Our 2023 AGM season has come to a close, providing the opportunity to reflect on progress. We focus on the net zero commitments of Canadian financial and oil and gas companies and filed seven resolutions this year. Here are the results in brief:
|Resolution||Voted For||Abstained||Total – Broke with Management||Notes|
|BMO transition plan disclosure||–||–||–||Withdrew for agreement|
|Cenovus lobbying||99%||–||–||Management recommended for|
|Enbridge scope 3||24.5%||4%||28.5%|
|Suncor low carbon CapEx||–||–||17.3%||Suncor did not break out results|
|Sun Life climate risk disclosure||13.7%||0.6%||14.3%|
|TD transition plan disclosure||23.5%||5.4%||28.9%|
While these numbers may seem low when compared to political elections, in the context of shareholder proposals they are quite high. Anything over 20% is considered something that management needs to take seriously and address. Once data is available we will provide more information on who voted for what and why.
Overall, this represents a strong investor focus on climate-related disclosure in publicly-traded Canadian companies. This may be partly due to increasing regulation, and partly due to investors themselves now having net zero commitments, which requires the companies in which they are invested to be net zero, transitioning towards net zero, or enabling the net zero transition. As a result, we are seeing a trend of investors staffing up their engagement teams and relying less on the conservative proxy advisors that don’t prioritize climate action. Whether those investors are truly breaking out from ineffective “tea and biscuits” engagement and instead holding companies accountable via escalation remains to be seen.
Behind the numbers is the substance of net zero work by these companies. Let’s briefly explore where they stand, by sector.
Our shareholder proposals at BMO and TD this year reflected where all of the big banks are at – they made progress last year on measurement and disclosure of financed emissions, and now we are waiting for meaningful transition plans. Unfortunately, we are yet to see much on this front, with a distinct lack of specificity by the banks on how they are going to reduce their financed emissions.
Meanwhile, the annual Banking on Climate Chaos report found that some of our big banks are going in the wrong direction. RBC took the mantle of largest financier of fossil fuels in the world in 2022, while TD had the biggest overall jump in fossil fuel financing of any bank, adding $9.5 billion to its 2021 tally.
We were pleased to have reached an agreement with BMO to withdraw based on some new disclosure – or a commitment to future disclosure – but this was a close call. BMO is slightly ahead of its Canadian peers, but still behind the UK/EU peers it should be comparing itself to if it is serious about reaching net zero.
The big banks get most of the attention, but Canada is also home to Sun Life and Manulife, two huge life & health insurers that are also two of the country’s largest fossil fuel investors. This is a particular contradiction for these companies given the negative health impacts of fossil fuel burning, both directly via air pollution and indirectly via growing climate impacts.
These companies have net zero commitments, but are in the early stages of disclosing their financed emissions (which we estimated to be the size of all of Ontario and Quebec’s emissions combined – each!) and setting interim targets. Manulife appears to be moving somewhat more quickly, including developing a coal policy.
Like the banks, Sun Life appears to shy away from specificity in terms of how it’s going to address climate change, which is why we filed a proposal with them. It has the added challenge of being more decentralized with relatively independent subsidiaries, which calls into question its ability to integrate climate action across the company at the pace required.
We are hoping to see more movement from Sun Life and Manulife in 2023.
Oil and Gas Companies
Despite claims to the contrary, Canada’s oil and gas companies are moving in the opposite direction to net zero at a time when they need to be taking action to respond to the energy transition that is changing their competitive landscape.
For example, our resolution at Suncor asked for more detail about its earmarking of 10% of its capital expenditures for “low carbon” activities, even as it sold off its renewables and doubled down on the oil sands by buying Total’s stake in Fort Hills.
Or, our resolution at Enbridge asked for proper disclosure of its material scope 3 emissions instead of its current cherry-picking approach that obscures the fact that it is investing heavily in expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, negating many times over any climate gains it might have from investments in low carbon projects and assets.
Meanwhile, the industry continues to systematically obstruct climate action in Canada in what InfluenceMap terms “net-zero greenwashing.” Enbridge also participates in front groups in the U.S. pushing for pipelines and against climate action while also donating to politicians like Senator Joe Manchin who is doing the same. We were pleased that Cenovus’ management recommended voting in favour of the lobbying resolution we filed there and look forward to following up with the company to make it meaningful.
Overall, scratch the surface of these companies’ net zero commitments and they quickly fall apart. Instead, they are investing millions in a PR campaign led by the Pathways Alliance to convince Canadians – and more importantly Bay Street – that carbon capture is the silver bullet for the Canadian oil industry. It’s not. Setting aside the immense engineering and cost risks, carbon capture does not address the bulk of the emissions which occur at the tailpipe.
The net zero energy transition is not about making slightly better fossil fuels; it is primarily about replacing fossil fuels. Once oil demand peaks and is in decline, the cost of production will be the main factor in determining which companies will survive, and this does not favour oil sands producers. Unless investors start grappling with this risk and insist on real transition by these companies, they will lose a lot of money.