ABP meets delegation of climate scientists in wake of Follow This abstention at Shell AGM

Beneficiary group included environmental scientists and finance experts

ABP, the €408bn pension fund for Dutch academics and civil servants, has met with beneficiaries to explain its voting on the Follow This climate change resolution at Royal Dutch Shell earlier this year.

The beneficiary group included environmental scientists and finance experts concerned about the giant fund’s abstention on the proposal, which called on the oil major to set concrete Paris-aligned emission reduction targets.

Corien Wortmann-Kool, chair of 2.9m-member fund and a former Member of the European Parliament (MEP), met 13 academics on 19 June to discuss “Shell’s climate plans and ABP’s sustainable and responsible investment policy”.

The meeting was in response to an open letter in March in Dutch daily NRC – signed by over 60 academics – which urged ABP to “openly endorse” the Follow This motion at Shell’s AGM on May 22.

Andy van den Dobblesteen, Professor of Climate Design & Sustainability at Delft University of Technology, is a leading signatory to the letter who attended the meeting.

He told RI, “there had been contact with ABP before the resolution but the fund was reluctant to talk about it. But after the letter was published they invited us to meet…we wanted to meet before Shell’s shareholder meeting but that was not possible”.

Describing the meeting as “open-minded”, van den Dobblesteen said he and his colleagues argued ABP was “going too slow” in pushing companies in a sustainable direction.

He hoped the meeting would “put more pressure on ABP to drive change at the companies they invest in” and encourage it to change its portfolio “a little to give more opportunity for companies that are more sustainable”.

The academics proposed the creation of a green option for beneficiaries but this was rejected by ABP, van den Dobblesteen said, adding it preferred to make its main fund more sustainable rather than create different options.At Shell’s AGM, a spokesperson for APG, the Dutch manager of ABP’s assets and responsible for the fund’s voting, said that it refused to support the resolution because the setting of “quantitative 2050 targets now…opens the risk of pushing one company only to make investments regardless of ability and regardless of market- and policy circumstances”.

The Follow This resolution, which was co-filed with UK campaign group ShareAction, received 5.5% backing (down from a similar resolution which got 6% the year before).

In November 2017, Shell outlined its ambition to halve the carbon footprint of its energy products by 2050, following the 2017 iteration of the Follow This resolution. The move was widely applauded at the time.

But scepticism about Shell’s commitments came up at the meeting, according to van den Dobblesteen, who said: “There was no promise whatsoever, no action that Shell would take itself apart from trying to convince governments that they should act… I tried to convince ABP that this is this actually the case, that Shell has actually come up with a defence of their future direction based on promises that have to be arranged by others.”

A spokesperson for ABP told RI that “dialogue with our participants and civil society organisations on how we invest is a key part of our investment policy”.

ABP added that in 2017, through APG, it voted in favour of 35 climate resolutions out of potential 43. The only resolution it voted against that year was that year’s Follow This resolution.

ABP also said that further collaboration with the academics is possible but that nothing has been put in place yet.

Seeking beneficiaries’ views on investment decisions is a hot topic right now. It figured in both the EU’s Action Plan on sustainable finance and was also a recommendation of the UK Government’s Environmental Audit Committee.