Australia's top emitters and their bankers are facing pressure from a growing group of investors who want more climate ambition.
Large investors, including the ClimateAction100+ organisation to which some of the Australia's largest superannuation funds belong, have been lending their weight to climate resolutions during annual general meeting season.
The growing influence of institutional investors was shown in the 43.71 per cent support for a shareholder resolution on Friday on stronger emissions targets for explosives and fertiliser giant Incitec Pivot, according to the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR).
"Investors must turn their attention to the demand side for fossil fuels, just as much as the supply side, if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees," ACCR director Dan Gocher said.
Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and CGI Glass Lewis advised investors to back the ACCR resolution that called for Incitec Pivot to set emissions reduction targets aligned with the Paris Agreement and goals set at the recent Glasgow climate conference.
"Its short and medium term emissions reduction targets of 5 per cent by 2025 and 25 per cent by 2030 (on 2020 levels) are unambitious, and leaves the heavy lifting to the later part of the decade," Mr Gocher said.
Another activist group, Market Forces, has called out Australia's biggest banks on financing that some say is in breach of net zero emissions commitments.
ANZ's exposure to oil and gas of around $17.6 billion rivals the total disclosed fossil fuel financing of Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac at $21 billion, according to Market Forces.
ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott expects the bank to finance the energy transition, and work with companies who can deliver change, rather than stop lending to fossil fuel companies.
"ANZ's policy is clear: we will only lend to energy companies that have a target-driven, publicly disclosed plan to reduce their emissions in line with the Paris goals," he told the AGM.
"That is a far better result for the community than simply washing our hands, walking away and pushing these companies into the hands of less responsible lenders."
NAB chair Philip Chronican says the commercial opportunity to finance the transition is significant.
The bank is winding up financing of new thermal coal mining projects, aiming to have zero exposure by 2030.
"We will support an orderly transition of Australia's energy system," he said.
"Since 2003 we have lent $11.5 billion to fund more than 150 global renewable energy projects, more than any other Australian bank."
A further $50 billion in investment in renewables is needed to get to 100 per cent green power generation, which would only address a third of the country's carbon emissions, Mr Chronican said, citing Business Council of Australia figures.
Westpac was happy to be judged on its actions, as the bank with the greatest exposure to greenfield renewables and the least to fossil fuel extraction, chair John MacFarlane said.
"Apart from our own progress, we are working to be the bank that helps customers in their transition, supporting Australia to reach net zero by 2050."
Incitec Pivot, the largest industrial user of gas on the east coast of Australia, recently set a target of net zero emissions by 2050 from carbon capture storage and is working with Fortescue Future Industries on the possible use of green ammonia.
Research by Ceres released by ClimateAction100+ tipped record levels of support globally from the largest asset managers for climate-related shareholder proposals.
"As we head into the 2022 proxy season, this growing support from the largest asset managers for climate-related shareholder proposals is likely to play out even more broadly," Ceres said.
Despite the level of support, the latest ACCR resolution on Incitec Pivot's climate stance was not put to the AGM for a vote because it did not achieve the majority required under company rules.
Australian Associated Press
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