22 September 2021
55% of shareholders in Australia’s biggest climate polluter, AGL, today demanded the company set targets to reduce its gargantuan emissions in line with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.
This is the highest ever vote in favour of a climate-related shareholder resolution, against the board’s recommendation, at an Australian company.
The desperate need for these targets is demonstrated by the company’s own ‘Pathways to 2050‘ report, which shows AGL’s current plans for coal power generation are consistent with a scenario that would see a catastrophic 3°C-4.5°C of warming.
Despite the clear science telling us developed countries including Australia must phase out coal power by 2030 in order to align with the Paris climate goals, AGL plans to operate its Bayswater coal power station until 2035, and Loy Yang A until 2048.
Today’s shareholder resolution, coordinated by our friends at ACCR, followed a similar resolution coordinated by Market Forces in 2019, which received 30% of investor support, and an ACCR-led 2020 resolution calling on the company to bring forward its coal plant closure dates to align with a 1.5°C warming scenario.
AGL’s failure to adequately respond to those clear calls from investors meant climate change and demands for increased action were the dominant feature of today’s annual general meeting.
Banks, insurers and investors both in Australia and around the world are increasingly excluding the coal power sector, with 2030 looming as a common cutoff date. AGL Chair Peter Botten admitted the company had already seen shifts in access to finance and insurance, and that this was part of the reason for the proposed split between AGL’s electricity generation business and its retail business.
However shareholders attending today’s AGM online also noted that if the retail business sources electricity from the coal-fired generation, it cannot wipe its hands clean of the pollution and climate impacts of that generation, and any attempt to do so would be rightly seen as greenwashing.
AGL’s share price has fallen more than 70% since the start of 2020, and the company wrote down the value of its coal and gas power plants by over half a billion dollars in February 2021. Given the company’s coal power plans are still consistent with 3°C+ of warming, shareholders asked Mr Botten how much more financial pain could be expected if AGL aligns the value of its coal power stations with a scenario in which warming is limited to 1.5°C as is being demanded by investors.
Among many other climate and environment-related questions, Peter Brooks, Honorary Professor at the Centre for Health Policy at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health asked AGL’s board about the potential legal risks arising from the harm posed by pollution and climate change impacts caused by the AGL’s operations.