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Woodside withstands investor backlash against climate policies at tense meeting

Campaign against re-election of director Ian Macfarlane falls short as CEO Meg O’Neill insists gas has ‘very important role’

Protesters gather outside the Perth headquarters of oil and gas giant Woodside Energy which faced investor unrest at its annual general meeting. Photograph: Aaron Bunch/AAP

Woodside Energy has withstood a backlash against its climate policies with the re-election of a key director and approval of its executive pay plans at a tense annual general meeting on Friday.

Australia’s biggest oil and gas producer was facing investor unrest over plans to expand its operations amid a global push to shift away from fossil fuels and limit global warming.

Woodside has also declined to set emissions targets on the oil and gas it sells to buyers, which are typically burnt, citing difficulties in calculations.

Eco-conscious investors, activists and international funds fell short in their campaign to vote against the re-election of director Ian Macfarlane, a former resources minister and long-term member of Woodside’s sustainability committee.

The 34.8% protest vote recorded on Friday was not enough to stop Macfarlane’s re-election. The remuneration report received a 20% vote against it.

The Woodside chair, Richard Goyder, quipped that as a former politician familiar with elections, Macfarlane was not perturbed by the dissenting vote.

“He reckons anything above 50% is a great outcome,” Goyder said.

The size of the protest vote does represent a warning to a company that would typically meet little resistance at its annual meeting after reporting strong profits.

Oil prices, which are closely tied to gas prices, surged during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, boosting revenues. Gas supply crunches in Australia’s east have also raised concerns over energy security, aiding Woodside’s position as a major energy company that can help resolve shortages.

“The extraordinary low vote for Ian Macfarlane sends a clear message that directors risk losing their positions if their company fails to take real climate action,” said Will van de Pol, the acting executive director of campaign group Market Forces.

Many who attended the Perth meeting, acting as proxies for other shareholders, raised concerns about Woodside’s climate report, which last year recorded a high level of dissent. It will be put back in front of shareholders next year for a non-binding vote.

When asked how the company’s expansion plans fitted with the Paris treaty to achieve net zero emissions, Woodside’s chief executive said gas was part of the solution.

“Gas is going to play a very important role in helping the world meet its Paris ambitions,” Meg O’Neill told shareholders.

O’Neill said earlier this month that even those who drove an electric vehicle, or rode a bike, relied on plastics derived from oil and gas.

Gas was also used as an alternative to coal for electricity, O’Neill said.

The Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive, David Ritter, who attended the Perth meeting, did record a victory of sorts by securing a meeting with Woodside staff.

“It’s probably worth offering a follow-up with you and our climate team as well to make sure we have clarity and have those open lines of communication,” O’Neill said to Ritter during one of their exchanges on Friday.

Ritter responded: “I don’t think you’ve said yes to a request for a meeting so far so it’s nice to get that very public acceptance here.”


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