Climate activists protest outside the Shell annual general meeting at the ExCel center in London, U.K., on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. The protests come as Shell faces a shareholder vote on a measure to increase its climate ambitions following a year of record profits at the company.
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LONDON — Shell Chief Executive Wael Sawan and the firm’s board of directors on Tuesday were shielded by security staff as climate protesters unsuccessfully tried to storm the stage at the British oil giant’s annual shareholders meeting.
The acrimonious meeting, which was held at the ExCeL London exhibition center, was repeatedly disrupted by protesters before they were removed by security staff.
Proceedings were scheduled to get underway at 10 a.m. London time (5 a.m. ET) but waves of disruption delayed the meeting for well over an hour.
Protesters could be heard singing to the tune of “Hit the Road Jack,” “Go to hell, Shell, and don’t you come back no more” as Sawan, Chairman Andrew Mackenzie and other directors looked on.
It comes as climate-focused investors seek to ramp up pressure on the energy major after an extraordinary run of record profits.
Follow This, a small Dutch activist investor and campaign group with stakes in several Big Oil companies, tabled a resolution at Shell’s shareholders meeting.
Climate activists protest outside the Shell Plc annual general meeting (AGM) at the ExCel center in London, UK, on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.
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Climate Resolution 26 calls on Shell to align its climate targets with the landmark Paris Agreement and commit to absolute carbon emissions cuts by 2030. These cuts, Follow This says, should include emissions generated by customers’ use of their oil and gas, known as Scope 3 emissions.
It echoes a 2021 ruling by a Dutch court that Shell should reduce its global carbon emissions by 45% by the end of the decade, which the company has appealed.
For the first time, Dutch pension managers MN and PGGM — both Shell shareholders — have endorsed the resolution. The institutional investors lead engagement with Shell on behalf of the world’s largest climate-focused investor group Climate Action 100+, which represents $68 trillion in assets.
It comes as investors increasingly see a warming planet as a growing risk to their portfolios. The burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal, is the chief driver of the climate crisis.
Meanwhile, the Church of England Pensions Board, Britain’s Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, the U.K.’s National Employment Savings Trust, and shareholder advisor PIRC have said they will either vote against or recommend a vote against the reappointment of Shell’s Mackenzie.
Adam Matthews, chief responsible investment officer at the Church of England Pensions Board, reportedly said earlier this month that it had “lost confidence in the direction of the company.”
Shell, which is aiming to become a net-zero emissions business by 2050, has recommended shareholders vote against the motion tabled by Follow This. The company described Climate Resolution 26 as “unclear, generic and would create confusion as to Board and shareholder accountabilities.”
“We strongly disagree with the Follow This resolution and with those organisations which have recommended supporting it, or voting against Board members. There must be an emphasis on changing the use of energy as much as its supply, and this is reflected in our approach,” a spokesperson for Shell said in a statement.
“We will continue to invest in producing the energy the world needs today and for the foreseeable future. All of our investments have to provide a rate of return that our investors demand,” they added.
Proxy advisors Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services have both recommended that their clients vote against Resolution 26.
Follow This said it represents nearly 10,000 Shell shareholders, although the majority hold only a couple of shares.
It is unlikely that those planning to vote in favor of the resolution will trigger a broader shareholder revolt or succeed in ousting board members, but Follow This says it hopes investors take the opportunity to compel the company to align their 2030 emissions reduction targets with the Paris accord.
At BP‘s annual general meeting last month, support for a Follow This resolution calling for tougher emission reduction targets by the end of the decade came in at 17%, although this was up from 15% last year.
Big Oil posted bumper profits last year, bolstered by soaring fossil fuel prices and robust demand following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
For its part, Shell reported its highest-ever annual profit of nearly $40 billion for 2022. That comfortably surpassed the $28.4 billion in 2008 which Shell said was its previous annual record and was more than double the firm’s full-year 2021 profit of $19.29 billion.
Earlier this month, Shell posted adjusted earnings of $9.6 billion for the first three months of 2023.
The record profits were seen from within the industry as something of a vindication. Oil and gas giants came under immense pressure from shareholders and activists to invest in clean energy as oil demand cratered in the peak of 2020 Covid lockdowns.
The push toward green reform lost momentum last year, however, alarming investors and campaigners as the world’s leading climate scientists warned of “a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.”
After ultimately failing with several climate resolutions in 2022, Follow This’ Mark van Baal told CNBC earlier this year that it was clear from discussions with oil majors that they were determined to fend off activist and shareholder pressure and continue with their core oil and gas businesses.