Anti-coal lobby happy with Standard Bank vote on disclosing carbon emissions

Supporters of a Standard Bank resolution which says the bank should disclose its climate change risk say they are pleased with the 38% vote they received at the financial institution’s annual general meeting on Thursday.

Some 58% of shareholders voted against a resolution to get the bank to declare the carbon risk it faces from financing projects which contribute to global warming.

The resolution was proposed by the Raith Foundation, a non-profit social justice organisation,shareholder activist Theo Botha, and Just Share, a socially responsible investment non-profit organisation.

But a second resolution, which requires the bank to adopt and publicly disclose a policy on lending to coal-fired power projects and coal mining operations, was passed with the support of 55.09% of shareholders.

Before the vote, meeting chair Tim Gcabashe said that the bank supports the disclosure of climate risk, but it needs more time before it can agree to the resolution.

“From a governance point of view while the board is not against the substance of the resolution and its very much aware of how [important] it is to reduce greenhouse emissions, we are strong defenders of open inclusive and evidence led public debate. Policy debate should happen at times and places were all relevant stakeholders can be adequate represented and their views can be taken into account,” Gcabashe said.

Tracey Davies, Just Share’s executive director, supported the second resolution and said that the 38% voted in favour of the second resolution which was unprecedented for an undertaking of this nature, especially because it is the first time that a South African company has tabled it.

“We are extremely encouraged by the levels of support for both parts of the resolution. Considering that this was the first time shareholders in SA have had to vote on such a resolution, and also that the board recommended that they vote against it, the results are significant. They show that there is a broad section of our investment community which understands the importance of acting on climate risk,” Davies explained.

Nico Czypionka, former Standard Bank chief economist-turned-shareholder, told the meeting that the proposed resolution is a form of persuasion by “lobbyists” aimed at forcing the bank to follow their demands.

“We have elected this board and we have confidence in them and it’s for that reason that I do not believe that outsider parties , and single issue groups or lobbies should be able to bully banks and other institutions to report on specific issues,” Czypionka said.

“It’s only hidden on the demand of transparency, but ultimately, its something else, it is to try to enforce companies, banks and others to comply with their dogma on certain issues. Companies and banks are required to take a balanced approach to all the problems that confront them.”

Czypionka said that for every decision, there are consequences which need to be fully scrutinised.

“Companies in Africa are producers of fossil fuel and they have requirements for employment and we are contradictory if we want the closure of mines – I believe it will be wrong to succumb to the pressures of this kind,” he concluded.

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Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian
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