Climate Activists Defeat Exxon in Push for Clean Energy: Live Updates

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Here’s what you need to know:

Climate activists win at least two seats on Exxon Mobil’s board in a first.

A Dutch court rules that Shell must step up its climate change efforts.

Ford will spend $30 billion on electric vehicles, a big increase from earlier plans.

Today in On Tech: Why is Amazon in entertainment?

Exxon Mobil storage tanks in Rotterdam. Shareholders say the oil giant should invest more heavily in renewables like wind and solar energy.Credit…Peter Dejong/Associated Press

Shareholders of Exxon Mobil dealt the company’s management a defeat on Wednesday by electing at least two of four candidates activist investors had nominated to its board — the first time that has happened, according to analysts who follow the company.

The election of the remaining seats was too close to call, according to preliminary results announced by the company.

A coalition of investors concerned about the environment had argued that Exxon had not invested enough in cleaner energy, which will hurt its profits in the future. And a majority of the company’s shareholders appeared to at least partly agree with that position, according to the preliminary results.

The investors have argued that the company should follow European oil companies like BP and Total that have begun investing heavily in renewables like wind and solar energy. Exxon has said it does not make sense for it to pivot to renewables and that it is addressing climate change by focusing on capturing carbon from industrial facilities and storing it deep underground in perpetuity.

The hedge fund leading this campaign, Engine No. 1, was seeking to defeat the election of four of the company’s director candidates and had proposed four of its own. Its victory is a sharp rebuke to Darren W. Woods, Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, and is the culmination of years of efforts by activists to force the oil giant to change its environmental policies and approach. Some big pension funds, including the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, had joined Engine No. 1, which was started last year.

“We welcome the new directors,” Mr. Woods said at the meeting. “While there is still more to do, we are proud of the progress we have made to reduce emissions and clear plans for further reductions.”

The two directors nominated by Engine No. 1 who won are Gregory Goff, a former chief executive of Andeavor, a refinery company, and Kaisa Hietala, a former executive at Neste, a Finnish energy company that produces renewable versions of petroleum products, including diesel and jet fuel.

The company’s share price jumped after the preliminary results were announced and were trading about 1 percent higher at 1:30 p.m.

Exxon has argued that its investments in carbon capture and storage demonstrate that the company is not ignoring climate change and has a plan for a lower-carbon future. This week, it announced that it would add two new directors to the board, including a climate expert, but it has not committed to investing in renewable energy.

Engine No. 1 dismissed the move, saying, “This vote is too important to be influenced by this type of cynical, last-minute maneuvering.”

A Royal Dutch Shell facility in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The company is expected to appeal a court ruling that it must reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.Credit…Robin Utrecht/EPA, via Shutterstock

A Dutch court ruled Wednesday that Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, must accelerate its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change.

The District Court in The Hague ruled that Shell was “obliged” to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions of its activities by 45 percent at the end of 2030 compared with 2019. Shell is based in The Hague but is a global producer and supplier of oil and natural gas and other energy.

Shell has already adopted targets for emissions reduction, but the court requirements are likely to represent a substantial acceleration of the process of reducing emissions-producing fuels like oil and gas.

The ruling applies only in the Netherlands. Still, the defeat of an oil giant in a case brought by Milieudefensie, an environmental group, and other activists appeared to represent a kind of breakthrough in terms of a court’s willingness to dictate to a major business what it must do globally to protect the climate.

“The court understands that the consequences could be big for Shell,” Jeannette Honee, a spokeswoman for the court, said in a video on the court website.

“But the court believes that the consequences of severe climate change are more important than Shell’s interests,” she added.

The court appeared to have accepted the environmentalists’ argument that not taking drastic measures on climate change would put lives in jeopardy.

“Severe climate change has consequences for human rights, including the right to life. And the court thinks that companies, among them Shell, have to respect those human rights,” Ms. Honee said.

A Shell spokesman said that the company expected “to appeal today’s disappointing court decision.”

The company said that it already had an extensive program to deal with climate change including billions of dollars of investment in low carbon energy including hydrogen, renewables like wind and solar and electric vehicle charging.

Senator Sherrod Brown, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, which invited the top executives of the six largest banks to testify.Credit…Susan Walsh/Associated Press

The top executives of six of the biggest banks in the United States drew criticism from several senators during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for not doing more to help small businesses and retail customers during the pandemic.

A number of lawmakers said the nation’s top banks should have provided more relief to businesses and consumers in light of the big profits the banking industry posted last year.

The most contentious moment occurred when Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, criticized banks for charging overdraft fees to customers during the pandemic. In particular, Ms. Warren engaged in a terse exchange with Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, over the around $1.5 billion in overdraft fees she said the bank had taken in. Mr. Dimon responded with a simple “no” when asked by Ms. Warren whether the bank would refund that money to its customers.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, asked Mr. Dimon if he felt he made too much money as a bank executive compared with his employees. Mr. Dimon responded — as he has when questioned about the issue in the past — that his “compensation is set by the board.”

But the hearing lacked much of the heat and acrimony of a decade ago, when bankers on Wall Street were routinely castigated during congressional appearances for causing the financial crisis.

The Republicans on the panel were less interested in inquiring about specific banking policies than they were in criticizing some banks for having sided with progressives in voicing opposition to issues like restrictive voting laws. Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, said he was concerned that some banks practiced what he called “woke capitalism.”

Throughout the hearing, the bankers often found themselves in agreement on a number of topics, including supporting efforts for immigration reform. Asked whether they would “remain neutral” if their employees moved to unionize, most provided noncommittal answers, saying they would make sure their workers’ voices were heard (the exception was Mr. Dimon, who answered no). Unsurprisingly, all the bank chiefs said they were strong believers in capitalism, in response to a question from Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania.

Jim Farley, the chief executive of Ford, with the F-150 Lightning, the electric version of its top-selling pickup truck.Credit…Jeff Kowalsky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ford Motor said on Wednesday that it would increase spending on electric vehicles by about a third from its previous plans and expects E.V.s to make up 40 percent of its production by 2030, a big increase in its commitment to the electrification of cars and trucks.

The company intends to spend $30 billion in the five years ending in 2025, up from the previous target of $22 billion. It also said it had accepted 70,000 reservations for the F-150 Lightning, the electric version of its top-selling pickup truck.

“This is our biggest opportunity for growth and value creation since Henry Ford started to scale the Model T,” Ford’s chief executive, Jim Farley, said in a statement.

Ford has gone from being a relative latecomer to battery-powered vehicles to making them a central focus. The company recently started delivering an electric sport utility vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E, that has sold well and been praised by car reviewers. The model also appears to have taken market share from Tesla, which until recently dominated the electric car market. Last week, Ford introduced the F-150 Lightning, and President Biden drove the truck at a company track in Michigan and praised its rapid acceleration.

The increase in spending reflects new investments in better technology and production. Last week, Ford said it would form a joint venture with a South Korean company, SK Innovation, to manufacture battery cells at two plants in the United States for future Ford and Lincoln vehicles.

Ford’s stock was up nearly 5 percent Wednesday morning after the company’s electric vehicle announcements.

Stocks on Wall Street edged higher on Wednesday. The S&P 500 rose about 0.3 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 600 was unchanged after earlier climbing to a record.

Ford rose more than 6 percent in early trading after the company said it would substantially increase spending on electric vehicles, with a goal of having 40 percent of its production all electric by 2030.

Marks & Spencer shares rose more than 7 percent as the retailer said it expected to generate a profit of as much as GBP350 million this fiscal year, swinging back from a loss of more than GBP200 million. The company, which sells food, clothing and housewares, has benefited from a recent partnership with Ocado, the online groceries retailer.

Fabio Panetta, a member of the executive board of the European Central Bank, said on Wednesday that “we are currently seeing a transitory increase in inflation,” adding his voice to the chorus of central bankers arguing that price increases are temporary and that there is no need to pull back monetary stimulus. Mr. Panetta said the central bank did not need to reduce the pace of its bond-buying program.

“We should not extrapolate from what is happening in the United States,” Mr. Panetta said in the interview published by the central bank. “We don’t expect the same kind of surging demand and tight labor markets that would generate stronger lasting price pressures.”

Australians will have some of the best views of the “super blood moon” this week, but passengers on a one-time flight departing from Sydney had an even better one. The Australian airline Qantas operated a three-hour flight on Wednesday (Tuesday evening in the United States) for about 100 passengers to see the moon enter the Earth’s shadow and turn a blood red color during a total lunar eclipse. Tickets went on sale this month for 499 Australian dollars (about $386) for economy class and 1,499 Australian dollars (about $1,162) for business class. The tickets sold out in less than half an hour.

Credit…Adam Maida

Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide writes that Amazon’s decision to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer raises a basic question: Why does Amazon have a streaming video service at all?

People are turning to social media to broadcast their complaints about India’s handling of the Covid crisis, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party are on the offensive.Credit…Diptendu Dutta/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When police officers from India’s elite antiterrorism unit descended on the New Delhi offices of Twitter on Monday night, it sent a clear message: India’s powerful ruling party is becoming increasingly upset with the social media giant because of the perception that it has sided with critics of the government.

With anger growing across the country over India’s stumbling coronavirus crisis response, people are turning to Twitter to broadcast their complaints, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., have struggled to control the narrative.

As a result, top Indian political leaders have applied increasing pressure on Twitter, as well as on Facebook and other social media platforms, The New York Times’s Sameer Yasir and Emily Schmall report. Earlier this month, the government ordered social media platforms, including Twitter, to take down dozens of posts critical of the government’s handling of the Covid crisis.

The police action Monday was mostly symbolic. Twitter’s offices were closed amid India’s devastating coronavirus outbreak. And the police acknowledged they were there not to make any arrests, but only to deliver a notice disputing a warning label that Twitter had assigned to some tweets.

“Regardless of the clumsy manner in which it was conducted, this raid is an escalation in the stifling of domestic criticism in India,” said Gilles Verniers, a professor of political science at Ashoka University near New Delhi.

The police visit was set off by labels that Twitter had applied to tweets posted by senior members of the B.J.P. citing documents they called irrefutable proof that opposition politicians had planned to use India’s coronavirus response to tar Mr. Modi and India’s reputation.

But Twitter undercut that campaign when it labeled the posts “manipulated media.” Indian disinformation watchdog groups had said the documents were forged.

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