The spy who came in from the coal aims for BHP board seat

A former Australian coal company executive has become the unlikely David to BHP Billiton's Goliath, taking on the mining company in London on Thursday with a bid to join its board on a platform of radical action against climate change.

A former Australian coal company executive has become the unlikely David to BHP Billiton's Goliath, taking on the mining company in London on Thursday with a bid to join its board on a platform of radical action against climate change.

Ian Dunlop, a former Shell executive who once headed the Australian Coal Association in the late 1980s, says there is a "major strategic gap" in BHP's thinking about the challenges of a warming world.

He says he wants to join the company board to force it to take the issue seriously.

"You have to look at the gap between their rhetoric and what these companies are actually doing, and there is a gap between the two," he told Fairfax Media before leaving for the London meeting.

"If you understand what the science is saying, the problem is far more urgent than anything that's being admitted officially, both in the political and corporate world," he said.

"We are fast running out of options."

Mr Dunlop's bid is vigorously opposed by BHP chairman Jac Nasser, who wrote to all shareholders in September, urging them to vote against the 71-year-old.

Mr Nasser said BHP was "continuously and actively managing risks associated with climate change ... and publicly advocated action on climate change policy such as carbon pricing".

But Mr Dunlop says BHP should be asking itself if it should be in the fossil fuel business at all.

Divestment would not be enough, he argued, because "you have to sterilise the fossil fuel reserves. There is no point in selling out and the Chinese pick it up and start another coalmine, because then we have solved nothing." Mr Dunlop said the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was alarming enough, but most likely understated the problem because of the caution of government-employed scientists.

Because BHP has dual listing on the British and Australian stock exchanges, Mr Dunlop intends to run his bid for the board in two stages, seeking support from shareholders in London, and then in Perth, where the Australian annual meeting will be held next month.

Mr Dunlop, who is funding the bid himself, chaired the government-backed panel that designed Australia's first proposed carbon emissions trading scheme in 1999.

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