Climate pay links for CEOs do little to cut emissions, study finds

Steam rises out of chimneys at the Big Bend Power Station owned and operated by Tech Energy in Apollo Beach, Florida U.S., August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Sept 29 (Reuters) - More big U.S. companies have tied their CEO pay to climate goals but few give executives much incentive to make significant emissions cuts, a new study shows.

In the study, to be released on Thursday, activist group As You Sow examined pay disclosures from 47 large U.S. emitters and found only one, electric utility Xcel Energy Inc (XEL.O), gave its CEO a goal tied to measurable cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Only four other companies tied their executive pay to climate metrics, though they were not as strict about reducing emissions, As You Sow found.

Some companies may only be trying to look good to investors with vague wording in securities filings about making progress toward cutting emissions, study authors said.

"We have concerns the way in which it's being done isn't going to reduce emissions," said Melissa Walton, an As You Sow research associate.

Investor interest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is growing, pushing firms to pay more attention to areas like climate impact or workforce diversity. read more

Pay plan scrutiny is also on the rise as shareholders cast more critical advisory votes on U.S. executive compensation.

As You Sow's study examined all the 47 U.S. companies targeted by the Climate Action 100+ global investor initiative to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the 47, more than half did not directly tie their pay to climate actions, the study shows.

According to a securities filing, Xcel CEO Bob Frenzel received $8.35 million for 2021, including $1.9 million worth of stock awards whose future value depends on what carbon dioxide emissions cuts the company makes by the end of 2023.

A representative for Minneapolis-based Xcel said via email that investors "view the carbon goal in the long-term incentive program as an important linkage and commitment between our company environmental goals and compensation."

Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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