Campaign group rallies shareholders to support anti-climate lobbying proposal at BHP

ACCR says miner is making positive noises on climate change while funding industry bodies delaying the transition

Investors are to call on mining giant BHP to stop funding industry associations allegedly blocking meaningful climate action at AGMs this year, the shareholder advocacy group that is filing the resolution has confirmed.

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) said it had rallied over 100 shareholders to support its anti-climate lobbying proposal, which it expects to file in the coming weeks.

The news comes alongside revelations – branded “concerning” by investors – regarding a forthcoming A$4.5m (€2.7m) coal advertising campaign from industry group Coal21, which BHP funds along with 25 other coal miners. The campaign is reportedly intended to “generate national pride in coal” in Australia.

On Twitter, the ACCR called out for more BHP shareholders that “think it’s in the company’s interests to stop funding coal propaganda and [climate change] denialism”.

The call comes a month after company CEO Andrew Mackenzie said global overheating was “indisputable”, calling for urgent action such as carbon pricing in response.

BHP says its $400m Climate Investment Program aims to accelerate its efforts to reduce emissions from its operations and across the lifecycle of its products.

ACCR last filed a resolution on BHP in 2017 where it received around 10% support, reportedly from the likes of CalPERS, HSBC and the Church of England.

BHP responded to the scrutiny by conducting a review into “material differences” in its “climate and energy policy” with that of the 21 industry associations where it has membership.

In 2018, BHP decided to formally withdraw its membership from the World Coal Association because of the review, but remains a member of a string of other industry bodies.

Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director at ACCR, said: “BHP is making positive noises regarding climate change while funding industry associations delaying the transition.”

The industry associations in question include the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) and the Business Council of Australia, which successfully campaigned to axe the carbon price in 2013 and lobbied government to oppose the Kyoto protocol – despite having ensured Australia’s targets under the agreement permitted an increase in emissions.London and Sydney listed BHP’s history with the Minerals Council has been tumultuous in recent years, with policy differences prompting the miner to regularly review its membership of the industry body.

Also under scrutiny are the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), Queensland Resources Council (QRC), and New South Wales Minerals Council (NSWMC).

O’Brien had previously said on Twitter: “It’s 2019. The Arctic is on fire. The Greenland ice sheet is melting. BHP is funding millions of dollars of coal advocacy and advertising, and we’re patting them on the back for a CEO’s speech and the mere suggestion they might review their membership of powerful denier.”

Adam Matthews, Director of Ethics and Engagement for the Church of England Pensions Board, said: “The reports that there continues to be a relationship between the MCA and Coal21 are concerning. If true, it is equally concerning that shareholders’ funds may be being used for what looks like a straightforward exercise in promoting coal above other energy sources at a time we need to be doing the complete opposite. We are waiting for an update from BHP about their industry association review and their assessment of their membership of bodies such as the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA).”

The resolution will be filed in the run-up to the Sydney AGM, but previous resolutions at BHP have also been put to the London shareholders – something shareholders in Rio Tinto’s UK-listed entity were not permitted to do for a similar resolution in 2017.

Last year 18% voted in favour of a resolution on lobbying filed at Rio Tinto by ACCR, while another at Origin Energy received 46% support.

Australian law requires 100 shareholders holding 5% to file a shareholder resolution.

Meanwhile, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) has published a review of ESG Reporting by companies on the ASX200 benchmark index. It found that 22 people died in workplace fatalities in 2018, yet there is no requirement to report this information to the market.

Staying in Australia, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has said it would phase out its exposure to thermal coal or power plants by 2030 in a new environmental and social policy.