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BHP shareholders approve climate plan, but chairman still on defense

BHP Group announced at its annual general meeting in Melbourne on Nov. 11 that 84.9% of its shareholders approved the company's Climate Transition Action Plan, but Chairman Ken MacKenzie still had to play defense over the miner's climate ambitions.

BHP committed to reducing operational Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by at least 30% by 2030 and plans to achieve net-zero emissions from operations by 2050. But the company has not outlined its reduction targets for Scope 3 emissions generated by its customers. The company's Australia-based investors voted on the proposal during a Nov. 11 annual general meeting in Melbourne, while shareholders based in London voted in mid-October.

MacKenzie tried to parry criticisms that BHP's emission reduction targets lag behind those of its peers.

"The targets will not necessarily align because of the differences in our portfolio but it is great to see that the whole industry is coming out with ambitious targets," Mackenzie said after the meeting.

Shareholder group Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility said BHP's climate plan leaves the company behind fellow miners such as Rio Tinto Group and Glencore PLC.

Rio Tinto recently committed to accelerating its carbon reduction targets, eyeing a 50% reduction in operational emissions by 2030 before reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Glencore aims to halve its total Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 2035 on its way to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

"Given BHP would have been expecting shareholder support to exceed 95%, this level of opposition demonstrates that a significant number of shareholders expect BHP to go further," the group said in a same-day statement.

MacKenzie claimed that BHP's emissions will remain comparable to Rio Tinto's despite the latter's efforts to fast-track its climate targets.

"The scale of [Rio's challenge] is even after it achieves its targets, their emissions in 2030 will be about the same as BHP's today and about 50% above what BHP expects to be in 2030," the executive said.

Proxy shareholder adviser Glass Lewis & Co. LLC previously recommended that investors reject BHP's climate action plan, saying that it's unclear if its targets align with the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

BHP recently agreed to sell its 80% stake in the BHP Mitsui Coal Pty. Ltd. joint venture to Stanmore Resources Ltd. for up to $1.35 billion. BHP Mitsui Coal is BHP's joint venture with Mitsui & Co. Ltd. that operates the South Walker Creek and the Poitrel coal mines in Queensland, Australia.