Markets Want Climate Risk Disclosure. Time to Give It to Them

Climate change is exposing the tragedy of undervaluing resilience, ignoring systemic risks, and not investing up front. Changing consumer preferences and new climate policies mean that businesses need credible transition plans that show how they will seize opportunities in the transition to net zero—or, put simply, they will cease to exist.

Finance has a pivotal role to play by building considerations of climate risk into decision-making, and increasing the flow of capital to assets and investments that are best positioned to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. But, in order to achieve this, the markets need high-quality, decision-useful information from companies to drive capital allocation decisions.

The bedrock for disclosures is the framework created by the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, or TCFD. It was set up by the Financial Stability Board, with Mike Bloomberg as chair. As the leader of the task force, I helped develop its disclosure recommendations. They rest on four pillars: governance, strategy, risk management, and targets and metrics.

Investors, banks, insurers, and pension funds responsible for assets of $155 trillion have endorsed or adopted the TCFD recommendations. They are demanding that companies assess the risks and opportunities that climate change poses to their business models and disclose this information appropriately. Many companies are responding. The latest status report shows that over 40% of companies with a market capitalization greater than $10 billion disclosed in line with TCFD recommendations in 2019.

This shows good progress, but not enough. Full disclosure against all of the task force’s recommendations is still rare. Disclosure of the potential financial impact of climate change on companies’ businesses and strategies is limited, and progress in building consistency remains uneven.

Global momentum is building to make climate-related disclosures mandatory. More than 110 regulators and government organizations around the world support the TCFD. The most ambitious are already enshrining it in regulation and law, with the European Union, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Hong Kong leading the way.

Governments should publish road maps to show which authorities will be responsible for turning the TCFD recommendations into reporting rules and the timeline to make them mandatory. The EU and the U.K. have published excellent examples.

To avoid fragmentation, national and regional efforts must be complemented at the international level. The International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation, or IFRS, which sets many worldwide accounting rules, is consulting on the demand for global sustainability reporting standards and how it might contribute to their development. This includes a promising proposal for a new Sustainability Standards Board.

The EU is also leading a robust exploration of standard setting for ESG disclosure. The European Commission’s International Platform on Sustainable Finance, launched in 2019, is playing a key role. Platform members represent 16 jurisdictions, half of the global population and gross domestic product, and 55% of greenhouse gas emissions, and the majority have already set mandatory regulatory requirements for climate disclosure. The U.S., notably absent from the discussion to date, has the opportunity to build on these efforts and participate in the development of standards that are being sought by investors and corporations globally.

The U.S. accounting standards setter, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, in coordination with the IFRS, is well placed to pursue climate-risk disclosure standards for three reasons. First, the IFRS has developed global accounting rules that are used in over 140 countries, and the FASB has a record of standard setting for the world’s largest capital market. Second, given that climate and financial interests are inextricably linked, there is an opportunity to bring standards on sustainability and financial reporting together. Third, building on significant work in the private sector, the two institutions can assure a globally coordinated approach based on the TCFD framework.

Global standard-setting is needed, and quickly. Now that the U.S. government is certain to fully engage on a climate agenda, the SEC and the FASB should help drive the effort for global climate-risk disclosure standards.

Market participants are unified in their desire for global standards. Public sector co-ordination—across geographies and sectors—is instrumental to agreeing on a common set of international standards. And, with domestic and regional standard-setting initiatives now well under way, it is now or never for a global solution.

It falls to leaders of all kinds—political, financial, and corporate—to support the efforts to create internationally consistent, comparable, and decision-useful reporting that the financial system needs. The key institutions and jurisdictions need to align. With the TCFD as the foundation for climate-related risk disclosure, we will work toward a more resilient global economy and be better placed to achieve a net zero future.

Mary Schapiro, the former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, leads the secretariat for the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, is vice chair of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, and is the vice chair for global public policy at Bloomberg.

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