A recent SEC ruling on a shareholder proposal at Exxon Mobil seems a historic moment in investors' efforts to get a handle on the costs and risks of climate change. It's not every day that a lawyer gets the feeling he just participated in history being made. This was one of those moments for me, as outside counsel to the New York State Common Retirement Fund (New York State employees pension).
Short version: ExxonMobil has essentially been betting that economic pressures would preclude restrictions on oil and gas demand in public policy. In essence, the recent SEC ruling allows shareholders to vote on a proposal that would ask the company to disclose the costs and risks it will face if that bet fails.
“RESOLVED: Shareholders request that by 2017 ExxonMobil publish an annual assessment of long term portfolio impacts of public climate change policies, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information. The assessment can be incorporated into existing reporting and should analyze the impacts on ExxonMobil's oil and gas reserves and resources under a scenario in which reduction in demand results from carbon restrictions and related rules or commitments adopted by governments consistent with the globally agreed upon 2 degree target. The reporting should assess the resilience of the company's full portfolio of reserves and resources through 2040 and beyond and address the financial risks associated with such a scenario.
* Thanks to Bill Baue for helpful feedback and critical thinking on this blog and issue.