Exxon Mobil shareholders on Wednesday approved a non-binding ballot measure for the oil giant to begin issuing reports that disclose how the company will transition to a low-carbon energy future.
The vote is being hailed by environmental and sustainability groups, which are berating President Trump's reported plans to exit the Paris climate change agreement. Trump's decision is expected in the next several days.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was Exxon Mobil's CEO before taking the Cabinet post, supports remaining a party to the Paris agreement. But it appears Trump is siding with opponents of the climate deal in his Cabinet, notably Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
A tally showed that Exxon's non-binding climate proposal was approved by 62.3 percent of shareholders. A similar measure voted on last year gained only 38 percent of shareholders' support.
Industry sustainability proponents immediately pointed out that the Exxon vote follows a string of investor votes on climate change at other large oil and drilling companies. Many climate scientists blame the greenhouse gases emitted from burning fossil fuels such as crude oil for driving manmade climate change.
"This is an unprecedented victory at Exxon for investors in the fight to ensure a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy," said Thomas DiNapoli with the New York State comptroller, who was one of the asset managers who introduced the ballot measure. "Climate change is a risk to the core business of ExxonMobil, and the burden is now on the company to show that it is responsive to shareholder concerns."
The group Ceres, a coalition representing environmental groups and foundations, said the proposal "was hotly contested" at Wednesday's shareholder meeting, "as Exxon's management fought to sway investors right up to the last moment."
Ceres pointed out that the Exxon vote follows a similar approval by Occidental Petroleum. It also pointed out that shareholders of large utilities are going in the same direction, underscoring a recent measure passed by the large for-profit utility PPL Corp. The climate votes "represent a historic shift in investor support for climate risk disclosure," Ceres said in response to the Exxon vote.
"As recently as 2015, these resolutions averaged 23 percent support," the group said. "Now the very largest investors in the world are challenging the companies representing some of their biggest holdings on this issue."
Greenpeace hailed the vote as proof that the age of oil is nearly over, according to Naomi Ages, senior energy and climate campaigner with the group.
"Exxon's shareholders are finally acknowledging what the company still refuses to — that the age of oil of nearly over," Ages said. "People and communities in this country deserve and want lives powered by renewable energy and we cannot let Exxon and the oil industry's greed get in the way. The vote from shareholders this week that forces Exxon to face the music of its own record is not perfection, but it is certainly progress."