May 30, 2019
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Standard Bank shareholders on Thursday voted down a resolution that would have required the South African lender to report climate risk in its activities, although they passed another forcing it to disclose its coal financing policies.
It was the first time a South African company had tabled a resolution on climate-related issues, according to shareholder group Just Share, which supported the motion.
But the bank, Africa’s largest by assets and a major player in the oil and gas sector, advised investors not to back the proposal and just over 60% of shareholders voted against it at the lender’s annual general meeting in Johannesburg.
Just Share executive director, Tracey Davies, said the motion had received far more support than expected.
“It’s fair to say South African shareholders are pretty conservative and not very vocal on climate issues,” she said. “It shows there is a lot more awareness and understanding of climate risk in our investment industry than might be apparent from what’s publicly available.”
A number of big institutional investors backed the proposal, she said, such as Old Mutual Investment Management. However, some of the lender’s most significant shareholders, including its third-largest, fund manager Allan Gray, did not.
The resolution was put forward as climate activism increases. Recent high-profile protests from environmental groups have paralyzed parts of major cities like London, while a wave of school strikes saw children and teenagers accuse adults of failing to tackle the issues.
South Africa is one of Africa’s worst polluters, home to a number of big, listed firms in carbon-intensive industries like mining. Like many of its peers on the continent, it is still reliant on fossil fuels to meet its energy needs.
Earlier this week it passed a long-delayed carbon tax law, but campaigners say it doesn’t go far enough.
The resolution would not have required Standard Bank to change any of its policies, but the bank would have had to report on how its lending, financing and investment activities exposed it, and in turn its shareholders, to climate risks.
Shareholders did however pass a resolution, with 55% of the vote, to force Standard Bank to disclose its policies on coal financing.
While the lender has published some information on the parameters guiding its financing of coal projects, Davies said this did not amount to a comprehensive, board-approved policy and also did not cover its approach to coal mining.
A number of big international banks have released comprehensive information on their coal financing policies, but it is still unusual among South African lenders.
(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)