Behind Glencore Plc’s decision to limit coal investment is a little-known, but powerful group of investors.
Glencore Plc made its recent decision to limit coal investment after facing pressure from a shareholder network known as Climate Action 100+, which has the backing of more than 300 investors managing $32 trillion. The group was founded a little over a year ago, but has already extracted reforms from oil heavyweights, like BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
While skeptics may regard Glencore’s changes as minimal (the company still stands to reap billions from its huge coal business), the announcement still shows the influence that investors hold at being able to push even the most reticent companies to respond to their demands.
Business forces are now aligning on climate change in ways that will reshape energy and mining for years to come, even with US President Donald Trump steadfast in his commitment to expanding the coal industry. Other mining companies have exited the coal business or pledged not to invest, and oil producers have vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Action 100+ says its goal is to drive change at the companies contributing the most greenhouse gas emissions. Its roster includes the biggest names in the industry, including California Public Employees’ Retirement System, Allianz SE and HSBC Global Asset Management.
The group pushes companies to take action to reduce greenhouses gases and disclose more information about how the business will be affected by a hotter climate.
Changes targeted by Climate Action 100+ include: Royal Dutch Shell Plc will set carbon-output targets for the following three or five years as it works to halve its “net carbon footprint” by 2050. The goals will be tied to executive pay. BP Plc is supporting a shareholder resolution to prove its business plans align with Paris climate targets. It intends to provide clarity around emissions at its annual meeting in May.
Steelmakers are also coming under scrutiny. Climate Action 100+ recently published a report with their expectations for large steel companies, saying it wants the industry to lower emissions in line with the Paris climate accord.
While investors are cheering the move, it’s still an open question whether the companies are doing enough on climate change. Coal remains Glencore’s chief money maker among its industrial assets. In recent years, as other companies retreated from coal, Glencore ramped up the business by picking up mines in Australia.
In contrast, Anglo American Plc has cut its thermal coal output in half in the last three years, with CEO Mark Cutifani saying that he expects the footprint will continue to fall over time. Rio Tinto Group has sold all its coal mines to Glencore.
The fact that companies are yielding to investor demands shows that times are changing. In the past, big oil and mining companies were able to fight off pressure from environmental activists who demanded sweeping business changes.