* BP, ConocoPhillips get more investor support over climate
* Upcoming AGMs from ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron in focus
* Some investors more supportive of company climate plans
BOSTON/LONDON, May 13 (Reuters) - Big Oil has enjoyed an
easier ride at shareholder meetings so far this year compared
with last year's punishing run of hostile investor votes tied to
climate concerns, as those issues have been eclipsed by tight
Major oil companies have handily defeated several
high-profile climate resolutions brought by shareholder
activists in the current run of annual general meetings.
Investors' more supportive stance coincides with a surge in
energy prices in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and
follows the efforts of many companies to speed up plans to
transition to a low-carbon economy after years of pressure.
"It might be that Big Oil has convinced some investors the
energy crisis overrides the climate crisis," said Dutch
environmental activist Mark van Baal of Follow This, an
organization that filed a number of the resolutions defeated at
recent AGMs, referring to the impact of the conflict in Ukraine.
Last year, companies faced an upsurge of shareholder support
for resolutions and votes on environmental and social issues.
ExxonMobil Corp, for example, had three new directors
voted on to the Texas-based company's board, marking a landmark
win for activist investor Engine No. 1.
But that was then.
Only 15% of shareholder votes cast at BP's annual
meeting on May 12 backed a call for the British oil company to
accelerate its energy transition, compared with the 21% in favor
in a similar vote last year.
Also, 17% of investors backed a call for emissions-reduction
targets at Occidental Petroleum Corp at its May 6
shareholder meeting, while 16% supported a measure on April 27
asking Marathon Petroleum Corp to report on how its
transition plans affected workers and communities.
At ConocoPhillips, 58% of votes cast last year
backed a push to set emissions-reduction targets. On May 10 only
42% supported a similar measure that also asked the
Houston-based company to set overall emissions reductions in
line with the Paris climate goals, according to a securities
filing. A ConocoPhillips spokesman noted that because
"abstentions" were counted as votes against, 39% of total votes
counted were for the measure this year.
Shareholder meetings at Exxon, Chevron and Shell
are set for later this month.
Analysts said investors' shift away from environmental
priorities partly reflects concerns as the war in Ukraine, which
Russia describes as a "special military operation," tightens
Geopolitics has "provided a powerful plausible excuse to
procrastinate instead of committing to vital climate action,"
said Abhijay Sood, financial sector research manager for
ShareAction, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on
Caitlin McSherry, director of investment stewardship at
asset manager Neuberger Berman, said investors could also be
responding to the additional details many companies have issued
on their transition plans.
"That gave, maybe, some investors more comfort" to vote with
management, McSherry said. Neuberger declined to discuss most of
its votes in detail.
Occidental had argued that it already set appropriate
targets. A representative of the Houston-based company said the
outcome of its AGM "reflects the confidence Oxy's shareholders
have in the company's net-zero strategy as well as the
disciplined, rigorous targets we have established."
A ConocoPhillips spokesperson said the vote at its AGM
supported its view that the shareholder proposal for emissions
was "not the right solution for an E&P (exploration and
production) company with a transition-oriented portfolio and
A representative of Ohio-based Marathon declined to comment
on the vote at its AGM.
BP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A likely marketwide driver has been top asset manager
BlackRock Inc, which this week said it would support
fewer such resolutions on topics like climate change because
many were too prescriptive.
The change of mood was also mirrored across a series of
similar votes at leading Wall Street banks in April.
Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas programs at
Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit that seeks to build investor
support for climate proposals, said the low tallies at AGMs
could reflect how activists have already convinced many
companies to take steps such as disclosure of emissions, an
easier change than making plans to cut them.
"We're finding an equilibrium here in terms of what
investors are willing to support. It's a healthy process," Logan
Some environmental resolutions at shareholder meetings still
get strong support. At Costco Wholesale Corp's AGM on
Jan. 20, 70% of votes cast backed a call for the big-box
retailer to set emissions-reduction targets. A representative
for Costco, which is based in Washington state, declined to
In the United States, at least, politics may have also
played a role in voting at Big Oil, said Heidi Welsh, executive
director of the Sustainable Investments Institute, which tracks
Republicans in Texas, Florida and other U.S. states have
campaigned against corporations they say have gone too far in
imposing environmental or social policies.
"It might be the case that the big (asset) managers have
their eye on who's going to be elected in the fall and they
don't want to be in the crosshairs" of Republicans likely to
win, Welsh said.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston and by Simon Jessop in
London; Additional reporting by Ron Bousso in London, Sabrina
Valle in Houston, and Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Paul
Simao and Jonathan Oatis)