S&P 500 Companies Faulted For Poor Climate Disclosure

Despite growing financial losses in various business sectors from climate change, over half of the nation’s 500 largest publicly traded companies are doing a poor job of disclosing climate change risks to their investors, according to a first-ever report analyzing climate disclosure practices among S&P 500 companies last year.

The Ceres/Calvert report concludes that America’s largest companies still aren’t taking climate change seriously enough. Less than half (47 percent) of the S&P 500 companies responded to a global survey last year by the Carbon Disclosure Project requesting information about their climate risks and strategies, and those that did respond failed to provide much of the information investors are seeking. Nearly a third (30 percent) of the responders, in fact, declined to publicly release their responses, calling them “confidential.”

“Many US companies are still downplaying climate change and its far-reaching business impacts,” said Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres, a leading coalition of investors, environmental groups and other public interest organizations. “More-extreme weather events, regulatory changes and growing global demand for climate-friendly technologies are just a few of the ways that climate change will ripple across all sectors of the economy. Yet, many US companies are not addressing these trends and are leaving investors in the dark about their strategies for mitigating those risks.”

Poor survey responses among lower-emitting companies – in particular, retailers, banks and insurers – was especially conspicuous. Many companies in these sectors provide insufficient climate disclosure to investors, even after suffering large financial losses from climate-related events, such as the 2005 hurricanes. Lubber said that all companies should disclose their risks using the three most common disclosure mechanisms: SEC filings, CDP, and sustainability reports using Global Reporting Initiative guidelines.

“All companies have a duty to provide shareholders with more analysis and disclosure on climate risks and their strategies for managing or mitigating those risks,” said Dr. Julie Fox Gorte, vice president and chief social investment strategist at Calvert. “Lower-CO2-emitting sectors and companies also face potential risks from new regulations, physical changes, and other climate-related impacts. Power and oil companies are improving their climate disclosure and it is now time for retailers, banks and telecommunication companies to start doing the same.”

The Ceres/Calvert analysis was based on S&P 500 company responses to a questionnaire distributed last year by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), to obtain more information relating to corporate management of climate change. CDP is a coordinated effort by 225 global investors with total assets of $31 trillion. The report authors used the Global Framework for Climate Risk Disclosure to analyze the quality of responses.

Other key findings from the Ceres/Calvert report include:

  • Poor Greenhouse Gas Emissions Management: 80 percent of the 228 companies that responded to the survey (182 companies) addressed the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but only a quarter (59 companies) disclosed measurable emissions reductions targets and specific time frames for reductions.
  • Physical Impacts Not on Radar Screen: Nearly 75 percent of the responding companies (171 companies) acknowledged bottom-line risks associated with extreme weather events such as hurricanes, fires and floods. However, very few of the companies surveyed link more-extreme weather to climate change and fewer still—only four percent – disclosed strategies for mitigating and adapting to the growing physical impacts from climate change.
Go to www.ceres.org/ for the full report.

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