Australian electric generator AGL reviews trade body links after investor engagement

Australia’s largest electricity generator AGL has become the latest company in the country to commit to reviewing and ramping up disclosure of its trade association memberships, following engagement by the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), the Australian shareholder advocacy group.

The company, however, will still face two ESG resolutions at its annual meeting; one filed by the ACCR calling on it to disclose the cost of mitigating the health risks posed by two of its coal-fired power stations located in New South Wales and Victoria.

The other, filed by Australian non-profit MarketForces, calls on the company to set scope one and two emissions targets in line with the Paris climate agreement in annual reports from 2020.

AGL has demonstrated that it is prepared to walk away from memberships”

Last week, Sydney-based AGL reached an agreement on its trade associations with the ACCR, which has made anti-climate lobbying a major focus in recent years and was behind the landmark 46% vote at Australian energy giant Origin last year.

AGL has committed to disclose “the industry associations of which it is a member, fees which it pays, and outline where relevant policies of these bodies are inconsistent with AGL’s own policies”.

Next year the company will additionally “consider both published policies [of industry associations] as well as public advocacy positions as part of our ongoing monitoring process”.

“We commend AGL’s recent commitment to review its associations’ advocacy on
policy issues”, said Dan Gocher, the ACCR’s Director of Climate and Environment.“AGL has demonstrated that it is prepared to walk away from memberships which do not serve its interests, having left the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) on the basis of their adverse climate lobbying.”

Anglo-Australian mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto have also made commitments in recent years on reviewing trade bodies that are undermining progressive action on climate.

ACCR’s resolution on AGL’s coal activities requests that by 2020 the board disclose its assessment of the “capital and operating expenditure” needed to address air pollution “sufficient to mitigate public health risks”.

Failure to address these risks, it adds, “exposes” the company to “as yet undetermined but potentially serious legal, regulatory and reputational risks”.

Air pollution from New South Wales’ five coal-fired power stations is estimated to lead to 279 early deaths every year.

“Recent research has demonstrated that air pollution from Australia’s coal-fired power stations is causing tragic and shocking human health impacts. AGL has a responsibility to mitigate these impacts”, Gocher said.

“The shareholders who have supported this resolution have asked AGL to disclose
how it plans to uphold its social licence, including a financial assessment of the costs of doing so.”

AGL’s annual meeting is on the 19 September and its Board will issue its recommendation on the resolutions next month.

Staying in Australia, VicSuper and First State Super have announced that their merger discussions have progressed. The deal would create one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds, estimated to be worth more than A$120bn (€75.5bn) in assets.

Both super funds have representatives on the recently announced technical working groups of the private-sector led Australian Sustainable Finance Initiative.