Climate resolutions pose a litmus test for investors, including BlackRock and Vanguard
Tomorrow, the first three of six major U.S. bank shareholder resolutions will be voted on at the Annual General Meetings (AGMs) of Citibank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. These banks are the second, third and fourth largest bank financiers of the fossil fuel industry in the world, respectively. The unprecedented resolutions call for the banks to align their business models with the actions that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has concluded are necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C. This includes a call for the banks to implement policies to stop all financing activities for new fossil fuel expansion, which is inconsistent with the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario.
The votes come just three weeks after a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated that existing and planned fossil fuel projects are more than the climate can handle. The report warns investors of stranded fossil fuel assets that will amount to $4 trillion in a world where warming is limited to 2°C, and even more in a world where it is limited to 1.5°C.
Shareholder resolutions filed in previous years at Wall Street banks have called on firms to report their financed emissions and to set long-term climate targets. The resolutions being presented tomorrow go farther, requiring the banks to establish viable plans to actually achieve those long-term targets. Specifically, the resolutions call for banks to adopt policies by the end of this year that ensure that their lending and underwriting no longer contribute to new fossil fuel development.
Ahead of the AGMs, Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of over 200 organizations, launched a campaign to encourage investors to vote yes on the resolutions urging banks to stop funding fossil fuel expansion. Stop the Money Pipeline and its members put public pressure on asset managers and state and municipal pension funds through emails, calls, meetings, and direct actions. The campaign was able to generate public support from major state and municipal pension funds ahead of the votes on Tuesday, including from the New York State Comptroller, Seattle pension system, and New York City Comptroller.
The banks petitioned the SEC to be able to block the resolutions (Citi, JPMC) but the SEC rejected them. Corporate watchdogs note that tomorrow’s shareholder votes do not need to exceed a 50% threshold to be considered successful. According to As You Sow, one of the nation’s leading nonprofit shareholder advocacy organizations, “votes with more than 10% support are difficult for companies to ignore. Resolutions with 20% or more support send a clear message to corporate management that the current company policy is too risky or not beneficial to shareholder interests. Only the least responsive company would ignore one in five of its shareholders.”
Each of the banks voting on shareholder resolutions tomorrow are also targets of boisterous street protests at their branches and headquarters, though the meetings themselves are being held online. On Sunday in Charlotte, a coalition of faith-based and climate activists staged demonstrations at the homes of top BofA executives to implore them to end BofA’s massive financial backing of Formosa Plastics’ giant new petrochemicals complex in the ‘Cancer Alley’ region of Louisiana. In San Francisco climate activists are targeting the headquarters of Wells Fargo and tomorrow, as the votes are being held, hundreds of people will be attending colorful protests in downtown Charlotte and Manhattan at the headquarters of BofA and Citi.
Sharon Lavigne, President of RISE St. James and 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, introduced Trillium’s shareholder resolution on fossil fuels at Bank of America’s AGM tomorrow.
She said, “All we want is peace of mind. Are you able to imagine how we feel under the present threat of Formosa Plastics in our backyards? Formosa will be a death sentence for our community. We’re already landlocked by petrochemical facilities. Meanwhile, there are tremendous unmet needs in St. James Parish including public health and local government infrastructure, modern infrastructure resilient to climate change, transit that will reconnect neighborhoods, funding for solar energy in public and emergency spaces, and protection of cultural and national heritage. We’re asking Bank of America to put people over profits.”
Last year, the IEA released the most comprehensive study yet of what is required for the global economy to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C. One of the IEA’s most important findings is that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply” in order to curtail global warming to 1.5°C.
In the five years after the Paris Agreement was adopted, six US Banks ― JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs ― provided nearly $500 billion in lending and underwriting to the 100 corporations most aggressively expanding fossil fuel operations, including Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, and Gazprom. Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are the world’s four largest providers of lending and underwriting to those same 100 companies.
The resolutions at US banks are also being billed as key litmus tests for BlackRock, Vanguard, and other major shareholders of the banks. In 2021, BlackRock, Vanguard, and hundreds of investors joined the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, which includes a commitment to a “clear escalation and voting policy” in order to align with the 1.5°C target. However, the investment and voting actions of the world’s largest investors have so far fallen far short of those pledges.