New York State pension fund open to divesting Exxon, says Comptroller

New York State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli has not ruled out the possibility of divesting Exxon after being unhappy with the US oil giant’s response to its landmark climate resolution last year.

DiNapoli, who oversees New York State’s $209bn pension fund, told RI that whilst the fund will “continue to engage with [Exxon] … we might reach a point where we have a different opinion about investing in them”.

New York State is leading the engagement efforts with Exxon as part of the Climate Action 100+, the investor initiative targeting the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitting public companies backed by assets in the region of $32tn.

Last year, DiNapoli’s office co-filed a resolution with the Church Commissioners, which manages £8.3bn in assets on behalf of the Church of England, calling on Exxon to report annually on its climate risk, using a 2°C global warming scenario running beyond 2040.

The resolution, which was a repeat of a similar one filed by the duo in 2016, received the support of 68% of shareholders at the oil major’s annual meeting in Texas (31 May 2017), including from giant managers Blackrock and Vanguard.

DiNapoli heralded the vote at the time as “an unprecedented victory for investors in the fight to ensure a smooth transition to a low carbon economy”.

But the optimism soon faded following the publication of Exxon’s climate risk report in February, which was described by DiNapoli’s Office as relying on “optimistic assumptions” and offering “too many generalisations and too few specifics on how it plans to participate in a low carbon economy”.

DiNapoli, who sent a series of follow-up questions to Exxon in April about the projections it used in its underwhelming climate report, withdrew another 2°C scenario resolution at the oil giant ahead of its 2018 annual meeting, following enhanced commitment.

In a letter to DiNapoli’s office (December 2017) Exxon committed to “enhance” its disclosures, including on “energy demand sensitivities, implications of two degree Celsius scenarios, and positioning for a lower-carbon future”.

DiNapoli told RI that he doesn’t agree with critics who say engagement with the oil and gas sector is “meaningless”, but added that “again, that doesn’t mean that down the road we might not take a different path, especially with companies that resist our calls”.

When asked if the fund used set timeframes and deadlines in their engagements with companies such as Exxon, RI was told that there is “no hard and fast deadline”.

Elsewhere, Exxon has reportedly announced it will donate $1m to a campaign promoting the creation of a US carbon tax.