SEC expected to unveil climate change disclosure rules

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to outline seminal federal regulation over public disclosure of climate risks.

The anticipated rule would require publicly traded US companies to inform investors about their greenhouse gas emissions and how they manage risks related to climate change and future climate regulations.

The full level of disclosure required by the SEC will be keenly anticipated. In addition to reporting greenhouse gas emissions and financial risks from climate change, companies might also have to disclose how the transition to carbon-neutral energy production or increased environmental regulation could affect them.

A question mark also lingers over whether companies would not only need to report their own greenhouse gas emissions but also those of their suppliers.

The issue is a huge one in the continuing debate over climate change. Environmental groups believe investors will reward companies that become more climate friendly once they are required to be transparent about the financial risks global warming poses to their bottom lines.

Shareholders have been increasingly demanding such climate-related information, which some companies already make available voluntarily.

However, if approved by SEC commissioners after a public comment period, the rule would for the first time require companies to provide standardised disclosures.

In a recent letter to the SEC, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) said it supported efforts to bring uniformity to climate change disclosures “because investors are increasingly considering climate change risks in their investment decisions.”

The NASAA suggested that, in the absence of uniform standards for reporting on environmental impact, companies may make selective or misleading disclosures about the environmental benefits of their products or services to make the company appear to its investors to be more environmentally friendly than it really is, a phenomenon also known as ‘greenwashing.’

The result, it added, is currently investor confusion.

Leading asset manager BlackRock has said in comments to the SEC it strongly supports mandated climate disclosures because such a rule “will help enable investors to make more informed decisions about how to achieve durable long-term returns.”

However, Blackrock said it believed that mandatory disclosure should be aligned with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and sector-specific metrics, such as those identified by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board.

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