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




Pressure is Building on the C-Suite – to Start or Advance the Enterprise’s Sustainability Journey

July 2021

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

Pressure points:  The corporate executive suite in recent months has experienced pressure from both inside and outside the organization in terms of rising expectations related to corporate sustainability, responsibility, citizenship, ESG, and so on.

For example, asset owners and external asset managers are asking many more questions now about the sustainability journey of the companies they are invested in, including the company’s ESG strategies, actions, performance, metrics, outcomes, external recognitions, and more.

The customer base for a growing number of companies is now an important consideration related to the supplier/provider’s positioning in its sustainability journey.

The working principle here:  the large customer especially considers the supply chain “partners” to be part of their own ESG footprint.  Third-party organizations pose questions to supply chain partners on behalf of their client base (Ecovadis being an excellent example of this practice).

Consider, too, that the Federal government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the U.S. and the Biden Administration has instituted sweeping sustainability policies on sourcing of many kinds.

Regulators of different sorts are moving towards strongly urging companies to disclose more about their sustainability journeys and considering mandates to help ensure more comparable, accurate, complete, decision-worthy data and narrative disclosures to help providers of capital (investors, lenders, insurers) in their own portfolio management.  We see that now in the U.S. and in the European Union.

There is peer pressure – corporate issuers moving ahead to leadership positions in sustainability put pressure on industry peers to perform better, disclose more, and attain at least middle-of-the-pack positions. And laggards (those not yet on their journeys) are under even greater pressure today.

One place where the leader board really counts is in the now-numerous ESG ratings and rankings provided to institutional investors by the likes of MSCI, Sustainalytics, Institutional Shareholder Services, and other ESG rankers and raters.

And then there is the internal pressure point – employees want to work for a company demonstrating leadership in sustainability and responsibility.  They want to be an integral part of the journey and be a part of the team making great things happen. All this counts in recruitment, retention, and motivating the workforce.

This week we pulled together some of the contours of these pressures on boards and executive and management teams.  As you read this, thousands of people are gathering virtually for the UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit to discuss the growing pressure on governments, companies, investors, and other stakeholders to take action on climate change and sustainability issues.  The UNGC released the 2021 Survey of Companies & CEOs ahead of the gathering.

Top line results:  Business interests need to transition to more sustainable business models.  Over the past three years corporate leaders have been experiencing the pressures to do this; and 75 percent of survey respondents expect the next three years to be times of increased pressure on boardrooms and executive suites.

Where is pressure coming from?  Certainly, from the investor side.  For example, 450+ investors managing US$45 trillion in assets released a joint statement calling on world governments to create a race-to-the-top on climate policies…

This is the “2021 Global Investor Statement to Governments on the Climate Crisis” that asks for climate-related financial reporting to be mandatory, recognizing the climate crisis.

Seven investment management partners created “The Investor Agenda” to be shared at the recent G7 meeting to encourage advocacy for “ambitious climate policy action” leading up to the Glasgow, Scotland meeting of “The Conference of the Parties” (COP 26) in November.

The Investor Agenda is in the Top Stories below for your reading, along with comments from heads of NYS Common Fund, State Street/SSgA, Alliance Bernstein, Legal and General Investment Management, Fidelity International, and others.

In the U.S., 160 investors with U$2.7 trillion in AUM joined by 155 corporate leaders and 58 not-for-profit organizations are advocating for the Securities & Exchange Commission to protect investors from risks including systemic and financial risks related to climate change by mandating climate disclosure.

By doing this, corporate issuers can clarify the risks they should measure and disclose so that investors can make sound investment decisions.  SEC rules are needed, say the advocates, to provide comparable and consistent information.

Who are these advocates?  A group of state financial officers —  Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, California State Controller Betty Yee, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli – as well as Steven Rothstein, Managing Director for the Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets and others.  Their suggestions for moving to an SEC mandate is another Top Story selection for you.

G&A is closely monitoring the various pressure points being placed on organizations to start or advance your sustainability journey, and you can detect other pressure points in the story selections in the topic silos.

TOP STORIES

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

Federal Policymakers & Regulators Embrace or Reject ESG / Sustainability Factors – a Complicated Story of To & Fro

March 23, 3021

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

Federal policymaking and regulation with respect to investor risk and opportunity in the United States of America is a complicated story played out over almost a century. 

The modern era of laws passed/rules adopted to implement got underway in earnest in 1933 and 1934 following the October 1929 “Black Tuesday” stock market crash and subsequent failure of Wall Street firms and banks.

The Securities Act of 1933 and The Exchange Act of 1934 are the solid foundations of most of the investor protection laws and rules that have followed.

For example, the comprehensive package of changes and reforms that comprised the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (assembled as “Public Companies Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act” in the US Senate [and] “Corporate and Auditing Accountability, Responsibility, and Transparency Act” in the House of Representatives, with 11 separate “titles” in what we today call “Sarbanes-Oxley”) was in part constructed on the solid foundation of the 1934 legislation.

An important driver for SOX moving ahead in the Congress were the collapse of Enron and WorldCom and other firms – dramatically impacting many investors who clamored for change.  (Ah, such crisis events – quicken the pulse and move legislators do the their job.)

The passage of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA” for shorthand) following collapse of some retirement plans and reports of negative practices at others was intended to protect plans and participants and address fiduciary duties; included was provision for greater transparency for (private industry) retirement and health plans and those who manage them.

Part of ERISA provides fiduciary responsibilities for managers / those who are in control of plan assets. The agency responsible for enforcing the rules:  The U.S. Department of Labor, a cabinet office of the Executive Branch. And subject, of course, to the political winds of the day.

It’s important to note that the critical elements of the above sweep of Federal government policymaking (enacting laws, assigning responsible arms of government, developing rules, procedures, interpretations & guidance for players involved) are protection. 

The independent Securities & Exchange Commission, as example, was established in 1934 under The Exchange Act to enforce both the ’33 and ’34 acts — essentially to protect investors.

Protection – Guidance:  All good and well.  But these important creations of political bodies are subject to the politics of the time, the era, the whims of people elected to high office and the people they in turn appoint to manage regulatory agencies.

And so, we come to today’s sustainable investing and corporate sustainability topics.

We ask:  are the operating rules, guidance, enforcement, agency management philosophies…keeping up with important changes? Like the emergence of investor preference for sustainable products, including in their retirement and health plans?

Many eyes are on the SEC these days with the Biden-Harris Administration putting forth an aggressive “climate crisis” agenda; with the Federal Reserve System adopting climate change-related policies; and a few days with the easing-off-leading-to-reversal policy of the US DOL with regard to guidance on consideration of ESG in investment decision-making by fiduciaries of plans.

The last is in focus for our Top Stories in this issue of the G&A Institute weekly newsletter.

As a brief example of the to and fro of political positioning by regulatory agencies – from Trump-era decision to Biden-era decision (reversal).

The changes moved quickly at Labor (November 2020 to March 2021).  The decisions to be made at the SEC, sought by many investors to address both ESG risk (protection) and opportunity for investors is a much more complicated story.  No doubt in weeks to come there’ll be welcome news there to share with you in the newsletter.

The sturdy foundations of the ’33, ‘34’ ’74, ’02, and 2010 and other laws and rules can be built on to address both corporate and investor ESG needs & wants in 2021.

For now – take a look at the to and fro of current ESG policies at the US Department of Labor ERISA situation.

TOP STORIES

Picking Up Speed – Adoption of the FSB’s TCFD Recommendations…

January 21 2021

by Hank BoernerChair & Chief StrategistG&A Institute

Countries around the world are tuning in to the TCFD and exploring ways to guide the business sector to report on ever more important climate related disclosures.  Embracing of the Task Force recommendations is a key policy move by governments around the world.

After the 2008 global financial crisis, the major economies that are member-nations of the “G20” formed the Financial Stability Board (FSB) to serve a collective think tank and forum for the world’s leading developed countries to develop strong regulatory, supervisory, and other financial sector policies (guidance, legislation, regulations, rules).

Member-nations can adopt the policies or concepts for same developed collectively in the FSB setting back in their home nations to help to address financial sector issues with new legislative and/or adopted/adjusted rules, and issue guidance to key market players. The FSB collaborates with other bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (the IMF).

FSB operates “by moral suasion and peer pressure” to set internationally-agreed to policies and minimum standards that member nations then can implement at home. In the USA, members include the SEC, Treasury Department and Federal Reserve System.

In December 2015, as climate change issues moved to center stage and the Paris Agreement (at COP 21) was reached by 196 nations, the FSB created the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, with Michael Bloomberg as chair.  The “TCFD” then set out to develop guidelines for corporate disclosure on climate change-related issues and topics.

These recommendations were released in 2017, and since then some 1,700 organizations endorsed the recommendations (as signatories); these included companies, governments, investors, NGOs, and others.

Individual countries are taking measures within their borders to encourage corporations to adopt disclosure and reporting recommendations. There are four pillars -– governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics & targets.

A growing number of publicly-traded companies have been adopting these recommendations in various ways and publishing standalone reports or including TCFD information and data in their Proxy Statements, 10-ks, and in sustainability reports.

The key challenge many companies face is the recommendations for rigorous scenario testing to gauge the resiliency of the enterprise (and ability to succeed!) in the 2C degree environment (and beyond, to 4C and even 6C),,,over the rest of the decades of this 21st Century.

Many eyes are on Europe where corporate sustainability reporting first became a “must do” for business enterprises, in the process setting the pace for other regions.  So – what is going on now in the region with the most experienced of corporate reporters are based?  Some recent news:

The Federal Council of Switzerland called on the country’s corporations to implement the TCFD recommendations on a voluntary basis to report on climate change issues.

Consider the leading corporations of that nation — Nestle, ABB, Novartis, Roche, LarfargeHolcim, Glencore — their sustainability reporting often sets the pace for peers and industry or sector categories worldwide.

Switzerland — noted the council — could strengthen the reputation of the nation as global leader in sustainable financial services. A bill is pending now to make the recommendations binding.

The Amsterdam-based Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is backing an EU Commission proposal for the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG) to consider what would be needed to create non-financial reporting standards (the group now advises on financial standards only). The dual track efforts to help to standardize the disparate methods of non-financial reporting that exist today.

The move could help to create a Europe-wide standard. The GRI suggests that its Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) could make important contributions to the European standard-setting initiative.

And, notes GRI, the GSSB could help to address the critical need for one global set of sustainability reporting standards.  To keep in mind:  the GRI standards today are the most widely-used worldwide for corporate sustainability reporting (the effort began with the first corporate reports being published following the “G1” guidelines back in 1999-2000).

The United Kingdom is the first country to make disclosures about the business impacts of climate change using TCFD mandatory by 2025.

The U.K. is now a “former member” of the European Union (upon the recent completion of “Brexit” process), but in many ways is considered to be a part of the European region. The UK move should be viewed in the context of more investors and sovereign nations demanding that corporations curb their GhG emissions and help society move toward the low-carbon economy.

In the U.K., the influential royal, Prince Charles — formally titled as the Prince of Wales — has also launched a new charter to promote sustainable practices within the private sector.  He has been a champion of addressing climate challenges for decades.

The “Terra Carta” charter sets out a 10-point action plan designed to reduce the carbon footprint of the business sector by year 2030.  This is part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative launched by the prince at the January 2020 meeting in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum gathering.

Prince Charles called on world leaders to support the charter “to bring prosperity into harmony with nature, people and planet”. This could be the basis of global value creation, he explains, with the power of nature combined with the transformative innovation and resources of the private sector.

We closely monitor developments in Europe and the U.K. to examine the trends in the region that shape corporate sustainability reporting — and that could gain momentum to become global standards.  Or, at least help to shape the disclosure and reporting activities of North American, Latin American, Asia-Pacific, and African companies.

It is expected that the policies that will come from the Biden-Harris Administration in the United States of America will more strenuously align North American public sector (and by influence, the corporate sector and financial markets) with what is going on in Europe and the United Kingdom.  Stay Tuned!

TOP STORIES FOR YOU FROM THE UK AND EUROPE

Items of interest — non-financial reporting development in Europe: