Home > Why we’re backing a former fossil fuel chief for the BHP board

Why we’re backing a former fossil fuel chief for the BHP board

20 October 2013

Update – result:

Ian Dunlop was unsuccessful in his campaigns to gain a seat on the BHP Billiton Board in both 2013 and 2014 – you can read a summary of the 2014 campaign on Ian’s website.

Read the initial post below:

20 October 2013

This is something we never imagined doing. The guy in the picture to your left is Ian Dunlop. He has worked for decades in the fossil fuel industry, including as an executive with Shell and as Chair of the Australian Coal Association. He’s running for the board of BHP Billiton (BHPB) and yes, we’re backing him. Not only that, but we want you to lobby your superannuation fund to throw their weight behind his bid.

For years, Ian has been a passionate advocate for climate change action, calling for stronger policies from government and leadership from business to limit fossil fuel use. He is nominating for the board of BHP Billiton on the platform that the company needs to move away from fossil fuels far more rapidly than it currently is. According to Ian’s website, “The greatest challenge the world and BHPB faces is climate change caused by fossil fuels. We risk a potential global temperature increase above 4 degrees.  Extreme weather disasters, sea level rise, disease, food and water scarcity, and social conflict would ensue. No business is possible in a world of 4 degrees warming. The Board of BHP Billiton has a fiduciary responsibility to objectively assess these risks and take action to manage them.”

This is smart. He acknowledges the fact that BHPB is playing a role in leading the world towards runaway climate change, but approaches it from a business perspective that BHPB can more easily understand. The company faces huge risks regardless of whether or not the world deals with climate change, and is better off to get out of coal, oil and gas. A world of 4 degrees warming, as Ian refers to, is no place to do business. BHPB have themselves cautiously acknowledged that climate change is an operational risk in their 2012 Annual Report when they said ‘the physical impacts of climate change on our operations are highly uncertain and will be particular to the geographic circumstances. These may include changes in rainfall patterns, water shortages, rising sea levels, increased storm intensities and higher average temperature levels. These effects may adversely impact the productivity and financial performance of our operations.”

Best not make the problem any worse then.

On the other hand, if the world does take the steps needed to reduce emissions to keep global temperatures to less than 2 degrees of warming, BHPB will find itself holding a whole load of companies and assets that are rapidly losing value.

Either way, there is a strong business case for BHPB getting out of fossil fuels sooner rather than later and Ian’s appointment to the board would help BHP Billiton take a whole of company approach to climate change and transition out of fossil fuels much faster. It’s not that big an ask – they already declared in May 2013 that they weren’t interested in new coal projects in Australia.

So here’s how you can help. Most of us have a connection to BHPB, even if we don’t have shares personally. It’s almost certain that your superannuation fund will be using your money to invest in BHPB. Your super fund is accountable to you, so we want you to lobby them to back Ian’s bid for the board.