Disclosing Climate Change

The SEC requires reporting companies to report material risks and impacts of climate change on their businesses.  How are they doing?

Not so well, according the the Government Accountability Office report late last month.  The SEC does not get this information in an identifiable place within the disclosure regime, nor does all disclosure address similar factors, so that it is not easy to evaluate what disclosures are being made.  And it is wholly dependent on the subjective judgment of the companies as to what gets reported.

Climate disclosure shows up in descriptions of business, risk factors, MD&A and Legal Proceedings.  It may be considered in terms of physical risk or destruction, increased costs, interference of supply, loss of vital parts or components or agricultural products, loss of the entire subject of the business (growing grapefruits, for example), increased regulation and fines, long-term business trends, impact on customers or suppliers sensitive to environmental impact.

How important are such disclosures?  While many investors and investor groups cite increased focus on climate and the environment as important factors, the SEC’s own Advisory Committee reached no consensus and industry representatives said current disclosure standards are sufficient: a company knows when and if climate change presents a risk to its own business and if the risk is material, it must be disclosed.

It is not often that the increasingly complex web of SEC disclosure requirements is found wanting.  Since some senior SEC staff are in agreement with the GAO assessment, stay tuned for more disclosure regulation.  Will the tone in Washington hold off even more disclosure regs?  We shall see.


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