London-based asset manager Sarasin & Partners has sold nearly 20% of its holdings in Royal Dutch Shell Plc, saying the oil and gas company's spending plans are out of synch with international targets to battle climate change.
The 33.8 million pounds (US$42.1 million) sale represents a fraction of Shell's $261 billion market value.
But it is a rebuke of Shell's strategy less than a year after the Anglo-Dutch company, together with a large group of investors including Sarasin known as Climate Action 100+, agreed on a landmark resolution outlining Shell's ambition to reduce carbon emissions.
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Sarasin is reviewing its remaining holdings in Shell of around 120 million pounds, according to a spokesman.
"We have been supportive of your recent leadership in support of the Paris Climate Accord," Sarasin said in a July 8 letter to Shell Chairman Chad Holliday, seen by Reuters.
"However, we were extremely disappointed that, despite your public commitment to act on climate change, the strategy that Shell published at its Management Day on 4th June aims to deliver rising fossil fuel production to at least 2030."
Shell plans to increase its annual spending between 2021 and 2025 to $30 billion, excluding major acquisitions, compared with around $25 billion in recent years. Of the $30 billion, $2 billion to $3 billion will go towards power and renewables.
"While Shell cannot, of course, bring down global fossil fuel use on its own, it needs to ensure it is not contributing to the problem," the letter said.
News of the sale was first reported by the Financial Times.
Shell said the divestment was "disappointing."
"Shell plans to reduce the Net Carbon Footprint of the energy products we sell in step with society's progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement."
"We are very clear that this requires both sustaining investment in our core Upstream businesses as well as growing investment in our customer-facing transition businesses including Integrated Gas, Oil Products and Chemicals," it said.
Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement at the Church of England Pension Board who co-led negotiations with Shell on the climate resolution, said engagement with Shell was "very much ongoing."
"Clearly Shell are an industry leader, but we are keen to see further steps related to alignment of capital expenditure," Matthews said in a statement.
Catherine Howarth, CEO of climate activist group ShareAction, welcomed Sarasin's move.
"Sarasin's forcefully argued challenge to Shell's board on their capital expenditure plans should reverberate across the wider investment community," Howarth said.
The Paris agreement seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from the burning of fossil fuels, to a net zero by the end of the century to limit global warming to "well below" 2 C.
(US$1 = 0.8029 pounds)
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