Shareholders in Exxon Mobil have backed a motion requiring the company to assess the risks from climate change.
The plan, proposed by investors including the Church of England, was supported by over 62% of those eligible to vote.
The vote comes as US media reports that President Trump is poised to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
Exxon will now have to consider how global efforts to mitigate climate change will impact their business.
Did Exxon know?
Long seen as the last bastion of opposition to action on rising temperatures, Exxon Mobil is the world’s largest publicly traded oil company.
They’ve recently been under investigation by some state authorities in the US.
They’ve been accused of allegedly concealing information from shareholders on when the company first realised that human emissions of carbon were driving up global temperatures.
Previous attempts by activists to force the company to take the impact of climate change into account failed. Last year, the motion gained just over 38% of shareholder support.
The resolution, filed by the Church Commissioners for England and New York State Comptroller Thomas P DiNapoli, asked Exxon to report on how its business model will be affected by global efforts to limit the average rise in temperatures to below 2C.
This year, the non-binding motion secured 62.3% of the votes, indicating that some of the bigger investor groups must have sided with climate activists.
“This is an historic vote – despite strong opposition from the board, the majority of Exxon’s shareholders have sent an unequivocal signal to the company that it must do much more to disclose the impact on its business of measures to combat climate change,” said Edward Mason, head of responsible investment for the Church Commissioners.
“We are grateful to all of the investors who supported the proposal, and we call on the company to begin urgent engagement with shareholders on how to bring its disclosures in line with those of its peers.”
While the motion is non-binding observers say there will be increased pressure on the company to report on the impacts of climate change and the restrictions on fossil fuels being considered as part of the Paris climate agreement.
Exxon Mobil was one of the last hold-outs among major oil companies on the issue of climate change. Earlier in May, Occidental Petroleum shareholders also passed a similar motion in a vote at its annual meeting.
Other major producers including BP and ConocoPhillips already publish reports on how rising temperatures would impact their businesses.
“This extraordinary result, on the heels of the majority Occidental vote, indicates growing institutional investor concern,” said Robert Schuwerk, a senior counsel at the Carbon Tracker Initiative.
“Climate change is now front and centre in investors’ engagement. As Exxon is a standard bearer for the oil and gas industry, smaller companies should take note and respond accordingly.”
Some shareholders were quick to point out the irony of Exxon finally taking this step on a day when US media reports indicated the President Trump was about to pull the country out of the Paris climate agreement.