholders, you are insulting their intelligence.”
Following the announcement of the vote, Hillis expressed her disappointment with Shell's response: "When they put out their climate transition plan in 2021, we felt that it had a lot of merit but we urged them to put in place interim targets. In effect, their emissions targets haven't increased, in effect there are a lot of signs that they have decreased and that is why we voted against Shell's energy transition plan" she said. "For an oil and gas company like Shell, Scope 3 emissions are essential", she added.
For the Church of England Pensions board, the option of divestment remains on the cards: "We have an escalation framework that really explains how we will set out expectations over time, if the company continues to fail in showing progress, we will consider divestment and excluding them from our portfolio", Hillis said.