4 May 2017
Rio Tinto has been taken to task over its slow response to investors’ climate concerns.
At the company’s London annual general meeting last year, shareholders passed a resolution calling on the company to disclose their strategy for dealing with the risks of climate change. But Rio is yet to produce the information, prompting questions from concerned shareholders at today’s Sydney AGM.
Chairman Jan Du Plessis failed to offer any reasons for the delay, nor any indication as to when the information will be release.
A shareholder also asked whether the board thought it might be appropriate to incentivise greenhouse gas emissions reduction, given the significant risks posed by climate change. Du Plessis told investors that it would be difficult to design concrete measures to do this, and therefore put it in the ‘too hard’ basket.
Concern over Rio Tinto’s Bougainville operations – where the ‘unprincipled, shameful and evil’ company dodged a billion-dollar clean up bill – was also raised by investors. When a shareholder asked whether Rio Tinto ever conducted an assessment of clean-up costs, this is how they responded:
Last year Bulga resident Robert McLaughlin attended the Rio Tinto annual general meeting to confront the company over their attempts to expand the Mt Thorley Warkworth mine, which would significantly impact the historic town of Bulga. Despite losing the right to expand the mine twice in court, Rio Tinto persisted and got legislation changed in their favour. Since then Rio Tinto has been in negotiation with Chinese operator Yancoal to sell their Hunter Valley coal assets. These negotiations rely on, among other things, Rio Tinto gaining access to a particular road: the Wallaby scrub road.
If Rio Tinto don’t get this road, they won’t be able to sell their coal mine to Yancoal. They have therefore changed the conditions of consent, which is a contract they have with the Government, to include access to this particular road. Bulga residents say that Rio Tinto has acted illegally and are planning to take the company to the high court.
Robert’s question to the Rio board was ‘Why is Rio Tinto not complying with the (previously established) conditions of consent and is this common practice for Rio Tinto?’
Robert followed up to say that ‘residents living near open cut mines, like us in Bulga, have our health impacted by particulate pollution well above safe levels. Asthma levels are over four times the national average. My question to the board is who is culpable in this case? Is it Rio Tinto, or does it include the NSW Government, who like Rio Tinto, has been made aware of these dangerous pollution levels but allows them to persist?’
CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques stated incorrectly that the Planning and Assessment Commission that had decided in favour of the mine expansion had also given permission for the sale and closure of the road. Jacques went on to say, again incorrectly, that all pollution levels are within allowable limits.
Despite Rio Tinto’s efforts to persuade investors that the company is doing the best by community members and the environment, it is clear from their actions that this is not the case. The board failed to answer questions on climate, side-stepped Robert’s question community health impacts, and dodged their clean-up responsibilities in Bougainville, leaving a billion-dollar mess as a ‘gift’.
Is your super invested in Rio Tinto?
Head to superswitch.org.au to find out and take action to make your retirement savings fossil fuel free!