BP Should Not Shirk Climate Responsibility at Annual General Meeting

April 13, 2016 | 6:40 pm
Kathy Mulvey
Accountability Campaign Director, Climate & Energy Program

Tomorrow, BP holds its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in London. BP’s is the first in a series of fossil fuel company annual shareholders’ meetings between now and the end of May. Annual shareholders’ meetings provide a once-a-year opportunity to pressure corporate decision makers on their actions, get them on the record, and even change their companies’ business practices. As I noted in an earlier blog, climate deception is on the agenda at many of these meetings this spring.

BP’s AGM takes place following startling new revelations by InsideClimate News that raise questions about what the major oil companies knew about climate change, when, and what they did with the information.

BP is represented on the board of the American Petroleum Institute, which commissioned this 1968 report.

BP is represented on the board of the American Petroleum Institute, which commissioned a newly uncovered 1968 report that warned of potentially catastrophic global climate risks from continued burning of fossil fuels.

The way corporations engage their shareholders may differ from country to country, but climate change is global in scope—and so are investor concerns about it. The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, created to harmonize corporate disclosures of climate risk, launched its Phase I report a few weeks ago. While highlighting progress made by governments, stock exchanges, and non-governmental organizations, this review found that climate-related disclosure remains fragmented and incomplete.

I can’t be in London tomorrow, but if I had two minutes on the floor of BP’s AGM, I’d have two main messages for the company’s board and top management.

1) Make a clean break from climate deception

Last year BP took the positive step of severing ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that spreads disinformation about climate change among policy makers in order to obstruct action.

However, BP remains a member of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the top lobbyist for the oil industry in the western U.S. and the oldest petroleum trade association in the country. WSPA serves as a key organizer of opposition to California’s groundbreaking climate policies, including the state’s low-carbon fuel standard and its AB32 plan that requires a sharp reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.

UCS’s Climate Deception Dossiers exposed a leaked 2014 presentation in which WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd explained the group’s plan to “activate” a “significant number of campaigns and coalitions.” In all, Reheis-Boyd showcased 16 fake-grassroots groups and campaigns orchestrated and funded by WSPA and its allies—including groups with names such as Fed Up at the Pump, the California Drivers Alliance, Californians Against Higher Taxes, and Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy.

More recently, WSPA employed deceptive ads on more than one occasion to block the “half the oil” provisions of a major clean energy bill enacted by California lawmakers. Read my colleague Adrienne Alvord’s blog revealing WSPA’s California Drivers Alliance as the source of a barrage of grossly misleading ads.

If BP wants to be recognized as a leader on climate, the company should, at a minimum, publicly distance itself from WSPA—and make it explicit that the move is because WSPA’s positions on climate change are inconsistent with its own.

2) Align BP’s business model with a carbon-constrained world

In Paris last December, 195 nations from around the world reached an historic agreement to limit the increase in global temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Leading up to the Paris talks, BP joined with other major oil companies in committing to support the implementation of clear stable policy frameworks consistent with a 2°C goal, including a price on carbon.

Spencer Dale, BP’s group chief economist, even made this candid admission:

But what has changed in recent years is the growing recognition that concerns about carbon emissions and climate change mean that it is increasingly unlikely that the world’s reserves of oil will ever be exhausted.

Existing reserves of fossil fuels – i.e. oil, gas and coal – if used in their entirety would generate somewhere in excess of 2.8 trillion tonnes of CO2, well in excess of the 1 trillion tonnes or so the scientific community consider is consistent with limiting the rise in global mean temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Centigrade. And this takes no account of the new discoveries which are being made all the time or of the vast resources of fossil fuels not yet booked as reserves.

If BP is serious about doing its part to limit global warming to well below 2°C, the company should set a strong, viable, long-term science-based target for reducing emissions resulting from company operations and the use of its products, and develop and disclose a concrete action plan to achieve those reductions.

From across the pond, I will be watching BP’s AGM closely tomorrow for developments in these two areas. Acknowledging its climate risk is just one way BP can help turn the tide away from denial and put the company on solid ground.