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Change to BP climate goal a concern for emissions-focused investors

February 11, 2023 00:00:00

LONDON, Feb 10 (Reuters): A member of a major climate-focused investor group leading engagement with BP (BP.L) has voiced concern the company may stray from commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions after its CEO this week rowed back on plans to cut oil and gas output.

Chief Executive Bernard Looney's strategy revision on Tuesday, which also included a cut to BP's 2030 emissions reduction target, came three years after he took the helm with a vow to re-invent the oil and gas company.

BP's shares have hit their highest in almost four years, gaining around 17% since Tuesday, when the group also reported a record profit for 2022 and boosted its dividend.

But Bruce Duguid, head of stewardship at Federated Hermes, which co-leads negotiations with BP over its energy transition on behalf of a large group of institutional investors called Climate Action 100+, voiced concern over Looney's pivot.

"In the context of a very strong financial outcome, those investors with net-zero goals, including many of our clients, will be concerned at such a material change to BP's 2030 absolute emissions reduction target," Duguid said in a statement to Reuters.

"It also raises a significant governance question, given the high proportion of investors that supported the original (emission reduction) target only nine months ago" at BP's annual general meeting, he added.

Half of BP's top ten institutional investors are members of CA100+, according to Refinitiv Eikon data. The group includes 700 investors responsible for more than $68 trillion in assets under management.

BP did not respond to a request for comment on Duguid's statement.

Last May the company won shareholder support for its strategy which foresaw a 40% cut in its hydrocarbon output by 2030 from 2019 levels. On Tuesday BP said it now envisaged a 25% cut.

The group did not change its long-term ambition to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050, and is still committed to using 50% of its spending budget on low-carbon businesses by 2030, Duguid said.

CA100+ will engage with BP ahead of the 2023 shareholder vote in May to ensure the company's strategy is consistent with 2015 U.N.-backed targets to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, he added.

Another investor concerned about BP's announcements, who declined to be named, said its share price boost was down to "the net present value of not transitioning" away from oil and gas, showing a sharp contrast in long- and short-term investors' views.

Other asset managers, such as Legal & General Investment Management, Redwheel, and AXA Investment Management, said they were still studying BP's announcements.

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