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LNG in firing line of climate advocacy

Energy firms are coming under increasing pressure to take radical steps to reduce emissions

Investor groups in Australia are stepping up pressure on listed energy companies to better disclose their exposure to climate-related risk in line with the industry-led taskforce on climate-related financial disclosures initiative.

Fossil fuel companies are also being lobbied to take a more visible and proactive stance on cutting global emissions, alongside efforts to transition to low carbon technologies.

Just as Shell has faced sustained pressure from Dutch shareholder action group Follow This, so Australian banks and pension funds investors are being challenged to become more actively involved in calling fossil fuel companies to account over their exposure to and role in climate change-related risks.

A consortium of environmental groups including Greenpeace and WWF have filed a shareholder resolution against Norway's Equinor over its plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight. In March 2019, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) attempted to file two shareholder resolutions at the AGMs of Woodside and Santos, trying to force them to improve their environmental performance.

One called on each company to disclose its strategy to reduce emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement. A second asked them to review their membership of industry lobby groups such as the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) which the ACCR alleges "have sought to obstruct climate policy for more than a decade".

Similar steps have been taken against BHP, Rio Tinto and Origin Energy, efforts which last year led BHP to review its membership of the climate-sceptic Minerals Council of Australia (MCA).

While the shareholder resolutions against Shell, Woodside and Santos did not succeed-Shell's was withdrawn to give them more time to comply and the Woodside and Santos resolutions fell due to legal technicalities-they show an acceleration in efforts by investor groups to pressure energy companies to play a more accountable and active role in the climate change debate.

Viable alternatives to gas

Alongside high-profile climate-related cases being brought against ExxonMobil and others, the fossil fuel sector is being forced to move past the argument that their product is lifting people out of poverty.

"Investors have bought the gas-as-a-transition-fuel argument for several years. There are now viable alternatives, but companies are still seeing gas use growing until 2040 at least," says Dan Gocher, director of climate and environment at the ACCR.

Investor groups say LNG producers are also not accounting for the impact their activities have across the value chain and the contribution this makes to Australian, and ultimately global, emissions. In Western Australia (WA), home to the bulk of LNG facilities, direct emissions from gas extraction and processing have contributed to a rise in Australia's emissions , putting it further behind in efforts to reduce CO2 by 2030, as required under the Paris accord.

Recent surprise efforts by WA's environmental protection authority (EPA) to impose immediate, strict emission caps were shot down within days by the state government, following intense lobbying by the gas industry.

The EPA's efforts are indicative of the view that time is running out for meaningful change, which makes the requirement for more radical action more likely. As a result, climate advocates such as the Institutional Investor Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), Market Forces and Client Earth have redoubled their efforts.

IIGCC, which represents institutional investors with total funds under management of over A$2tn ($1.4tn), believes that, after decades of delay, business and government in Australia must work together to implement a practical response to significantly reducing emissions across the economy.

"Implementing a more credible 45pc reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050 would be a positive signal to investors in Australia and around the world," says Emma Herd, CEO of IGCC.

In the short term, this is likely to mean more joint efforts by environmental, investor and shareholder action groups to intensify their climate advocacy.

"I think you will start to see more co-ordination globally, there is acknowledgement that this is a global issue, we cannot fix it by ourselves and we will be far more effective if we approach companies across jurisdictions," says the ACCR's Gocher.

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