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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Exxon's annual meeting Wednesday will bring the most closely watched shareholder votes on global warming in Big Oil's history.

Driving the news: Activist investors Engine No. 1 have nominated four board members who would seek to make Exxon more aggressive on climate.

  • Engine No. 1's backers include huge public pension funds in California and New York State, and the influential proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services recommends shareholders support it.
  • Engine No. 1 also says Exxon lacks "any serious diversification efforts" that will prepare it to thrive in a low-carbon world. The group says Exxon needs a more disciplined capital investment approach around oil and gas.

Why it matters: It's the highest-profile effort by activist investors to force oil majors to diversify away from their dominant products more quickly.

It's also a fight over how Exxon, one of the world's most powerful corporations, should view the future after years of rocky financial performance.

The other side: Exxon management opposes the slate. The company says it's in step with the evolving energy mix, citing growing emphasis on carbon capture, hydrogen and biofuels.

  • Exxon also argues its adjusted capital strategy will deliver strong returns in oil and gas, which it notes will remain huge markets for decades despite low-carbon energy growth.
  • CEO Darren Woods tells the Washington Post that Engine No. 1 "have been very focused on what I would say is perceptions of the past."

The intrigue: The rebound in Exxon's share price over the last six months could bolster management. But a new wildcard emerged last week.

  • An International Energy Agency analysis said a pathway to net-zero emissions in 2050 means no new oil and gas fields would be approved for development (investment in existing fields would continue).
  •  "It gives a fund manager extra cover to justify voting against management, cover that isn’t provided by some call to arms from Greenpeace or the Sierra Club," Bloomberg's Liam Denning writes.

Go deeper

Green hydrogen costs could reach parity in a decade, report finds

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Hydrogen is increasingly being viewed as a potential energy storage solution for difficult-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy, including heavy-duty transportation and industrial uses.

Driving the news: A new analysis by the ICF Climate Center, shared exclusively with Axios, shows that the cost of zero-carbon, green hydrogen could reach parity with more greenhouse-gas intensive ways of making the gas in as little as the next decade.

Bill Gates pledges $1.5B for climate projects with Energy Department

Photo: K Asif/India Today Group via Getty Images

Bill Gates has pledged $1.5 billion to climate collaborations with the Department of Energy (DOE) through his climate investment fund Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The backdrop: Global warming is happening so fast that scientists now say we'll cross a crucial temperature threshold as early as 2030, up to a decade sooner than previously thought. The projects would depend on passage of President Biden's $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which currently awaits a House vote.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise" — Two years of COVID-19 — Prior coronavirus infections may not protect well against Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Data demonstrates most-vaccinated counties less vulnerable to worst of COVID — Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate.
  4. World: Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles downWHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.