Coalition Asks SEC for Climate Risk Disclosure

The author of today’s post, Martha Roberts, is an economist at Environmental Defense. She contributed to the coalition’s petition to the SEC.

Climate change can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line – just ask any insurance company. But as the Washington Post points out, it’s not only insurance companies that are affected. Climate change can cause physical damage to facilities, increase costs of regulatory compliance, and (on the plus side) create new markets for climate-friendly products – to give just a few examples.

So today, Environmental Defense and a broad coalition of investors, state treasurers, and other environmental groups petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to clarify that existing regulations require publicly traded companies to assess and disclose their financial risk from climate change. Altogether, the 22 petitioners manage more than $1.5 trillion in assets. You can find full documentation, including the petition, on our Web site.

Current federal securities law mandates disclosure of trends that are likely to have a material effect on a company’s financial performance. Climate change clearly falls under this umbrella, yet many companies fail to disclose the risks and opportunities that global warming poses to their operations.

A January 2007 study published by Ceres and the Calvert Group, an asset management firm, found that more than half the companies in the S&P 500 Index do a poor job of disclosing climate change risks to their investors.  Exxon Mobil, for example, has only one cursory mention of climate change in its entire 2006 annual filing with the SEC.  Companies in sectors with low greenhouse gas emissions, including insurance companies and banks, have especially poor disclosure.

Investors need full disclosure of climate risks to make informed investment decisions. Our petition asks the SEC to clarify that companies must disclose any material risks from climate change, including:

  • physical risks to business operations and profits,
  • exposure to present and probable greenhouse gas regulations, and
  • legal proceedings relating to climate change.

We also asked that the Commission take immediate action on corporate climate disclosure as it develops the new guidance. Because the obligation to disclose climate-related risks and opportunities exists under current law, the SEC Division of Corporation Finance "need not and should not wait" in "scrutinizing the adequacy of registrants’ climate disclosures".

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