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Climate protests halt Sasol meeting

Protesters effectively prevented Sasol’s annual general meeting in Johannesburg from going ahead on 17 November. The meeting was expected to be tumultuous because of a shareholder’s plan to vote against a number of resolutions because of the company’s record on climate targets.

Sasol stated that its chairman invited the protesters to a meeting with representatives of the board, but they refused and continued to prevent shareholders from getting in. The meeting was therefore cancelled, after which they dispersed. The company will tell shareholders later about “the way forward on this matter”.

Ahead of the meeting, Old Mutual Investment Managers (OMIG), which has a 4% stake in Sasol, had announced that it would vote against resolutions to approve the implementation report of the remuneration strategy and the climate change report, as the latter made no reference to targets, and to re-elect Muriel Dube, the non-executive director responsible for climate strategy. OMIG also took the hitherto unprecedented step of writing an open letter urging other shareholders to do likewise. It staged that the company’s “commitment to achieving stated targets with respect to climate is regressing”.

Sasol is South Africa’s biggest company by revenue and accounts for about 20% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It has set a target of cutting emissions by 30% by 2030 and reaching so-called net zero by 2050. “From a shareholder perspective the top line statement doesn’t align with what we see on the ground,” said Nicole Martens, head of stewardship at OMIG.

In response, Sasol said that it was “perplexed” and that the motivation OMIG advanced was “flawed and underpinned by conjecture”, as it was based on a report by NGO Just Share containing factual inaccuracies. “The willingness of Old Mutual to take such a decision premised on inaccurate and, to some extent, misleading information that could have been verified, is most concerning,” the company added.

Sasol further stated that it had been engaging with stakeholders including Old Mutual, on its sustainability disclosures related to climate change. In this it said, “we have consistently reiterated our commitment to our 30% reduction and decarbonisation levers, while advancing progress against this commitment with tangible initiatives”. The pre-AGM notice made it clear that this strategy remains in place and that the climate change report and resolution include the targets, among other things.

“Further, it is unfounded to state that our ‘climate targets have slipped’ given that our first major milestone is set to be achieved three years from now,” Sasol continued. This includes a 5% reduction in GHGs by 2026 for the domestic Energy business. It will also brings its first tranche of renewable energy online by Q1 24, with a wind farm to power green hydrogen.

Because its operations are highly integrated, with long lead times needed to integrate capital-intensive emission-reduction projects, the company said that it has always made clear that it cannot follow a smooth year-on-year emission-reduction trajectory. However, “Sasol is not reversing or scaling back our 2026 commitments, nor have we changed our emissions reduction target, associated levers or strategy”.

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