The U.S.A. & the 2015 Paris Accord: Five Years On, the Largest Economy on Earth Promises to Return – With a Cabinet of Climate Change Champions Preparing for Action

December 20 2020 – published again in the blog in October 2021 as President Joe Biden travels to the Stockholm meeting of the COP 26.

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

Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the great promise of the 21st Century in 2015 – the Paris Accord. Can you believe, it is now five years on (260 weeks or so this December 2020) since the meeting in the “City of Lights” of the Conference of Parties (“COP 21”, a/k/a the U.N. Paris Climate Conference).

This was the 21st meeting of the global assemblage focused on climate change challenges.

The Promise of Paris was the coming together of the world’s sovereign states – the family of nations — to address once more what for many if not all of the states is an existential threat: climate change.

The parties agreed to a binding, universal agreement – the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (“NDC”) to attempt to limit global warming to 2.7C by 2100.

The United States of America was [then] prominent among leading economies of the world at the Paris gathering, signaling the intention to play a significant role in addressing climate change matters. In fact, the final agreement was signed in New York City on Earth Day in April 2016.

Promises made, promises broken – in his campaigning and then almost immediately upon taking office, President Donald J. Trump said the U.S. would leave the historic agreement and nearing the end of his term in 2020 had just about completed the exit.

To the family of the world’s nations was this message: Do it without the United States of America.

Then, the recent good news: President-Elect Joseph Biden has indicated that his would be the “climate administration” beginning in January 2021 and quickly named former Secretary of State John Kerry to be his “climate czar”, the influential voice on the world stage to signal the USA is back in addressing the challenges of climate change.

Secretary Kerry was the U.S. representative to the COP 21 meetings in Paris and guided the nation’s inclusion in the Paris Agreement.

Forward to the last days of 2020: This is a climate emergency, President-Elect Biden said, and former US Senator and Secretary of State Kerry would lead the effort to elevate the nation’s response to the ever-escalating crisis, influencing policy and diplomatic initiatives on the world stage. (

Secretary Kerry will officially be on the National Security Council and report to the President of the United States after January 20, 2021.

Speaking to ProPublica, Secretary Kerry said “…the issues of climate change and human migration are intertwined… people are moving to places where they think they can live…and they will fight over places they want to move to… we will have millions, tens of millions of climate migrants…”

Come 2021, the family of nations can begin to celebrate – the United States of America will be back on the front lines in meeting myriad challenges related to the climate crisis.

As we prepared our commentary for the G&A Sustainability Highlights newsletter, President-Elect Biden named his dream team of climate change champions to lead the nation’s efforts:

Gina McCarthy, former head of the US EPA, will be the domestic climate change advisor (heading the White House Office of Climate Policy).

Governor Jennifer Granholm is the nominee to head the Department of Energy (her home state of Michigan is the home of the auto industry – she was the state’s governor).

Congresswoman Deb Haaland will be the first Native American when confirmed to be named to a cabinet post. She’s member of the federally-recognized Pueblo of Laguna, the New Mexico tribe whose 500,000 acres of land are near to Albuquerque. They refer to themselves as “Kawaik People”.  As Secretary of the Interior, she will have responsibility for jurisdiction over tens of millions of acres of tribal lands). Interior’s Department of Indian Affairs (BIA) is charged with “…promoting safe and quality living environments, strong communities, self-sufficiency and enhancing protection of the lives, prosperity and well-being of American Indians and Alaska Natives”.

Michael S. Regan, who worked in both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, and who is head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, is Biden’s nominee to head the US Environmental Protection Agency.  He will have the daunting task for rebuilding the nation’s environmental regulations that were unraveled during the Trump Administration.

Brenda Mallory, experienced federal government attorney, will had the Council on Environmental Quality.

This is also a team, Biden and supporters point out, “that looks like America”.

Leveraging the strategies, policies, actions, and programs designed to address climate change challenges, the team and colleagues will “build back better” with green infrastructure initiatives at the core.

In the December 2020 issue we brought readers a selection of current news and opinion and shared perspectives on the Paris Accord, now five years in.

As we neared year-end 2020 much of the news was about climate, climate, climate in the context of the peaceful transition of power in this, the world’s most influential democracy.

A nation that for many years had been that Shining City on a Hill for other peoples and nations.  Will the USA be that again?

Stay Tuned to climate change crisis responses that have the potential to be at the heart of many of the new administration’s public policy-making efforts. On to year 2021…

TOP STORIES in the Newsletter Dec 20 2020

Against the above context, we share here a selection of the perspectives on the 5-Year Anniversary of the Paris Agreement.  Where we are now as we prepare for the transition year 2021 in the USA:

Critical Development for CDP Responders in 2018 & 19: CDP Introduces Additional Alignment With FSB Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures Recommendations

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

Corporate ESG Data, Data, Data – it’s now everywhere and being digested, analyzed and applied to corporate equity analytics and portfolio decision-making.

Whether your public company participates in the annual round of organizing responses to the ever-more comprehensive queries from leading ESG / sustainability / CR rating agencies or not, there is a public ESG profile of your company that investors (asset owners, managers and analysts) are examining and applying to their work.

If you don’t tell the story of your firm’s progress in its sustainability journey, someone else will (and is).  And if you have not embarked on the journey yet…and there is not much to disclose and report on…you are building the wrong kind of moat for the company.  That is, one that will ever-widen and impair access to capital and affect the cost of capital.  And over time, perhaps put the company’s issues on the divestiture list for key investors.

This sounds a bit dramatic, but what is happening in the capital markets these days can be well described as a dramatic shift in focus and actions, with corporate ESG strategies, actions, programs, achievements, and disclosure becoming of paramount importance to a growing body of institutional and retail investors.

Consider these important developments:

  • The influential Barron’s editors, reaching hundreds of thousands of investors every week, beginning in Fall 2017 made coverage of corporate sustainability and sustainable investing a mainstay of the magazine’s editorial content.
  • Morningstar, the premier ranker of mutual fund performance, added sustainability to the analysis of funds and ETFs with guidance from Sustainalytics, one of the major ESG rating firms (and Morningstar made a significant investment in the firm).
  • SustainableInvest, headed  by Henry Shilling, former leader on sustainability matters for Moody’s Investor Service, noted that in 2Q 2018 as the proxy season was ending, 2018 voting was notable for the high level of “E” and “S” proposals, some achieving majority votes in shareholder voting at such firms as Anadarko Petroleum, Kinder Morgan and Range Resources.  Assets in 1,025 sustainable funds analyzed added $14 billion during 2Q and ended in June at US$286 billion; more than $1 billion was new net cash inflows, demonstrating investor interest in the products.

Significant:  according to the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulations, two-thirds of investor-submitted proxy resolutions focused on having the company follow through on the 2-degrees scenario (testing) were withdrawn and company boards and managements agreed to the demand for climate risk reporting.

The FSB TCFD Impact on Corporate Sector and Financial Services Sector

The Financial Stability Board, an organization founded by the central bankers and financial leaders of the G-20 nations, created a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (“TCFD”) to develop climate-related financial disclosures for adoption by financial services sector firms and by publicly-traded companies in general.

The 32-member Task Force, headed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced financial recommendations for companies and investors in June 2017.

The essence of the recommendations:

  • Corporate boards and managements should focus on the risks and opportunities present and in the future taking into account a global temperature risk of 2-degrees Centigrade (3.5-F), and in the future, 4-C and even 6-C global temperature rises.

The risks (presented are not just to the affected companies but to the financial sector institutions investing in the company, institutions lending funds to the company, carriers insuring the company, etc.).

The risks and opportunities related to climate change should be thoroughly analyzed using the scenario testing that the company uses (an example would be projecting future pricing, regulations, technologies, and “what ifs” for an oil and gas industry company).

The company should consider in doing the scenario testing and analyzing outcomes the firm’s corporate governance policies and practices; strategies for the long-term; risk management policies and resources; establishing targets; and, putting metrics in place for measuring and managing climate risk.  Then, the next step is disclosing this to investors and other stakeholders.

Key Player:  CDP and its Wealth of Corporate, Institutional and Public Sector Data

The CDP – formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project – was founded almost two decades ago (2000) as a United Kingdom-based not-for-profit charity at the urging of the investment community, to gather corporate “carbon” data.

Timing:  soon after the start of meetings of the “Conference of the Parties” (or “COP”), organized by the United Nations as the Climate Change Conferences. (The “UNFCCC”.)

In the mid-1990s, the Kyoto Protocol emerged that legally-bound nations to their pledge to reduce Greenhouse Emissions (GHGs).  The U.S.A. did not sign on to the global protocol during the tenure of President George W. Bush, and the agreement reached in Paris at the COP meeting in 2015 was finally agreed to by President Barack Obama.

And then began the process of withdrawal under President Donald Trump.  The U.S.A. is now the prominent holdout (among the community of 197 nations signed on) in the global effort to address global warming before the danger point is passed.  In Paris, the COP agreed that the threshold was 2-degrees Centigrade.

Today, a growing universe of investors and many other stakeholders are increasingly focused on the role of carbon emissions in the framing of questions about what to do as scientists charted the warming of Earth’s climate.

And so — ESG / environmental data is critical to the mission of determining “what to do” and then implementing measures to address climate change challenges.

The Critical Role of CDP 

CDP over almost two decades since its founding has become the premier repository of corporate data related to climate change – with more than 6,000 companies’ data collected and shared in organized ways with the investment community.  (That includes the ESG data of half of the world’s public companies by market cap.)

The CDP emissions data focused has broadened over 16 years to now include water, supply chain, forestry (for corporates) and environmental data from more than 500 cities and some 100 states and regions available to investors.

Key user base:

  • 650-plus institutional investors with US$87 trillion in Assets Under Management.
  • Corporate Supply Chain members (such as Wal-Mart Stores) that collect data from their suppliers through CDP—a universe of 115 companies with over $3.3 trillion in combined purchasing power.

When the TCFD recommendations were being developed, CDP announced a firm commitment to align with the task force recommendations.

Following their release of the Task Force recommendations in July 2017, CDP held public consultations on a draft version of the TCFD-aligned framework. The current 2018 Climate Change questionnaire that corporations received from CDP is fully aligned with the TCFD recommendations on climate-related disclosures related to governance, risk management, strategy, and metrics and targets.

The TCFD recommendations are already aligned with the majority of CDP’s longstanding approach to climate change disclosure, including most of the recommendations for climate-related governance, strategy, risk management as well as metrics and target disclosure.

However, this year CDP has modified some questions and added new ones — the most impactful being on climate-related scenario analysis to ensure complete alignment.

Some modifications include:

The Governance section now asks for more information about oversight of climate change issues and why a company doesn’t have board-level oversight (if applicable). CDP also requests information about the main individual below the board level with the highest responsibility — and how frequently they report up to the board.

Next, in the risks and opportunities section, CDP now asks for the climate-related risk & opportunity identification, and assessment process.

As in past years, questions are posed in the Business Strategy module to allow companies to disclose whether they have acted upon integrating climate-related issues into their strategy, financial planning, and businesses.

CDP has also added a question for high impact sectors on their low carbon transition plans, so data users can gauge and further understand the sustainable and strategic foresight that these companies aim to achieve.

CDP also added a new question on scenario analysis, explaining that scenario analysis is a strategic planning tool to help an organization understand how it might perform in different future states.

A core aim of the TCFD recommendations is for companies to improve their understanding of future risks and develop suitable resilience strategies.

Finally, the TCFD recommendations highlighted five (5) sectors as the most important. In 2018, CDP rolled out sector-specific questions for the four non-financial sectors that the TCFD highlighted (they are energy, transport, materials, and agriculture).

TCFD also highlighted the financial sector – looking forward, in 2019, CDP is planning to release a financial sector-specific climate change questionnaire.

The TCFD resources for investors and corporate managers are embodied in three documents – (1) the Main Report; (2) an Implementation Annex; (3) the Technical Supplement for Scenario Analysis.  These are available at:  www.fsb-tcfd.org

G&A Institute Perspectives:

Our team has been assisting corporate managers in organizing the response to the CDP annual survey and we’ve tracked over the years the steady expansion of information requested of companies.

Our advice to companies not reporting yet:  get started!  The CDP staff members are very cooperative in assisting new corporate reporters in understanding what data are being sought (and why) and providing answers to questions.

CDP’s founding CEO Paul Simpson cautions:  “Big companies:  get better at telling those who hold the purse strings how climate risks could affect your bottom line.”

And so, our mission at G&A includes helping corporate issuers tell a better sustainability and ESG story, including the story told in the data sets communicated to 650-plus institutional investors by CDP!

CDP data is everywhere, we advise clients, including for example being part of the volumes of ESG data sets that Bloomberg LP shares on its terminals (through the terminal ESG Dashboard).

On the supply chain side, we point out that more than US$3 trillion is the collective spend of companies now addressing their supply chain sustainability factors and environmental impacts (customers see suppliers as part of their own CDP footprint).  Corporate leaders in this effort include Apple, Honda and Microsoft, CDP points out.

Resources:

CDP’s Technical Notes on the TCFD are available at: https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/guidance_docs/pdfs/000/001/429/original/CDP-TCFD-technical-note.pdf?1512736184

The “A” List of CDP naming the world’s business leaders on environmental performance (160 firms) is at: https://www.cdp.net/en/scores-2017

The CDP USA Report 2017, focused on key findings on Governance, ESG and the Role of the Board of Directors is available at: https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/reports/documents/000/002/891/original/CDP-US-Report-2017.pdf?1512733010

There’s an excellent interview with CDP CEO/Founder Paul Simpson at: http://www.ethicalcorp.com/disruptors-paul-simpson-atypical-activist-who-woke-c-suites-climate-risk

You can check out Henry Shilling’s SustainableInvest.com at: https://www.sustainableinvest.com/second-quarter-2018-sustainable-funds-investing-review/