COP28: ‘Having a climate summit in an oil-and-gas country can jeopardise the outcomes’

COP28: ‘Having a climate summit in an oil-and-gas country can jeopardise the outcomes’

COP28: ‘Having a climate summit in an oil-and-gas country can jeopardise the outcomes’. CIVICUS discusses the hopes and roles of civil society at the forthcoming COP28 climate summit with Harlee Richards, strategist at Follow This.

Follow This is a Dutch organization representing over 10,000 green shareholders in oil and gas companies. It supports investor stewardship by putting forward resolutions that ask companies to set targets consistent with the Paris Agreement for all emissions. Its objective is to compel companies to put their brains and billions behind the energy transition.

What environmental issues does Follow This work on, and what’s your role?

Starting in the late months of 2021, I have primarily focused on fundraising, organizational development, and strategy. This includes conducting workshops to assess our impact and align our operations effectively. I have helped the organization visualize the landscape of our operations to maximize our impact and am currently focusing on partnership work, connecting with other organizations to find opportunities to collaborate in the fight against the climate crisis.

Follow This works to address climate change with a focus on mitigation. We advocate for more ambitious climate action, particularly the reduction of emissions by oil and gas companies. As green shareholders, we hold stakes in these companies and put forward resolutions to push for more aggressive climate targets to reduce their emissions.

Additionally, we work to engage and empower investors to vote in favor of our resolutions. The financial system is flawed: investors have a lot of money, and this gives them a lot of power, but they don’t necessarily leverage that power for the good of the planet. We present financial arguments that highlight how their support for our or similar initiatives aligns with their best interests, including their fiduciary duties and risk management practices. Our ultimate goal is to support investors in using their shareholder power to compel oil and gas companies to drive down emissions because it is in the best long-term financial interest of their entire portfolio and the company.

What kind of challenges do you face?

Our job isn’t easy. Influencing investors and oil and gas companies presents significant challenges. Over the years, we’ve developed an approach that involves financial arguments as to why investors should be supporting resolutions of the kind we push for, which we found to work much better than social arguments. When engaging investors, we tend to mention fiduciary duties and the risks their portfolios are subject to as the climate crisis exacerbates. We highlight the potential loss of return when the climate crisis devastates the global economy as well as the loss of clientele, because when people become aware their pension funds invest in oil and gas, they usually want some questions answered. These financial arguments help us achieve our goals.

Although we have developed compelling financial arguments to support our resolutions, some investors think they must choose between short-term returns and climate action. This is a false dilemma. Investors’ focus on returns, coupled with misleading information on how companies perform in the current climate, results in fluctuating support for our resolutions. This fluctuation was witnessed in 2022 and 2023, when high portfolio returns thanks to high oil and gas profits seemed to have swayed the votes of formerly supportive investors.

However, we continue to overcome these obstacles by educating investors about the risks posed by the climate crisis and encouraging them to consider the ethical and medium- and long-term financial implications of their investments. We strive to make our impact more visible by collaborating with the media, amplifying research from partner organizations, and showcasing the actions and behaviors of oil and gas companies and their investors to encourage greater awareness and urgency for climate action.

How do you connect with the global climate movement?

Follow This collaborates with various organizations and networks that share similar goals. We work closely with groups that engage investors or companies using similar tools. Our collaborations include joint webinars, statements, and letters, ensuring a united front in the fight against climate change. We also have partners with whom we work in the background to lend our support and expertise. I think our resolutions are quite powerful for the overall movement. For example, in a case brought against Shell, our resolution was used as evidence that the company discouraged investors from being proactive on climate change. We have also contributed to the advancement of the transition and emissions reductions at Shell over the years of our engagement.

Moreover, we actively contribute to the global climate movement by sharing our resolutions and research with the media. This helps raise awareness about the actions of oil and gas companies and amplify the work of our fellow activists and scientists. By building connections with media personnel, we ensure that our message reaches a broader audience and influences public opinion and policymaking.



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