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Investors call for governments to toughen climate accounting

Reuters London | Updated on September 20, 2021

More than 70 per cent of the world’s heaviest emitting companies did not disclose the full risks in their 2020 disclosures, with 80 per cent of audits showing no evidence the risk had been assessed.

Investors managing more than $2.5 trillion have called on governments to compel companies and auditors to file financial accounts aligned with the world’s net zero emissions target.

Writing to UK climate czar Alok Sharma ahead of the next round of global climate talks in Glasgow in November, the group said doing so was crucial to clarify the financial impact of climate change and give an incentive to invest accordingly.

Governments should mandate a requirement for companies to make clear the financial consequences of a net-zero pathway and for auditors to call out where companies have failed to do so, the investor group said in the September 14 letter.

Incomplete disclosures

It follows a recent study by Carbon Tracker and the Climate Accounting Project that found more than 70 per cent of the world’s heaviest emitting companies did not disclose the full risks in their 2020 disclosures, with 80 per cent of audits showing no evidence the risk had been assessed.

“Most (companies) continue to use assumptions that presume little or no decarbonisation, and thus report financial results predicated on governments failing to implement their stated commitments and, in some cases, legal targets,” the letter said.

Sharma’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The upcoming climate conference, dubbed COP26, is seen as the most important since governments originally struck a deal to limit global warming in Paris in 2015, with all parties now being asked to accelerate their efforts.

Inaction from companies

Britain’s accounting watchdog has already warned companies and auditors to do a better job, while global accounting and auditing standard setters have restated the need to assess material risks, which can include climate risk.

Despite investor bodies representing $100 trillion in assets calling in September for Paris-aligned accounts, inaction from companies and auditors meant government action was needed, the investor group said.

“If we choose to wait for companies to respond to investor pressure, it could take years to deliver the numbers we requireto invest in a way that is aligned with the Paris goals,” letter said.

Signatories to the letter include a body representing British local government pensions, Sweden’s AP2 pension scheme and investors including Sarasin & Partners, which coordinated the letter and an accompanying position paper, as well as Candriam and Federated Hermes.

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For countries like Britain, which have made reaching net-zero emissions a legal obligation, changing the law around accounting and auditing would be “entirely consistent” with other government efforts, the investor group said.

The stakes are high. Companies such as BP wrote off billions of dollars last year after they lowered long-term oil price assumptions. Without proper accounting, money needed to fund the transition to a low-carbon economy could end up in the wrong place.

“Accounts that leave out material climate impacts misinformed executives, shareholders and creditors and, thus, results in misdirected capital,” the investor group said.

Published on September 20, 2021

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