President Joe Biden’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released proposed rules on March 21 that would compel publicly traded companies to disclose a range of climate-related information to shareholders.
Described in a 500-plus-page document, that information would include financial material of climate-related risks as well as estimated greenhouse gas emissions, which were described by the SEC’s press release as “a commonly used metric to assess a registrant’s exposure to such risks.”
“Companies and investors alike would benefit from the clear rules of the road proposed in this release,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a statement.
“Our core bargain from the 1930s is that investors get to decide which risks to take, as long as public companies provide full and fair disclosure and are truthful in those disclosures. Today, investors representing literally tens of trillions of dollars support climate-related disclosures because they recognize that climate risks can pose significant financial risks to companies, and investors need reliable information about climate risks to make informed investment decisions. Today’s proposal would help issuers more efficiently and effectively disclose these risks and meet investor demand, as many issuers already seek to do,” he said.
As an explanation for the oft-cited demand from investors controlling trillions, the proposal cites requests from the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, as well as similar letters from Vanguard, State Street Advisors, and other large financial firms. Additionally, it draws attention to the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, a coalition that represented more than $130 trillion in assets as of November 2021.
Elsewhere, the proposal cites a Washington Post editorial, multiple documents from the World Economic Forum, and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s 2020 letter to CEOs, one of a series of annual missives from the powerful executive demanding that companies comply with climate-related requests.
Hester Peirce, an SEC commissioner appointed by President Donald Trump, voiced her objections to the SEC’s proposal in a lengthy statement: “We Are Not The Securities and Environment Commission–At Least Not Yet.”
Peirce said financially material risks related to climate are accounted for by existing rules. She also argued that the proposal exceeds the SEC’s statutory authority and could constitute compelled speech, putting it at odds with the First Amendment.
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SEC Proposes Rules to Enhance and Standardize Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors
Washington D.C., March 21, 2022 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today proposed rule changes that would require registrants to include certain climate-related disclosures in their registration statements and periodic reports, including information about climate-related risks that are reasonably likely to have a material impact on their business, results of operations, or financial condition, and certain climate-related financial statement metrics in a note to their audited financial statements. The required information about climate-related risks also would include disclosure of a registrant’s greenhouse gas emissions, which have become a commonly used metric to assess a registrant’s exposure to such risks.
“I am pleased to support today’s proposal because, if adopted, it would provide investors with consistent, comparable, and decision-useful information for making their investment decisions, and it would provide consistent and clear reporting obligations for issuers,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “Our core bargain from the 1930s is that investors get to decide which risks to take, as long as public companies provide full and fair disclosure and are truthful in those disclosures. Today, investors representing literally tens of trillions of dollars support climate-related disclosures because they recognize that climate risks can pose significant financial risks to companies, and investors need reliable information about climate risks to make informed investment decisions. Today’s proposal would help issuers more efficiently and effectively disclose these risks and meet investor demand, as many issuers already seek to do. Companies and investors alike would benefit from the clear rules of the road proposed in this release. I believe the SEC has a role to play when there’s this level of demand for consistent and comparable information that may affect financial performance. Today’s proposal thus is driven by the needs of investors and issuers.”
The proposed rule changes would require a registrant to disclose information about (1) the registrant’s governance of climate-related risks and relevant risk management processes; (2) how any climate-related risks identified by the registrant have had or are likely to have a material impact on its business and consolidated financial statements, which may manifest over the short-, medium-, or long-term; (3) how any identified climate-related risks have affected or are likely to affect the registrant’s strategy, business model, and outlook; and (4) the impact of climate-related events (severe weather events and other natural conditions) and transition activities on the line items of a registrant’s consolidated financial statements, as well as on the financial estimates and assumptions used in the financial statements.
For registrants that already conduct scenario analysis, have developed transition plans, or publicly set climate-related targets or goals, the proposed amendments would require certain disclosures to enable investors to understand those aspects of the registrants’ climate risk management.
The proposed rules also would require a registrant to disclose information about its direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Scope 1) and indirect emissions from purchased electricity or other forms of energy (Scope 2). In addition, a registrant would be required to disclose GHG emissions from upstream and downstream activities in its value chain (Scope 3), if material or if the registrant has set a GHG emissions target or goal that includes Scope 3 emissions. These proposals for GHG emissions disclosures would provide investors with decision-useful information to assess a registrant’s exposure to, and management of, climate-related risks, and in particular transition risks. The proposed rules would provide a safe harbor for liability from Scope 3 emissions disclosure and an exemption from the Scope 3 emissions disclosure requirement for smaller reporting companies. The proposed disclosures are similar to those that many companies already provide based on broadly accepted disclosure frameworks, such as the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.
Under the proposed rule changes, accelerated filers and large accelerated filers would be required to include an attestation report from an independent attestation service provider covering Scopes 1 and 2 emissions disclosures, with a phase-in over time, to promote the reliability of GHG emissions disclosures for investors.
The proposed rules would include a phase-in period for all registrants, with the compliance date dependent on the registrant’s filer status, and an additional phase-in period for Scope 3 emissions disclosure.
The proposing release will be published on SEC.gov and in the Federal Register. The comment period will remain open for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, or 60 days after the date of issuance and publication on sec.gov, whichever period is longer.