The United States of America Moves Forward with the Biden-Harris “Climate Crisis Agenda” for Federal Government Actions

March 2021

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

As he assumed the post of the highest elected public officer of the United States, President Joseph Biden characterized his [as the] “Climate Administration” — and immediately (the fabled Day One actions) set out a very ambitious “climate crisis” policy agenda for action by the many arms of the Federal government agencies under his control. (Notably, all cabinet offices with their great reach into all corners of the American Society.)

As a current commentary in the influential Harvard Business Review explains: “Biden put the environment squarely at the heart of U.S. federal policy, and for good reason. The future competitiveness of the U.S. economy is at stake, and climate action is an effective way to boost jobs, prevent future systemic shocks, and secure a prosperous future.”

In the commentary by Maria Mendiluce, CEO of the We Mean Business coalition, she posits at least seven important implications for corporate sector and other business leaders:

  • Climate regulation is coming (with a “net zero emissions” goal envisioned by 2050). Climate-focused regulations are being adopted around the world and we can expect to see some in the near term in the United States of America. The U.K. is an example – 2030 is the end date for sales of gasoline-powered autos.
  • Corporations will be in the vanguard in moving society in transitioning to the net zero ambitions (companies can help to scale up solutions for de-carbonizing society). Examples cited include Amazon, Apple, Ford, Microsoft, Walmart, Uber, and Verizon.
  • There’s risk for companies that delay climate action. Watch out if your enterprise is not “de-carbonizing” and transitioning from “black-to-a-green” energy company.
  • As we are seeing, investors are looking with favor on companies that taking action on climate matters – portfolio managers are moving away from high polluting firms. Asset managers like BlackRock are leading the way in pushing corporate leaders to adopt net zero targets. Capital is “looking” for greener businesses to invest in.
  • Soon, we can expect climate risk disclosures and reporting on GHG emissions to become mandatory. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has warned that financial regulators must recognize climate change poses risk to the U.S. financial system. The head of that federal agency is now talked about as prospective Chair of the Securities & Exchange Commission in the Biden-Harris Administration.
  • While there has been discussion about carbon pricing schemes, and a bit of action in Europe, we can expect to see that discussion to increase in tempo and a price put on pollution.
  • Public sector investment in clean energy is on the rise (look at the volume of “green bonds” in recent months). In the United States, the new administration pledged to invest US$2 trillion in clean energy and infrastructure and the many Trump-Pence Administration rollbacks of environmental regulations are being put back in place by Biden-Harris actions.

We can expect to see more presidential Executive Orders, more administration, corporate and public sector pledges and commitments, and more Biden-Harris administration policy definitions related to climate action in 2021.

President Biden plans to convene a Leaders Summit for Earth Day and have the U.S. government back at the table at COP 26, the global confab for climate negotiations. “The USA is back” is the theme for 2021.

Concludes Maria Mendiluce: “This is a turning point for the U.S. and the world. It’s not too late for companies to adapt to the new net zero economy and support a green recovery. There is also no time to lose.”

We have selected her essay in HBR for the Top Story category of the G&A Newsletter this week, along with relevant developments in the “Climate Administration” of President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris.

The “We Mean Business” coalition has 1,596 companies involved with collective market cap of almost $25 trillion; these firms have made 2,000-plus “bold action climate commitments” to date. There is more information at: https://www.wemeanbusinesscoalition.org/

TOP STORIES

About “Stakeholder Capitalism”: The Public Debate

Here is the Transition — From the Long-Dominant Worldview of “Stockholder Capitalism” in a Changed World to…Stakeholder Capitalism!

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

October 2020

As readers of of G&A Institute’s weekly Sustainability Highlights newsletter know, the shift from “stockholder” to “stakeholder” capitalism has been underway in earnest for a good while now — and the public dialogue about this “21st Century Sign of Progress” has been quite lively.

What helped to really frame the issue in 2019 were two developments:

  • First, CEO Larry Fink, who heads the world’s largest asset management firm (BlackRock) sent a letter in January 2019 to the CEOs of companies in portfolio to focus on societal purpose (of course, in addition to or alongside of corporate mission, and the reasons for being in business).
  • Then in August, the CEOs of almost 200 of the largest companies in the U.S.A. responded; these were members of influential Business Roundtable (BRT), issuing an update to the organization’s mission statement to embrace the concepts of “purpose” and further cement the foundations of stakeholder capitalism.

These moves helped to accelerate a robust conversation already well underway, then further advanced by the subset discussion of Corporate America’s “walking-the-talk” of purpose et al during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Now we are seeing powerful interests weighing in to further accelerate the move away from stockholder primacy (Professor Milton Friedman’s dominant view for decades) to now a more inclusive stakeholder capitalism.  We bring you a selection of perspectives on the transition.

The annual gathering of elites in Davos, Switzerland this year — labeled the “Sustainable Development Impact Summit” — featured a gaggle of 120 of the world’s largest companies collaborating to develop a core set of common metrics / disclosures on “non-financials” for both investors and stakeholders. (Of course, investors and other providers of capital ARE stakeholders — sometimes still the inhabiting the primacy space on the stakeholder wheel!)

What are the challenges business organizations face in “making business more sustainable”?

That is being further explored months later by the World Economic Forum (WEF-the Davos organizers) — including the demonstration (or not) of excellence in corporate citizenship during the Covid-19 era. The folks at Davos released a “Davos Manifesto” at the January 2020 meetings (well before the worst impacts of the virus pandemic became highly visible around the world).

Now in early autumn 2020 as the effects of the virus, the resulting economic downturn, the rise of civil protests, and other challenges become very clear to C-suite, there is a “Great Reset” underway (says the WEC).

The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window opportunity to “reflect, reimagine, and reset our world to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future.”

New ESG reporting metrics released in September by the World Economic Forum are designed to help companies report non-financial disclosures as part of the important shift to Stakeholder Capitalism.

There are four pillars to this approach:  People (Human Assets); Planet (the impact on natural environment); Prosperity (employment, wealth generation, community); and Principles of Governance (strategy, measuring risk, accounting and of course, purpose).

The WEF will work with the five global ESG framework and standard-setting organizations as we reported to you recently — CDSB, IIRC, CDP, GRI, SASB plus the IFAC looking at a new standards board (under IFRS).

Keep in mind The Climate Disclosure Standards Board was birthed at Davos back in 2007 to create a new generally-accepted framework for climate risk reporting by companies. The latest CDSB report has 21 core and 34 expanded metrics for sustainability reporting. With the other four collaborating organizations, these “are natural building blocks of a single, coherent, global ESG reporting system.”

The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC, another of the collaborators) weighed in to welcome the WEF initiative (that is in collaboration with Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PWC) to move toward common ESG metrics. And all of this is moving toward “COP 26” (the global climate talks) which has the stated goal of putting in place reporting frameworks so that every finance decision considers climate change.

“This starts”, says Mark Carney, Governor, Bank of England, and Chair of the Financial Stability Board, “with reporting…this should be integrated reporting”.

Remember, the FSB is the sponsor of the TCFD for climate-related financial disclosure.  FSB is a collaboration of the central banks and treasury ministries of the G-20 nations.

“COP 26 was scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland, and was postponed due to the pandemic. We are now looking at plans for a combined 26 and 27 meeting in November 2021.”  Click here for more information.

There is a lot of public dialogue centered on these important moves by influential players shaping and advancing ESG reporting — and we bring you a selection of those shared perspectives in our Top Stories in the Sustainability Highlights newsletter this week.

Top Stories On Davos & More

And then there is this, in the public dialogue on Stakeholder Capitalism, adding a dash of “reality” from The New York Times:

In Focus: Climate Change Challenges for Financial Sector Players and the Companies They Provide With Capital – Measuring and Managing the Risk

August 2 2020

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

Some encouraging developments for you from the (1) capital markets community and (2) the corporate sector and (3) the combining of forces of each.

To start: Morgan Stanley has become the first major U.S. bank to join the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials and will begin measuring and disclosing the emissions generated by the businesses that it lends to and invests in.

Big deal, we say:  the sources of capital telling the world what the companies they lend to, invest in, are emitting…whether the company discloses that or not. 

PCAF is a global collaboration of financial institutions aiming to standardize carbon accounting for the financial sector.

The work of the partnership could profoundly change the way that financial institutions and their corporate clients address climate change issues (and disclose the result of same).

Morgan Stanley will lend its insights and expertise to help the coalition development global standard that can be used by all financial institutions to measure and reduce their own climate impact.

In addition to measuring its Scope 3 emissions – including financed emissions, defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol as Category 15 emissions.

Morgan Stanley’s announcement comes a year after the institution released a report outlining the financial benefits of decarbonization for businesses — with an earnings potential between US$3-to-$10 billion.

Also involved in the standards project on the Steering Committee: ABN AMRO, Amalgamated Bank, ASN Bank, Tridos Bank, and the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV).

Today there are 66 institutions involve in the partnership, with $US5 trillion-plus in collective AUM. The partnership is planning on releasing the standard at the COP 26 global gathering.

The Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing builds “finance solutions” that seek to deliver competitive financial returns while driving positive “E” and “S” solutions.  Audrey Choi is the bank’s Chief Sustainability Officer and CEO of the Institute.  More information is at: www.morganstanley.com/sustainableinvesting.

And here is the encouraging news from the corporate sector and the investor service provider community:  Microsoft (MSFT) is teaming with MSCI – the global investment community advisor on risk and ESG issues – to “accelerate innovation among the global investment industry”.

MSFT’s cloud and AI technologies along with MSCI’s portfolio of tools will be aligned to “unlock innovations for the industry and enhance the ESG ratings agency’s products, data and services”.

The collaboration begins with migration of MSCI’s products onto the Microsoft Azure cloud platform with Index and Analytics solutions and then on to the MSCI ESG products and ratings.

Going forward MSFT and MSCI will explore possibilities to further drive development of climate risk and ESG solutions for investors and corporates.

Third item:  Microsoft is aiming to become a Zero-Carbon Enterprise.  The company announced a “suite” of  initiatives to wipe out the carbon “debt” acquired  — get ready – over the lifetime of this tech company.  Every bit of carbon “debt” ever generated over several decades!

MSFT is joining forces with Maersk, Danon, M-Benz, Natura, Nike, Starbucks, Unilever and Wipro to create a new coalition – Transform to Net Zero. (Environmental Defense Fund/EDF is a founding member).  MSFT peer/competitor/fellow transformation of society company Apple is aiming to have net-zero impact on every product in the next 10 years.

These Top Stories are of a “fit” – as financial institutions develop new approaches to meeting climate change challenges the Global Carbon Accounting Partnership moves forward to bring a new standard to the financial services community.

And the MSCI / MSFT collaboration will be developing tools and resources that align with the standards effort.  MSFT itself is moving toward to become Zero Carbon tech company.  Do stay tuned!  Some details for you….

Morgan Stanley Becomes First U.S. Bank To Measure Carbon Footprint Of Its Loans (Source: OilPrice) Morgan Stanley has become the first U.S. bank to start measuring the emissions generated by the businesses it lends to and invests in, the bank said in a press release.

The news from Microsoft and MSCI on their collaboration:
https://www.msci.com/documents/10199/b8849622-7a48-1901-123e-29d39cca3814

As we prepared the above perspectives in our weekly newsletter, more related news came in:  Stefanie Spear, our colleague at As You Sow, alerted us that Bank of America and Citi Group joined Morgan Stanley in the commitment to publicly disclosure carbon emissions from loans and investments. (The two institutions are part of the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials, a global framework for financial institutions to measure and disclose the emissions from their lending and investment portfolios.)

And one more for you – Polly Ghazi of Triple Pundit (part of 3BL Media) prepared an excellent roundup of recent news that includes Morgan Stanley, BlackRock and Boston Consulting.  (And thank you to her for the mention of the G&A Institute’s S&P 500 research results on corporate reporting.)

We present 3BL media roundups in the weekly G&A newsletter, Sustainability Highlights — here is Polly’s post: https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2020/sustainability-reporting-new-highs/121006