10 February 2016
Fossil fuel companies should stress test their businesses for a future in which global warming is limited to 2°C and disclose the results to investors.
That was one of a series of recommendations made to a high-profile task force on climate-related financial disclosures, shortly after it sat down for its first meeting, in London.
The task force, which was convened in November by Financial Stability Board (FSB) chairman Mark Carney, and is chaired by Michael Bloomberg, has been charged with solving the fiendishly complicated problem of how to standardise the information that companies make public about the current and potential impacts of global warming.
The daunting scale of the challenge was underlined, as the task force heard the thoughts of some of the many groups that have helped drive the sustainability reporting space forward in recent years.
The recommendations were designed to help the task force in its role of trying to untangle the proliferation of initiatives and condense them into one workable solution that helps the financial community to determine the current and potential impacts of climate change to their investments.
Mindy Lubber, CEO of NGO Ceres, acknowledged that the sustainability reporting landscape was "fractured, with competing standards".
"Reporting is largely superficial and boiler-plating and doesn't focus on material risks and opportunities," she said. "We need clarity, and we need things integrated. There's not enough material, comparable information that investors can use to make decisions. Climate risk data is not consistently reported – and it must be.
"The risks are grave, your [task force] is essential."
Not enough companies disclose their emissions across scopes 1,2 and 3 of their activities, she argued. Scope 3 emissions are particularly challenging because they look at a company's supply chain as well the emissions it has directly caused, and there is no consensus on how to measure them.
Every energy company that faces significant climate risk should disclose the results of a 2°C stress test, Lubber added.
Mark Campanale, founder and executive director of think-tank the Carbon Tracker Initiative, also called for the adoption of the '2°C stress test'.
He argued that the mentality of fossil fuel companies "are go, go, go for growth", and they do not acknowledge that demand for their products may decrease as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy.
"They don't see demand going – but then how can we achieve our climate goals?" he asked, calling for fossil fuel companies to "acknowledge 2°C as a default position" in their reporting.
Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), whose members have €13 trillion ($15 trillion) of assets, said the number of companies reporting emissions data needs to increase, as does the quality of the data available to investors.
She said only 64% of companies in the MSCI All Country World Index report their carbon emissions, she added.
She called for companies to adopt "forward-looking stress testing to show how resilient they are to various [global warming] pathways".
"We need to move beyond carbon emissions data and understand how this rapidly changing environment will impact companies," she concluded. "Investors want to know if they are resilient."
Paul Simpson, CEO of the CDP – formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project – said the number of different reporting initiatives in the space had led to "some overlaps and certainly some confusion".
He said that national legislation was a problem in trying to come up with a globally recognised reporting standard.
But he warned that companies are "very opposed" to disclosing forward-looking risks, and "lawyers will push back".
"The glass on climate disclosure is half full, we need it to be completely full. We need everyone disclosing," he added.
Peter Bakker, CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, told the task force that "we need more consolidation not fragmentation".
He added that there needs to be more focus on investors disclosing risks as well as companies.
Eric Hespenheide, chairman of the Global Sustainability Standards Board, called on the task force to "require a disclosure of targets – not just what you are doing but where you are going".
"I don't envy the task force trying to sort this out", he said, adding that defining what is meant by 'climate risk' would prove particularly tricky.
But Rick Samans, of the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, had some words of encouragement for the task force.
"We are nearly there with best practice", he said, and there are some "very good building blocks to start with".
He added that some "sensitivity analysis" was needed to help hone the metrics that should be reported.
However, he did have one reality check for the task force, which has been charged with coming up with a report on the scope of its work by the end of March, and for a full report on its recommendations by the end of 2016.
"I don't think it's likely by the end of 2016 to have an agreement for a formal regulation that's uniform and will be applied across all jurisdictions."