Two Years Since Paris Agreement, Expectations of Corporate Climate Governance Grow
Last week saw a cascade of new commitments coming out of President Macron’s One Planet Summit, on the two-year anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement. While these announcements will have impact across the spectrum of actors advancing climate action, there was a clear signal to corporate directors – a constituency that has traditionally been absent from the conversation on climate action – that it is time for them to take a seat at the table.
Two notable announcements during the Summit drove this signal. One was the staggering support from 237 companies with a combined market capitalisation of over USD $6.3 trillion for the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). This includes over 150 financial firms responsible for assets of over USD $81.7 trillion.
The other was the launch of the Climate Action 100+ initiative: a group of 225 investors with more than USD $26.3 trillion in assets under management pledged to engage with the world’s 100 largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to improve governance on climate change, curb emissions and strengthen climate-related financial disclosures.
Together, these send a clear message to companies in all sectors that climate is material and there is an urgent need to clarify how it will be governed by boards and disclosed to shareholders.
Climate is often thought of as posing a material risk only to energy and extraction companies, but these two efforts point to its systemic nature. Climate change creates both physical risks – acute and chronic – as well as transition risk, including policy and legal, technology, market and reputational risks. No sector is safe from the implications of a changing climate.
Retail and consumer goods’ companies must consider the impacts on their sprawling supply chains and how they will steadily supply necessary materials. IT companies must consider where they will site data centers to avoid physical risks. Real estate companies must consider whether their assets will be insurable over an extended period of time. Coal companies will need to consider a shift in demand away from their product.
The TCFD provides a useful framework to map out these risks, as well as the corresponding opportunities. They also assess their level of materiality to each industry. Board directors can use this guidance to help monitor and evaluate management’s implementation of its policies, strategies and business plans to ensure appropriate inclusion of climate factors.
This swell of commitments indicates that the level of expectations of investors and stakeholders that corporations appropriately monitor and address climate risk is only growing. Corporate directors are now expected to be at the table; well-versed in their organisation’s governance around climate-related risks. They must understand how these issues will impact their business along with how they are identified and disclosed. This is a movement that will only accelerate the shift to a net-zero economy.