Frequently Asked Questions — click to open
Shareholder season is a period between April and June when publicly-traded companies hold their annual shareholder meetings. At these meetings, shareholders vote on shareholder resolutions, which provide direction for how a given company does business. They are often related to social issues, including climate, racial, and economic justice. For example, shareholder resolutions can ask a company to meet emissions reduction goals, disclose information about corporate governance, or increase the diversity of its board.
Shareholder season is when investors tell companies how they should be doing business. It’s a critical moment to force companies to reduce their climate pollution and end the burden of fossil fuels on frontline communities. This year, we’re specifically focusing on the shareholder meetings of major US banks and insurance companies to stop the flow of money to fossil fuel expansion, protect Indigenous rights, stop banks from using funny math to report their emissions, and make sure they have a real plan to end support for fossil fuels.
Similar to last year, one of the key resolutions focuses on fossil fuel expansion. Fossil fuel companies don’t usually have enough money on hand to build out new infrastructure – they need to go to the bank to get a loan. Most major US banks have agreed, in principle, to align their business practices with the emissions reduction timeline laid out in the Paris Agreement. However, they’re still making loans to companies expanding fossil fuel extraction. Similarly, new fossil fuel projects can’t be built without insurance, yet insurance companies are still covering new fossil fuel expansion.
This shareholder season is an opportunity for the climate movement to ensure these corporations are acting in line with their stated objectives, and in line with our values of preventing climate chaos and protecting frontline communities.
Banks: The “big six” banks are Bank of America, CitiBank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. Collectively, these banks have financed fossil fuels to the tune of $1.4 trillion since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016. In addition, our Canadian partners will be focusing on Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). If we can get these banks to stop providing financial support to new fossil fuel projects, we can help draw down global emissions in line with what’s needed to protect our communities from climate chaos.
Insurance companies: Fossil fuel companies can’t build new pipelines, extraction sites, or other infrastructure without insurance. Big insurers, such as AIG, Chubb, and The Hartford know that the climate crisis isn’t a future problem – they’re paying climate damages from fires, floods, and hurricanes now. They’re also trying to deny insurance for people living in climate-vulnerable areas now, while propping up the fossil fuel industry. If we can get insurance companies to end their support of fossil fuel projects, we can stop fossil fuels from destroying our planet and our communities.
Pension funds: Public pensions are some of the biggest investors in the country, and they get a real vote at bank and insurance shareholder meetings. Because public pension funds manage public money, they are often overseen by elected officials. That means that they are accountable to their constituents and to everyday members of the pension fund: the teachers, public employees, and firefighters whose interests they are supposed to represent when casting their votes. Pension funds are charged with protecting the retirement of public sector workers – and that includes preventing climate destruction.
Asset managers: Asset managers pool money from a variety of sources ― high net-worth individuals, pension funds, individual retirement accounts, university and nonprofit endowments ― and invest the funds on behalf of their clients. Asset management companies such as BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street own significant shares of some of the biggest companies in the world, including banks and fossil fuel companies. Because of their size, asset managers have the ability to significantly shift how the companies causing climate destruction do business. They’ll be key voters on these shareholder resolutions.
Yes! There are several resolutions we’re paying attention to this year. You can read about these in more detail here:
- Fossil fuel phase out/no expansion: These resolutions call on banks to phase out the provision of financing (here meaning loans, bonds, and underwriting) for companies engaged in fossil fuel expansion. This is an important step in the no expansion fight! It has been filed at JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs. Similar resolutions have been filed at the insurance companies Chubb, The Hartford, and Travellers.
- Indigenous rights: Like last year, resolutions were filed requiring banks and to provide a report outlining how effective their existing policies and practices are at respecting Indigenous rights, in line with international human rights standards. Banks regularly finance fossil fuel and other projects in violation of internationally recognized Indigenous rights to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.
- Absolute emissions: Banks have been calculating the emissions reduction of their portfolios using an accounting method called “emissions intensity”, funny math that allows the emissions they finance to actually increase as long as they come from less “intensive” sources (for example, switching from coal to natural gas, but increasing production, would count as emissions reduction under this framework.) These resolutions would require banks to calculate their emissions reductions absolutely – that is, the only way to say they’re financing fewer emissions is to finance fewer emissions. These resolutions were filed by New York City and New York State at JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Wells Fargo and Citigroup already have absolute emissions targets.
- Transition plans: Most banks have a commitment to net-zero by 2050, but that’s meaningless without immediate action. These resolution calls on banks to disclose publicly their plan for transitioning their lending and investment portfolios away from fossil fuels. This resolution was filed at JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.
The good news is that a shareholder resolution doesn’t need to get a majority of the vote in order to be effective – success is measured by changes in business practices, not in vote counts. What threshold a proposal needs to cross to spur change within a company depends on the proposal itself, what other outside pressure the company is experiencing, how much of a change the proposal requires, and other factors. In the past, proposals with 10% – 20% support have garnered change, while others needed to reach significant majorities to make an impact. Shareholder activism is one tool in our toolkit to get Wall Street to stop financing climate destruction.
There’s tons of things you can do to help! Read on for a list:
Pressure your state or city pension fund to vote YES for climate justice.
We’re working with local groups & organizers across the country to push state pension funds to support climate justice this shareholder season. How to Push Your Pension Fund Toolkit.
Attend the Defunding Environmental Racism in the Gulf South Webinar.
Black & Indigenous people in the Gulf South are bearing the brunt of the fossil fuel industry’s toxic pollution. On this webinar on March 15th, we’ll hear directly from Gulf frontline leaders about their experiences of environmental racism and take action in solidarity with them. Register here!
Join the Stop Dirty Banks National Day of Action on 3.21.23.
There are already over 75 actions in 24 states confirmed. Join or organize an action on 3.21.23
Throw down for Earth Week: Climate Justice Arts & Action, April 15 – April 23
This Earth Day, we’re teaming up with our friends at People Vs Fossil Fuels to organize a massive week of climate justice arts & actions. All across the country, people will paste climate justice art onto bank branches, create pop-up art shows, and use art in actions. Join the Earth Week: Climate Justice Arts & Actions
Join the Shareholder Showdown Joint Petition.
The petition demands that State Treasurers managing $2+ trillion in assets vote yes on climate justice & Indigenous rights this spring. In early April, groups around the country will deliver the petitions to their State Treasurers. The petition will run from March 1st – April 1st. Our goal by then is 100,000 signers. Sign the petition here!