An activist investor failed in its bid to get Enbridge Inc. ENB-T to strengthen its climate promises on Wednesday, but will continue its push to hold Canadian energy companies and banks to account for their net-zero goals.
It was the latest attempt by activists to get shareholders to help press large corporations to improve their climate action. Earlier this year, for example, a group called Médac submitted proposals to Canada’s seven largest banks urging shareholders to back regular advisory votes on environmental policy and targets.
Wednesday’s proposal, tabled at the energy company’s annual general meeting, requested that Enbridge strengthen its decarbonization commitments by the end of the year and make those goals “consistent with a science-based, net-zero target.”
The proposal was tabled by DI Foundation – a small, B.C.-based charity that holds a handful of Enbridge shares.
The foundation was represented by Investors for Paris Compliance, a non-profit that wants to use shareholder pressure to improve accountability around Canadian public companies’ net-zero plans.
For now, it’s targeting the energy sector and banks. But corporate engagement director Duncan Kenyon told The Globe and Mail the team plans to expand to other parts of the Canadian economy. And it wants eventually to purchase stocks to get the ear of companies itself.
For now, it’s playing the long game by talking with shareholders, and getting its name in front of investors.
Mr. Kenyon acknowledged that Investors for Paris Compliance doesn’t have billions of dollars at stake in its relationship with the companies it’s targeting, unlike some shareholders, who hesitate to give up their opportunity for one-on-one conversations with a chief executive officer by “throwing a proposal on the table that really challenges their business model.”
“That being said, some of those same investors – while they may not want to be the front for this proposal – are very supportive of the proposal,” he said.
About a quarter of them voted in support of the proposal on Wednesday – a result Mr. Kenyon called “encouraging.”
That was even though the board urged shareholders to vote no, arguing in a March management circular that the net-zero framework for midstream oil and gas is still evolving, so “it would be imprudent” for Enbridge commit to future decarbonization guidelines until more work is done and can be assessed alongside the company’s current goals.
Adopting the proposal would amount to “immediate, radical change” that would destroy shareholder value, the board said, adding that Enbridge’s current net-zero strategies “and a deliberate and prudent approach to the energy transition is the best course of action.”
Mr. Kenyon acknowledged that Enbridge has net-zero goals, but said spending to meet those promises comprises only a small fraction of the company’s capital expenditures.
“It’s very consistent with the entire energy sector,” he said. “They don’t want to admit yet that the market for their product will need to be in sharp decline for us to not cook the planet.”
Enbridge spokesperson Jesse Semko told The Globe in an e-mail after the AGM that the company has engaged with various groups to help develop a framework for the midstream sector. Once that’s done, he said, Enbridge “will fully evaluate it and assess whether our current targets need amending.”
Mr. Semko added that the company evaluates all capital expenditures “in the context of the energy transition to ensure they align with our emission-reduction targets.”
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