“Our position on climate change doesn’t change … I am fully committed to the goals that we have put out there,” he said. “For those issues that intersect with our business interests it is absolutely critical – it’s essential – that we are out there with a view.”
Senior figures in the Morrison government have repeatedly chastised business for speaking out on social and environmental issues. Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who last year said he respectfully disagreed with Mr Henry about the merits of introducing a price on carbon, on Thursday welcomed his appointment
“Mike Henry will bring extensive Australian experience to the role that I know will serve him well in leading a great Australian company. Mike has an innate care for the wonderful people that make up the resources industry and he is passionate about improving opportunities for those in the industry.
BHP, although a producer of fossil fuels, has adopted a growing focus on sustainability and mitigating the long-term risks to its business posed by climate change. But along with a string of other resources companies, the miner has come under pressure over its links to lobby groups accused of expressing views “inconsistent” with the Paris climate goals of holding the increase in global average temperatures to below two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
At its latest annual investor meeting, almost one-third of BHP shareholders defied the board and voted for the miner to sever links with groups such as the Minerals Council of Australia and the Business Council of Australia due to their support of various policies surrounding the future of coal and gas.
Mr Henry on Thursday reiterated the company’s position insisting that industry associations played an important role in developing standards, best practices and policies across the industry, including on climate change.
“Nothing changes on that front,” he said. “We’ve been clear on that, about the value being brought to the industry.”
BHP is carrying out a review of its industry group memberships to ensure their positions on climate change matched those of the company.
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, an activist shareholder group, said Mr Henry’s appointment “should concern climate-aware investors”, pointing to his position as vice chairman of the Minerals Council of Australia and close ties to Coal21.
“Investors should be concerned by Henry’s close involvement with these industry associations, and should seek to ensure that BHP’s current commitment to review its memberships results in meaningful consequences,” said Dan Gocher, the group’s climate director.
The Minerals Council of Australia has rejected the activists’ accusations about its climate policies as “misinformed”. Tania Constable, the council’s chief executive, on Thursday welcomed Mr Henry’s appointment, saying his extensive experience in many areas of the resources sector would serve the industry well.
“The MCA will work with Mr Henry and BHP to ensure Australian mining continues to meet the highest levels of environmental, social and governance standards while creating jobs and giving back to the community,” Ms Constable said.
Business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.