U.N. envoy Carney backs annual investor votes on company climate plans

LONDON (Reuters) – U.N. envoy Mark Carney backed a push to make companies give investors an annual vote on their climate change strategies, saying on Monday that might prove more effective than “overly prescriptive” regulation.

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Carney, who took a U.N. climate finance role after stepping down as Bank of England governor in March, said investors could have an automatic advisory vote on a company’s plans to cut greenhouse emissions, in the same way they are involved in pay discussions.

“Rather than have authorities be overly prescriptive on plans, it may be desirable to have investors have a say on transition,” Carney told a conference on climate finance in London.

“This would establish a critical link between responsibility, accountability and sustainability,” he added.

Last month, Spanish airports operator Aena AENA.MC became the first company to give shareholders an annual vote on its climate plans following pressure from billionaire investor Chris Hohn, founder of the TCI activist hedge fund.

Shareholders backed Aena’s steps, which include ensuring that airports in its network will be energy self-sufficient – largely using solar – and carbon neutral by 2026.

Some in the asset management industry say many investment companies have yet to assemble the expertise needed to subject climate plans to meaningful scrutiny.

But backers of such votes believe they can help ensure that companies take their climate commitments seriously, and see them as essential to fulfilling the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement to slow climate change.

“Such votes should be automatically required,” said Paul Simpson, chief executive of nonprofit climate risk disclosure group CDP.

Catherine Howarth, chief executive of investor group ShareAction, also backed the calls for carbon-heavy companies to put their climate strategies to an annual vote.

“Where companies don’t do so, investors should use their voting rights to force the issue,” Howarth told Reuters.

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