Green activists to challenge ExxonMobil on Kyoto stance

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The Independent Online

Exxonmobil, the world's biggest oil company, is facing a new showdown with environmental activists at its forthcoming annual general meeting.

Exxonmobil, the world's biggest oil company, is facing a new showdown with environmental activists at its forthcoming annual general meeting.

The company stands alone among the oil majors in actively and publicly questioning the mainstream science on global warming, opposing the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and insisting that only fossil fuels can meet the world's future energy needs.

Three resolutions for the Exxon annual shareholder meeting in May have been lodged by a coalition of religious organisations, Trillium Asset Management and the state of Maine. Exxon tried to have the motions barred but lost a legal battle to have them struck out by the Securities & Exchange Commission.

The activists - who received the backing of more than 20 per cent of Exxon shareholders through a similar campaign in 2003 - have made their move in the year the Kyoto Protocol finally came into effect.

The resolutions will first ask Exxon to publish a report within six months "on how ExxonMobil will meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets of those countries in which it operates which have adopted the Kyoto Protocol". A second motion demands that the company "make available to shareholders the research data relevant to ExxonMobil's stated position on the science of climate change". The third resolution asks that the oil giant appoints an expert on environmental science as a non-executive director.

Exxon spends just $10m a year on research aimed at developing alternatives to fossil fuels. This compares, for instance, with more than $100m a year spent at BP, while Shell will invest $1bn between 2003 and the end of this year on developing renewable energy sources.

Michael Crosby, a priest who speaks on behalf of a group of 275 religious organisations that are institutional investors, said: "Exxon has put all its eggs in the fossil fuel basket. That represents a fossilised way of thinking, literally and figuratively."

A spokesman for Exxon insisted "we do take climate change seriously". But he said the company had decided to focus on making the consumption of fossil fuels more efficient and less harmful. A 2002 company publication, ExxonMobil Perspectives, stated: "There continue to be substantial and well-documented gaps in climate science. These gaps limit scientists' ability to assess the extent of any human influence on climate."

Kyoto puts legal obligations on signatory countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, principally carbon dioxide, which are blamed by most scientists for a potentially disastrous warming of the earth's atmosphere. The US pulled out of Kyoto in 2001.

In a speech in London in February this year, Lee Raymond, Exxon's chairman and chief executive, said: "While the political commitment to the Kyoto process and targets is quite strong in Europe, attaining those targets is going to be very challenging, given the energy supply and demand realities. That is why a reality check may be needed regarding the attainment of those targets."

It is estimated that Exxon derives 37 per cent of its revenues from five countries that are Kyoto signatories: Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK.

The company spokesman said: "ExxonMobil is fully prepared and competitively positioned to comply with all laws and regulations in countries where it operates."