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Top BlackRock executive on Trump and climate change

Michelle Edkins, BlackRock’s global head of investment stewardship, is a key figure in this spring’s annual shareholder meetings with publicly owned companies where climate change is expected to be featured prominently. I talked with Edkins for my latest Harder Line column on the topic.

Why she matters: BlackRock is the world’s largest investment firm, and Edkins was mentioned in a letter BlackRock Chairman and CEO Larry Fink sent earlier this year to companies imploring them to drive sustainable long-term growth, which includes a focus on climate.

On how Trump’s regulatory rollback is affecting investors’ thinking on climate:

This is [a] global and long-term issue. It’s a factor, but it’s not a driver of the approach we’re taking. Most oil and gas companies that really are going to move the needle are global. The idea that one change in government in one place is going to completely radically change the long-term horizon, I think, is really misguided.

On why climate change is becoming a bigger issue to Wall Street investors:

There’s a lot more joined-up thinking around climate risk than perhaps there was before. There’s a stronger probability of policy being made that will impact companies and their long-term business models.

On whether BlackRock will vote in support of shareholder resolutions on climate change, like it did last year for the first time with ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum:

If we’re not seeing progress in line with what we would expect from what companies have indicated [then we would vote in support of the resolutions]. We recognize that both companies and investors are on something of a learning curve.

On criticism that BlackRock isn’t following through on its rhetoric in Fink’s letter and elsewhere by not supporting more resolutions in the spring meeting process:

Focusing on just shareholder proposals on climate risk disclosure misses the point. What I would say to people who say only through voting can you make your voice heard, I would wholeheartedly disagree. Everyone has to use the engagement mechanism that makes the most sense for them. For BlackRock, as a large long-term investor, engagement is the mechanism that makes the most sense and we believe it is effective.
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