COP 27 in Egypt: The United States Got Back To the Table

November 2022

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The top stories in ESG and sustainability in November included the coverage of the annual global climate meetings that took place in Egypt – COP 27 (the Conference of Parties), convened by the United Nations.

These meetings of about 200 sovereign nations’ leaders and other global influentials began in Rio de Janiero in 1992 (President George H.W. Bush was in his last year in office).

The position of the United States in the global talks (and the agreements that result) have see-sawed over the years in terms of staying at the table, and exerting leadership or not. The welcome news for 2022 is that the U.S. is back at the table. And at least for now, attempting to lead. 

This year’s meetings saw President Joseph Biden drop in to address the gathering. ormer Secretary of State John Kerry, now the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, appeared to be playing a much more visible role than was the case during prior years (during when the Trump Administration was in charge and moving away from the COP talks and the Paris Agreement of 2015).  

It is fitting for the United States of America attempting to lead in the global efforts to address climate changes and the challenges posed  — the U.S. is the world’s largest economy and the second largest emitter of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Use of oil and natural gas define the American economy and the culture of the nation.  The US is a major producer of and user of fossil fuel products. 

In his remarks at COP 27, President Biden “reclaimed” the country’s role as global leader in climate change actions and committed to help to address global warming at home and abroad.

The Biden Administration’s “Whole of Government” comprehensive approach to climate change was the centerpiece of his commentary to the gathered at COP 27.

Emphasizing the U.S. commitment to address climate change, President Biden told the summit participants: “I introduced the first piece of climate legislation in the United States Senate way back in 1986, 36 years ago. My commitment to this issue has been unwavering.

“And today, finally, thanks to the actions we’ve taken, I can stand here as President of the United States of America and say with confidence: The United States of America will meet our emissions targets by 2030. We are racing forward to do our part to avert the ‘climate hell’ that the U.N. Secretary-General so passionately warned about earlier this week. We’re not ignoring the harbingers that are already here.”

For domestic U.S. audiences, President Biden had this important news: “The United States became the first government to require that our major federal suppliers disclose their emissions and climate risks and set targets for themselves that are aligned with the Paris Agreement.

“As the world’s largest customer, with more than US$630 billion in spending last year, the government of the United States is putting our money where our mouth is to strengthen accountability for climate risk and resilience.”

However, while the U.S. government could leverage almost US$400 billions committed by Congress and the Administration to make investments in climate change solutions, “missing” are major investments to help other less-wealthy nations in climate change mitigation.

Not that President Biden was unsympathetic about helping other nations — . he has pledged to help developing countries with $11 billion each year to 2024 for transitioning to wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

Who Will Pay?  A Question Floating Above the Conversations

“Reparations” was the a key word circulating at COP 27 — who will help the less fortunate nations to address climate change issues? The expectations of less developed economies is that the rich peers, who generate the carbon emissions that affect the climate, will come to the aid of the nations they are negatively affecting.

While the U.S. expresses ambitions to help, with a divided U.S. Congress (keepers of the purse strings), the U.S. is not likely near-term to commit funds for other countries to address their climate change challenges.  The present state of affairs in US governance poses the question of whether the nation itself can continue on course to meet the goals of the “whole of government” approach to addressing climate change over changes of administrations. 

The “reparations” are about “loss and damage”. As The New York Times pointed out in its coverage of the COP meetings –  determining “loss and damage” funding is very difficult to define and loaded with potential legal liability for donating nations (such as for the U.S. and European powers).

Not that President Biden was unsympathetic about helping other nations. He has pledged to help developing countries with $11 billion each year to 2024 for transitioning to wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

One of continuing stories we see as this conference (COP 27) ends and the almost 200 nations that participate in the Conference of Parties are back at home dealing with climate change will be increasing focus among the participants on the “who pays” question going forward. The G&A team will be being staying tuned and will keep you updated as we move toward COP 28.

President Biden’s Comments at COP 27:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/11/11/remarks-by-president-biden-at-the-27th-conference-of-the-parties-to-the-framework-convention-on-climate-change-cop27-sharm-el-sheikh-egypt/

The Domestic Agenda To Renew and Strengthen the U.S. from Council on Foreign Relations –

November 4, 2022

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Strategist, G&A Institute

How about attending to some critical domestic issues that could help to determine the USA’s Global Influence

The United States of America “in” the world and “of” the world. Where do we as a nation and where do our people stand on domestic and global issues? Where should we stand on policies and practices (and what should the U.S. “stand for”)?

We monitor the work of, and the shared perspectives of a good number of organizations here at G&A Institute, including the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

As the COP 27 gathering nears (the Conference on Parties / UN climate talks), what are the concerns of the citizens of the U.S. – and what are the concerns of citizens of other nations about the U.S.?

Most important, what should our top line domestic concerns be so that the United States is well positioned to continue to lead as the world’s largest economy? And project influence abroad?

The Council set out its “Renewing America” agenda recently, with the noble aims of “fortifying the political, economic, and societal foundations fundamental to national security and international influence” (it’s our Top Story selection for you).

Nine critical domestic issues are on the agenda.

The CFR concerns address issues that likely keep CEOs and board rooms up at night as they strategize and chart the way forward for their company:

• Energy and climate change [the concerns about the effects of domestic wildfires, severe storms, other extreme events, transitions/shifting to cleaner energy and energy efficiency];
• the future of the world of work;
• trade and finance [needed sensible policies, fixing the supply chain];
• democracy and [public sector] governance [ability to project power in the world];
• education [and the need for skilled workers, the long-term need for educated workforce];
• immigration (and attracting talent for the American workforce);
• infrastructure (investment to address crumbling infrastructure);
• innovation (R&D, China posing challenges to U.S. technology]:
• and, social justice and equity (think: long-term injustices to be considered).

On Energy and Climate Change: the Council experts share a “filter” of perspectives on the topics, including the perspectives of the U.S. ambassador on climate, Secretary of State John Kerry (“COP 27 and International Climate Action – a Conversation”).

Other “filtered” perspectives include “How the Inflation Reduction Act Will Help the U.S. to Lead in Clean Energy Economy”; “California Capitalism’s Successes and Challenges:, and, a webinar on “Climate Justice.”

If you have not followed the Council on Foreign Relations, the web link we provide will help you to learn more about the topics that we headline above.




Top Story:  https://www.cfr.org/programs/renewing-america


Common Sustainability Reporting Standards Remain Elusive

December 21, 2021

by Bernie Kilkelly – VP and Director of Corporate ESG Disclosure, G&A Institute

Efforts by various international organizations to develop common global sustainability reporting standards continue to run into roadblocks, as different groups propose diverging approaches and methodologies to enhance ESG disclosure.

As reported by Responsible Investor (link below in our Top Stories), the G7 Impact Taskforce that was created in July (under the UK’s presidency of the G7), recently commented about reporting standards being developed by the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), an even newer group launched at COP26 in Glasgow.

Rather than helping to find common ground around simplifying the alphabet soup of reporting frameworks and standards, the comments by the G7 Impact Taskforce (ITF) seemed to add to concerns that reporting standards could become more fragmented.

The ITF said it supports the approach of the ISSB, which is governed by the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) body, to develop a global reporting baseline focusing on the impact of sustainability factors on company enterprise values.

But at the same time, it recommended that countries “build upon this” approach to include other impacts on stakeholders that this reporting baseline would not address.

The ITF’s comments seemed to show support for the broader “double materiality” reporting approach that focuses on the impacts of business activities on society and the environment.  The “double materiality” approach is being used by the European Union’s accounting body —  the European Financial Advisory Group (EFRAG) — to develop a new set of corporate sustainability disclosure standards.

While the ITF’s statement calls for mandatory impact accounting for businesses and investors that would include “harmonized standards,” the elusive search for a common global approach to sustainability reporting continues.

As we close out 2021 and embark on a New Year, the G&A Institute team will continue to monitor the efforts of these organizations and help you make sense of the ever-changing world of sustainability reporting and disclosure.

Best wishes from the G&A team to all for a Happy New Year!

Top Stories

The World’s Eyes on the USA as FSOC Agencies Engage on Climate Risk

October 31, 2021 – As The Family of Nations gathers for COP 26 climate talks in Glasgow – the USA is back at at the table. 

What is President Joe Biden and the American delegation bringing with them to Scotland?  A big announcement from the White House just a few days ago that signals “we are serious”. Especially in regulatory and financial matters.

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The gathering of the family of the world’s nations in Glasgow, Scotland for “COP 26” (the annual UN climate summit) is at hand!

There has been an increasing flow of news and opinion related to the big event as the United Nations, almost 200 sovereign governments, NGOs, corporations, and other constituencies announce a widening range of developments related to the summit now underway

In the United States, a significant announcement came in October as the Federal government’s FSOC – the Financial Stability Oversight Council “engaged on climate change”.

We’re sharing the important background with you:

You may recall that in May 2021, soon after taking office, The Biden-Harris Administration detailed the policies and actions of its “whole of government” approach to climate change in the “U.S. Climate-Related Risk Executive Order” (the “EO”) originally issued in May 2021.

The EO set out the federal government’s climate risk accountability framework and the implementation strategies for the “whole of government” approach to climate-related financial risk.

Think about the agencies affected by the EO: NASA; DoD; Labor; Interior; HHS; Education; the Federal Acquisition Council (considering GhG emissions when making buying decisions)…and many more.

The policies in the EO and in then implementation steps by Federal agencies are again in public view as President Joe Biden prepared to participate in the COP 26 meetings.

The White House reminded us of EO 14030 in a news announcement (“A Roadmap to Build a Climate-Resilient Economy”) on October 14th.

This was the backdrop for the announcement from the powerful FSOC via U.S. Treasury Department for planned measures to protect retirement plans, homeowners, consumers, businesses and supply chains, workers, and the federal government from the financial risks of climate change.

Policies and actions were outlined for us as the FSOC on October 21 at identified climate change as an emerging and increasing threat to financial stability.

To review: there are six important “workstreams” in the Federal government’s framework to address climate-related financial risk:

• Protecting the resilience of the U.S. financial system.
• Protecting life savings and pensions.
• Using Federal procurement (federal agencies are the largest buyers of goods and services in the nation).
• Incorporating the risks into Federal lending and underwriting.
• Incorporating the risks into the Federal financial management and budgeting.
• Building resilient infrastructure and communities.

In the historic May 2021 EO “financial regulation” was among the issues addressed; now we are seeing the implementation plans of the government’s Financial Stability Oversight Council (the FSOC), the member group of key regulators as the agencies of the council spell out approaches to engagement on climate change issues.

Important: the work of the regulatory agencies in the FSOC affects many aspects of the American society: the Federal Reserve System and 12 district banks; Department of Treasury; the Office of Comptroller of Currency (OCC), part of Treasury that regulates national banks; Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC); Commodity Trading Futures Commission (CTFC); and, Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

The FSOC’s new report demonstrates the Council’s and member Federal agencies’ commitment to building on and accelerating existing efforts on climate change through “concrete recommendations” to the individual member agencies.

In our conversations with corporate managers and investment professionals we often explain that after the 2008 financial crisis, the member nations of the G20 came together to address financial risk matters in the new Financial Stability Board (FSB). This is a “think tank” approach to developing policies that each G20 nation can bring back to their regulatory agencies for consideration.

The FSB created the TCFD (Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosure), chaired by Michael Bloomberg. Important to keep in mind: the representatives to the FSB are the Secretary of the Treasury; the Federal Reserve chair; and, the SEC chair.

Each of those regulatory agencies and their leaders are members of the Federal government’s Financial Stability Oversight Council.

Commenting on the latest developments at FSOC, former Federal Reserve chair, now Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen noted: the FSOC report puts climate change squarely at the forefront of the agenda of [Council member agencies] and is a critical first step forward in addressing the threat of climate change…it will by no means be the end of this work…”

We share the important documents related to these development as President Joe Biden and his delegation start their conversations at COP 26. 

Top Story/Stories

U.S. Financial Stability Oversight Council Engages on Climate Change
https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0426

Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen Comments
https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0424

From the White House: Executive Order #14030
https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Climate-Finance-Report.pdf




Earth Day – Climate Week – The World Celebrates Promises and Actions to Meet Climate Change Challenges

April 21 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

In brief – yes, this is Climate Week, being observed just about everywhere on this precious Blue Orb floating in space. 

The varied observations are “surrounding” the now-50-plus-one years of celebrating Earth Day going back to April 1970, United States Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was the moving force behind the very first Earth Day in the United States of America.

Good news for 2021: The U.S.A. is fully “back” in climate change matters with the nation rejoining the Paris Agreement and embracing and promising to surpass the COP temperature-limiting goals. As we write this,

President Joseph Biden and VP Kamala Harris are leading a global leader virtual summit on climate change issues.

Senator Gaylord’s words in Denver, Colorado that first Earth Day continue to speak to us across the decades: “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human being and all living creatures.”

Here we are in 2021 in the USA witnessing the dramatic expansion of the decades of Earth Day celebrations with current and future promises, pledges, and action on many fronts – in many nations as well – and among global institutions (like the arms of the United Nations and many more),

And by tens of millions of people, individuals who care about the state of humanity and state of our planet.

While considerable focus is on the Biden-Harris Administration policy declarations and actions at the Federal level (“the climate administration”), there are many more actions at the state, city – municipality and tribal levels as well in the United States.

And, across the spectrum of firms in “Corporate America” and at many asset management firms there is the rapidly-widening embrace of ESG policies and actions.

‘No doubt the digital climate summit of this week will spur internal debate in corporate suites along the lines of: What are industry and investing peers doing – what else should we be doing! What are our risks and opportunities as the world engages to move toward Net Neutrality!

In this brief post we are sharing timely updates in each of our subject/topic silos that readers find each week in the G&A Sustainability Highlights newsletter.

Reminder – there is much more related current and archived climate change content beyond the silos for you on the G&A’s SustainabilityHQ platform.  And more related content to share on G&A’s Sustainability Update blog.

TOP STORIES

Celebrating Climate Week & Earth Day 2021 – Global Leaders Gather in “Climate Summit” Hosted by the U.S. – Kumbaya for Paris Agreement Goals Refresh

April 30 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

A highlight of the numerous celebrations of the 2021 Climate Week / Earth Day around the world was the hosting of a “global summit” of leaders from 40 nations and sub-governments, the investment community, the corporate community, NGOs, and advocates, the E.U., multilateral organizations, indigenous communities, and others – hosted this year by the United States of America.

We could describe the enthusiastic presentations and panel discussions over the two days by global participants a kumbaya gathering to refresh and update the 2015 Paris Agreement (or Accord) moments as the world leaders then set out ambitious goals to limit global warming.

The big news – the USA is back in the global effort to address climate change challenges.

President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were the primary hosts over the two days of digital meetings, along with former Secretary of State John Kerry (now the White House climate envoy), present Secretary of State Antony Blinken, cabinet officers, and others in the administration making presentations and leading discussions.

Sovereign leaders joined the two days of discussions to present the strategies and actions (current and planned) for their respective nations (including China, UK, Russia, France, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Marshall Islands, and others).

The measures sovereign governments (large and small!) are taking to address climate change challenges – with the foundation of the Paris Agreement of 2015 as guide – are sweeping; some initiatives are now in partnership with other nations (the USA and India, or EU nations and African nations, as examples).

We have included for you the Fact Sheet issued by the White House in our Top Stories for this week. “

The USA is Back” on climate issues is the general messaging of the Biden-Harris Administration, with many specifics set out during the two-day conference.

Some examples of the “whole of government” climate approaches in the United States — and an ambitious agenda for helping developing nations around the world:

  • The United States will double the nation’s target for overall reduction of carbon emissions (NDC) by 50 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. This “underscores the commitment to lead a clean energy revolution”.
  • To assist other nations, a Global Climate Ambition Initiative was launched to support developing nations in establishing net-zero strategies, to be led by the US Department of State and USAID (the US Agency for International Development).
  • These efforts will need funding; the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) commits to achieving a net zero investment portfolio by 2040 with one-third or more of the new investments made having a “climate nexus” by FY 2023. The DFC will work with the Rockefeller Foundation to support distributed energy and other innovations offshore.
  • The USA and Canada are chairing “The Greening Government Initiative” to lead by example in helping developing nations implement their respective climate change plans to “increase resilience and mitigate emissions from their government operations and collaborating on common goals”.
  • The North American partners will seek to develop net zero economies, using 100 “clean electricity” and zero emissions vehicle fleets (as examples of climate leadership in action).
  • President Biden announced an international climate finance plan, making use of his country’s multilateral and bilateral channels and institutions to help developing countries; this will include directing the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.

There is much more for you to digest in the sweeping range of current and planned initiatives in the White House Fact Sheet in the Top Stores.

Considering the announcements from Washington DC in the context of the actions of other nations and organizations that we are sharing in the newsletter. We have news from the European Union, the Global Reporting Initiative, United Nations Global Compact, CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC).

Important: We can all give a nod of thanks to the media who today are covering the many aspects of climate change challenges (and solutions) – including Forbes, Associated Press, CNN, The Guardian, and many others whose coverage of CC topics & issues we share with you each week.

Bravo, editors and journalists, for keeping us informed of the progress made as well as the societal challenges we still face.

TOP STORIES

Climate Summit

EU Regulations: Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive

Investors & Climate Change – Leading Institutions and their Growing Networks are Urging Expanded Corporate Disclosure

June 28 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

What about the steadily-rising investor expectations for the corporate sectors’ climate change actions and expanded ESG disclosures?

We are able to more closely examine the rising expectations of leading asset owners/key fiduciaries and their asset managers to understand the investors’ views on the ESG / sustainability disclosure practices of issuers they provide capital to.

This includes keeping close watch on individual institutions and especially the collaborations of investment organizations they participate in.

For example, this news out of London: Some 168 investors hailing from 28 countries are now collaborating to urge companies with “high environmental impact” to use CDP’s system to disclose their environmental data.

And note:  The companies being targeted by investors represent US$28 trillion in market cap and emit an estimated 4,700 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent…every year.

The investor collaboration is part of CDP’s 2021 Non-Disclosure Campaign, created to put pressure on companies that have not disclosed their carbon emissions through CDP or have discontinued the practice. Beyond carbon concerns,

CDP and its collaborating investors and investor groups are also zeroing in on companies with forest or water security concerns. (Note that some firms disclose to CDP on one theme of concern to the investor but not others – some companies report on climate change but not on water or forestry issues.)

Targeted companies for investor action in the U.S. included at the “top of the As” are such firms as Apple, Amazon, Aramark, Abbott Laboratories, Activision Blizzard, Albemarle Corp, and Alliant Energy. In Switzerland, Alcon; in Sweden, Alfa Laval Corporate AB; in Canada, Allied Properties REIT; in Brazil, Ambev S.A.; in the U.K., Arrow Global Group. The complete list is available here for your searching.

The bold name asset management firms joining the CDP campaign for greater corporate disclosure this year include HSBC Global Asset Management, Legal and General Investment Management, Nuveen, and Schroders.

Investors supporting the campaign include asset managers and separate activist investor collaborations that are part of The Investor Agenda, which has produced a comprehensive framework recently for these investors (HSBC Global Asset Management, Legal and General Investment Management, Nuveen.)

This effort was founded by seven partners including Ceres, CDP, UN PRI, and UNEP Finance Initiative. In the United States, National Association of Plan Advisors, The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing  (U.S. SIF) and Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) have joined the effort.

The approach is to set out “expectations” in four areas:

  • corporate engagement,
  • investment (managing climate risk in portfolio),
  • enhancing investor disclosure, and
  • policy advocacy (urging actions to drive to the 1.5C pathway). Part of this is an urging of governments to take action to address climate change, moving toward this year’s COP 26 gathering in Glasgow.

The CDP Non-Disclosure campaign is now in its fifth year, enjoying a 39% year-on-year growth in investor participation since the start in 2017, with investor participation up more than 50% since 2020.

This effort is part of a broad movement of investor participants and investor alliances aiming to drive change in the companies they provide capital to, as governments, investors and corporations adopt goals to be part of the societal move to achieve “Net Zero” by the year 2050.

These alliances include the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), gathering signatories to set science-based targets (SBTs).

Members of GFANZ include 43 banks participating in the Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA). The United Nations convened the NZBA to aim for a carbon-neutral investment portfolio by mid-century and will leverage the CDP campaign to target specific companies not disclosing their environmental data.

The opportunity for corporate managements to respond to the CDP disclosure campaign and be eligible for scoring and inclusion in CDP reports is at hand; the CDP disclosure system is open until July 28, 2021.

Here at G&A Institute, our team is assisting our corporate clients in responding to this year’s disclosure request from CDP.

For corporate managers: If your firm received the CDP request for disclosure for 2021 and you have questions about responding, or about your responses in development, the G&A Institute team is available to discuss. Contact us at info@ga-institute.com.

The details of the CDP campaign and the broad investor network focused on climate change actions and disclosure is our Top Story selection for you here.

TOP STORIES

A record 168 investors with US$17 trillion of assets urge 1300+ firms to disclose environmental data (Source: CDP

And more on the ESG disclosure front:

House-Approved Legislation Would Mandate ESG Disclosures (Source: National Association of Plan Advisors)

What’s the plan? Corporate polluters lag on setting climate goals (Source: Reuters)

ESG Disclosure – Swirling Public Dialogue on Status & Value Today and in Future for Corporate Constituencies

JULY 1 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

On corporate ESG / Sustainability / CR reporting – and third party assurance.  The trends?

The required financial reporting by publicly-traded companies is assured by third parties (accounting, auditing firms). In the U.S. SEC rules require public companies to have an annual audit; the audited financial statements have an opinion included from the auditing firms.

Objective: includes determining if the statement presents information fairly and in line with GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).

What does the outside auditor do in the financial reporting process?

Explains Ed Bannen at BGQ Partners LLC in Ohio: The most rigorous level of assurance is provided by an audit. It offers a reasonable level of assurance that financial statements are free from material misstatement and conform with GAAP. 

But what about the growing volume of corporate ESG / sustainability / responsibility reports flowing out from corporate issuers to investors and other stakeholders? The “non-GAAP stuff” of ESG disclosure at present?

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) “warns” that only half of companies at most back up their sustainability reports with assurance (IFAC looked at 1400 companies).  This presents “an emerging investor protection and financial stability risk.”

There is “some” level of ESG reporting by 91 percent of companies in 22 governmental jurisdictions now, but reporting standards used are inconsistent and IFAC urges that assurance practices need to mature alongside corporate ESG reporting.

Of course, the accountants noted that often where there is ESG assurance provided it is not by professional accountants but by other types of consultancies.

We bring you background on this from CFO Drive: Investors representing literally tens of trillions of AUM are looking for consistent, comparable, decision-useful information to determine whether to invest, sell or make a proxy vote…

SEC Chair Gary Gensler was quoted saying:  Therefore, SEC staff will be recommending governance, strategy and risk management practices related to climate risk, and determine whether metrics such as GHG emissions are relevant for investor consideration.”.  Stay tuned to the SEC!

Summing up: the operating environment for leaders of publicly-traded companies is rapidly changing when it comes to ESG / sustainability, public disclosure and structured reporting. In both the U.S. and in the European Union, regulators are proposing dramatic changes in rules or appear to be in the process of developing guidance and rules. (Frequently in the U.S., SEC also issues interpretations that reflect important changes in policy thinking about reporting.)

We bring you four important updates on these public discussions going on in our Top Stories selections.

On a recent webinar hosted by our partner organization, DFIN Solutions, there were 1,000 professionals registered for the session. About half of the attendees answered a survey question about whether or not their firm publishes a sustainability report, with about half saying “no” or “did not know.”

Clearly there is an urgent need for more corporate managements to become informed about ESG disclosure.

Information about the webinar “Navigating the Corporate ESG Journey: Strategies & Lessons Learned Featuring FIS Global, IR Magazine’s 2020 Best ESG Reporting Award Winner,” co-hosted by G&A Institute’s EVP Louis Coppola is here: https://info.dfinsolutions.com/navigating-corporate-ESG-journey-replay

Useful background from Ed Bannen, Senior Manager of GBQ’s Assurance and Business Advisory Services regarding statement assurance, auditing and related topics is here for you:https://gbq.com/levels-of-assurance-choosing-right/

Top Story/Stories – Reporting, Assurance and More in Focus

Crystal Clear Now – ESG Focus Must Be at the Top of the Corporation, for the Board Room & Executive Suite

July 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

Remember those 1970s /early ‘80s ubiquitous TV commercials with the tag line, “When EF Hutton Speaks, People Listen?” The point was that when the EF Hutton financial services firm “said” something about investing possibilities, we would be wise to sit up and listen carefully to the advice.

These days we are tuning in to the Securities & Exchange Commission to discern the future directions of corporate sustainability / ESG disclosure. To us it is clear: the broadening flow of comments indicates something is about to happen regarding corporate ESG disclosure.

Prime example: the keynote address of former Acting Chair and current Board Member Commissioner Allison Herren Lee, sharing important points of view with those gathered at the Society for Corporate Governance 2021 National Conference. Herren Lee put ESG in the context of the recent proxy season for the corporate secretaries (who are on the front lines of the proxy voting).

2021 proxy season shareholder proposals included those focused-on climate change. Manufacturing giant General Electric saw 98% of shareholders voting to approve a proposal for disclosures on how the company would achieve Net Zero.

At ConocoPhillips, 58% of shareholders approved a measure to have the large fossil fuel firm achieve Scope 3 emissions reductions. At United Air Lines, 65% voted in favor of a resolution to have the transport giant provide more information about how its lobbying efforts align with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Said the influential Commissioner (“D” members now are the agency’s board majority) about the backdrop of these types of resolutions coming from the providers of capital: “This is a broad reckoning with the need for advanced transparency on sustainability…also occurring amid ever-more powerful signals from major institutional investors of their commitment to sustainability.”

Commissioner Herren Lee talked about top-of-mind issues for board rooms and C-suites for mid-year 2021 (six months into the Biden-Harris Administration) on the “climate change crisis”: board challenges — climate, racial injustice, economic inequality, corporations and social & economic well-being of people and communities); public input on climate change disclosures; mitigating risks and maximizing ESG opportunities; enhancing board diversity; increasing board expertise; inspiring management success; public pledges on ESG issues that are actually backed by corporation action…and much more.

The Commissioner explained that the SEC itself is “listening” as well to the “thousands of comments in response to the request for public input on climate change disclosures.”

There is much more in the Commissioner’s comments to the corporate secretary universe that we bring to you in this post (including 58 footnotes). Safe to say these days – in board rooms and executive suites, when the SEC leaders speak, many in the corporate sector and capital markets are indeed listening.

Two related items are also on top for you. One is a recap from GreenBiz about this year’s “angst-filled proxy year” and another from Bloomberg Law about corporate leaders calling on their law firms to help “navigate the world of ESG governance.”

Here at G&A Institute, since the time of our founding 15 years ago, as the “ESG lockup” was coming together, we have advised that it could be “GES” – the governance (“G”) of the “E” and the “S” is a critical task up top of the organization…the details of this are neatly spelled out in abundance in the SEC Commissioner’s keynote address and in the many items that we bring you each week. If you are not already sharing these with board room and C-suite, please consider doing that!

Top Stories

Focus on European Green Deal & “Fit for 55” Approaches – Impacts Will Be Far Beyond the European Continent

August 2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The European Union is a collaborative effort of 27 sovereign nations on the continent organized to marshal the resources and collective capabilities of these member states to address economic, military, trade, travel, and other important issues.

The EU grew out of early post-WWII efforts to create a “common market” on the continent and to encourage closer peacetime relations among the disparate nations and cultures of western Europe.

The initial focus on economic issues has considerably broadened in recent years and ESG issues including climate change, GHG emissions, and carbon credits are very much in focus for the EU and its members in 2021.

The European Commission is the EU’s executive arm that addresses long-term strategies, sets the priorities agenda, and implements rules, policy changes, directives, and other measures.

They set six important priorities for the period 2019-2024:

(1) the European Green Deal, a set of climate action initiatives;

(2) a Europe “fit” for the digital age;

(3) an economy that works for people;

(4) a stronger Europe in the world;

(5) protecting the European way of life; and

(6) a new push for European democracy.

The challenges of climate change run throughout the six priorities but are addressed in the greatest detail in the European Green Deal.

The European Green Deal is an ambitious package of measures designed to address climate change and environmental degradation, which the European Commission has identified as existential threats to Europe and the world. Consider these ambitious goals:

  • No net emissions of GHG by 2050, to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent.
  • Economic growth to be decoupled from resource use.
  • No person/place left behind.
  • 8 trillion Euros to be invested in the NextGeneration EU Recovery Plan.

In July, the European Commission adopted proposals to reduce net GHG emissions by 55% or more by 2030, compared to 1990s levels.

This is the “Fit for 55” package that includes policies on climate, energy, transport, and taxation that could affect many business enterprises as well as sovereign governments within Europe and around the globe.

It would be wise for all of us to consider the impact of these initiatives beyond Europe – in just one example, in 2023 all importers to the EU will have to submit declarations annually on the carbon emissions attributable to their imported goods, and after 2026 importers will need to surrender certificates for those emissions.

There are many more details to consider, and our Top Stories for you this week (as well as many of our content silos in the Highlights) provide important details about what is happening as the European Green Deal policy concepts move forward.

If you have questions, the G&A team is available via email at info@ga-institute.com. We’re closely following ESG/sustainability topics and issues in Europe and around the world and advising our clients on developments that could affect their organizations in the short- and long-term.

TOP STORIES

EU’s “Fit for 55” Climate Policy