Tag: climate risk disclosure

Is the SEC’s new climate proposal within the traditions of the SEC disclosure regime?

Earlier this week, SEC Chair Gary Gensler gave the keynote address for an investor briefing on the SEC Climate Disclosure Rule presented by nonprofit Ceres.  In his remarks, entitled “Building Upon a Long Tradition,” Gensler vigorously pressed his case that the SEC’s new climate disclosure proposal (see this PubCo post, this PubCo post and this PubCo post) was comfortably part of the conventional tapestry of SEC rulemaking. Growing out of the core bargain of the 1930s that let investors “decide which risks to take, as long as public companies provide full and fair disclosure and are truthful in those disclosures,” Gensler observed, the SEC’s disclosure regime has continually expanded—adding disclosure requirements about financial performance, MD&A, management, executive comp and risk factors. Over the generations, the SEC has “stepped in when there’s significant need for the disclosure of information relevant to investors’ decisions.”  As has been the case historically, the SEC, he insisted, “has a role to play in terms of bringing some standardization to the conversation happening between issuers and investors, particularly when it comes to disclosures that are material to investors.” The proposed rules, he said, “would build on that long tradition.” But has everyone bought into that view?

In most recent comments on climate disclosure, SEC drills down on materiality

In September last year, Corp Fin posted a sample letter to companies containing illustrative comments regarding climate change disclosures, presumably designed to help companies think about and craft their climate-related disclosure. (See this PubCo post.) Corp Fin began by noting that, under its 2010 guidance (see this PubCo post), depending on the facts and circumstances, climate change disclosure could be elicited in a company’s SEC filings in connection with the description of business, legal proceedings, risk factors and MD&A. Still, right now, there is little in the way of prescriptive climate disclosure requirements, although a proposal for climate disclosure regulation is high on the SEC’s agenda. (See this PubCo post.) Instead, companies have instead looked largely to standards of materiality to determine whether climate disclosure is required in their SEC filings. However, many companies provide climate disclosure in corporate social responsibility reports that are not filed with the SEC, but instead typically posted on company websites.  As reported in a recent analysis by Audit Analytics, in the SEC’s most recent round of comment letters about climate last month, the climate disclosure on which the SEC is commenting is primarily contained in these CSR reports. And the SEC wants companies to justify—in some detail—why that disclosure isn’t also in companies’ SEC filings.

The ongoing debate at the SEC: just how tough should the climate disclosure rule be?

Who doesn’t love the latest gossip—I mean reporting—about internal squabbles—I mean debate—at the SEC? This news from Bloomberg sheds some fascinating light on reasons for the ongoing delay in the release of the SEC’s climate disclosure proposal: internal conflicts about the proposal. But, surprisingly, the conflicts are not between the Dems and the one Republican remaining on the SEC; rather, they’re reportedly between SEC Chair Gary Gensler and the two other Democratic commissioners, Allison Herren Lee and Caroline Crenshaw, about how far to push the proposed new disclosure requirements, especially in light of the near certainty of litigation, and whether to require that the disclosures be audited.  Just how tough should the proposal be? The article paints the SEC’s dilemma about the rulemaking this way: “If its rule lacks teeth, progressives will be outraged. On the flip side, an aggressive stance makes it more likely the regulation will be shot down by the courts, leaving the Biden administration with nothing. Either way, someone is going to be disappointed.”

SEC offers another packed agenda for Fall 2021

The SEC’s new Fall reg-flex agenda is posted and, no surprise, it’s packed.  Here is the short-term agenda and here is the long-term version.  And just as with the spring agenda, Commissioners Hester Peirce and Elad Roisman have lambasted it in a dissenting statement.  The agenda is laden with major proposals that were on the Spring agenda, but didn’t quite make it out the door, such as plans for disclosure on climate and human capital (including diversity), cybersecurity risk disclosure, Rule 10b5-1, Rule 14a-8 amendments and SPACs, as well as a new, already controversial, proposal to amend the definition of “holders of record.”  Some of the agenda items have recently been proposed, for example, new rules regarding mandated electronic filings (see this PubCo post) and amendments to the proxy rules governing proxy voting advice (see this PubCo post). Similarly, three items identified as at the “final rule stage” have already been adopted: universal proxy (see this PubCo post), filing fee disclosure (see this PubCo post) and amendments under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (see this PubCo post). The agenda also identifies a couple of topics that are still just at the pre-rule stage, such as exempt offerings (updating the financial thresholds in the accredited investor definition, amendments to Rule 701 and amendments to the integration framework). Notably, political spending disclosure is not expressly identified on the agenda (see this PubCo post), nor is there a reference to a comprehensive ESG disclosure framework (see this PubCo post). Below is a selection from the agenda.

Financial Stability Oversight Council reports on climate-related financial risk

Recently, when asked about how all of the U.S. agencies coordinate on climate issues, SEC Commissioner Allison Herren Lee observed that one way agencies coordinate is through the Financial Stability Oversight Council.   The FSOC, which is chaired by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and includes SEC Chair Gary Gensler as a member, has just issued a new report on climate-related financial risk. The report concludes that climate-related financial risk is “an emerging threat to the financial stability of the United States.” Some of the discussions and recommendations in the report are remarkably congruent with recent comments from Gensler about expected SEC climate disclosure regulation. Are we starting to get an idea of what to expect?

Investors urge governments to act on climate, including risk disclosure

A group of 587 institutional investors managing over $46 trillion in assets have signed a new statement calling on governments to undertake five priority actions to accelerate climate investment before COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow in November.   The statement, the 2021 Global Investor Statement to Governments on the Climate Crisis, was coordinated by The Investor Agenda, a group founded by Asia Investor Group on Climate Change, CDP, Ceres, Investor Group on Climate Change, Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, Principles for Responsible Investment and UNEP Finance Initiative.  According to the Agenda, the statement comes after “a month which brought more catastrophic weather events around the world, and the alarming predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that without immediate, rapid and large-scale emissions reductions, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be beyond reach. The risks this brings to the portfolios of asset managers and owners are enormous.” The statement urges governments to address the “gaps—in climate ambition, policy action and risk disclosure—[that] need to be addressed with urgency.”

SEC Chair testifies before House Committee on Financial Services—climate, human capital and cybersecurity disclosure proposals likely delayed

On Tuesday, SEC Chair Gary Gensler testified for over four hours (without a break!) before the thousands (it seemed) of members of the House Committee on Financial Services.  His formal testimony covered a number of topics on the SEC’s agenda that Gensler (and others) have addressed numerous times in past: market structure and equity markets, predictive analytics, crypto, issuer disclosure, China, SPACs and Rule 10b5-1 plans and was remarkably similar to his formal testimony in September before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.  (See, e.g., this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) If you followed any of the coverage of Gensler’s testimony before the Senate committee (see this PubCo post), there was a Groundhog-Day feel to much of the questioning, but the five-minute limitation on questioning (because there are thousands of House committee members) did not really offer much opportunity for in-depth conversation about anything.   

Corp Fin posts sample climate comment letter

This afternoon, Corp Fin posted a sample letter to companies containing illustrative comments regarding climate change disclosures. Presumably, the goal is to help companies think about and craft their climate-related disclosure. 

SEC Chair testifies before Senate Banking Committee—firmly denies paternity of all public companies!

On Tuesday last week, SEC Chair Gary Gensler gave testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.  His formal testimony covered a number of topics on the SEC’s agenda that Gensler (and others) have addressed numerous times in past: market structure and equity markets, predictive analytics, crypto, issuer disclosure, China, SPACs and Rule 10b5-1 plans. (See, e.g., this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) While the formal testimony covered some well-trod territory, the questioning highlighted the political polarization that we are likely to see continue as these proposals are presented for consideration. 

Gensler discusses SEC agenda

In remarks yesterday at London City Week, SEC Chair Gary Gensler elaborated a bit on the bare bones of some of the almost 50 items on the Reg-Flex Agenda that was made public earlier this month.  (See this PubCo post.) In Gensler’s view, disclosure protects investors by helping them invest in “companies that fit their investing needs,” helps companies by facilitating capital formation and benefits markets by helping to keep them fair, orderly and efficient—all core responsibilities within the remit of the SEC.