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Experts seek standardized rules for climate-related disclosures by companies


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Experts seek standardized rules for climate-related disclosures by companies

Countries in Asia-Pacific should adopt standardized rules on climate-related financial disclosures by companies, as sustainability is increasingly becoming an important consideration in investment decisions, said industry leaders at an event organized by S&P Global.

Adopting the disclosure norms recommended by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, or TCFD, can be a step as countries in the region set net-zero goals for carbon emissions. Japan, New Zealand and Australia are aiming net-zero by 2050, and China by 2060. Governments need to mandate climate-related disclosures to properly assess the progress toward removing as much greenhouse gases as are produced by humans, without compromising on economic goals, representatives from Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Australia said at S&P Global's Sustainable1 conference on May 27.

"We actively would like to see mandatory TCFD disclosure," said Alex White, head of sustainable finance at New Zealand's Ministry for the Environment. The role of regulation is "to help level the playing field" for organizations that are already seeing the opportunities in going green, and to also ensure compatibility.

The TCFD, which was established by the G20 group of nations in 2015, has provided companies with a voluntary framework since June 2017 and outlines how large companies should assess and disclose their risks associated with climate change. It focuses on governance, strategy and risk management. New Zealand was the first country to require financial institutions to report climate-related financial disclosures by announcing a new law in 2020, the U.K. is keen on becoming the first G20 nation to make TCFD disclosures mandatory by 2022, and Hong Kong is targeting 2025. However, many countries are lagging behind.

Standard framework

"The TCFD really gave us a framework to understand how sustainability and economic goals are interrelated," White said. "The physical impacts of climate change will have a significant impact on economic goals and financial stability of the country. But at the same time, some of those risks that organizations should be looking at come from the policy process, the response to climate change."

A big New Zealand bank has created sustainable finance products for its customers, which reflects creating an opportunity in an evolving policy landscape, White said, without naming the lender. The TCFD framework could also be attractive from a capital-raising standpoint, as standardization will allow banks and investors to compare information from corporates that make climate-related disclosures, she said.

Japanese financial institutions and institutional investors are asking for rules that would allow them to properly assess the risks and opportunities related to business and climate change, said Satoshi Ikeda, chief sustainable finance officer at Japan Financial Services Agency. "TCFD is certainly the standard or framework that we should push for," he said.

The Asia-Pacific region has many low-lying coastal areas that are exposed to floods and typhoons. These economies will be increasingly vulnerable to climate change, said Grace Hui, the head of green and sustainable finance, at Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd.

The opportunities to manage such risks are aplenty in the region, as Asia is still building its infrastructure and urban areas, she said. "China and Japan are leading the world in technologies from electric vehicles to renewable energy that are necessary to adapt to and mitigate climate change," she said. "In the context of China [committing to be carbon neutral by 2060], this has the potential to transform not only its energy ecosystem, but also its industries and society's standard of living."

Investment opportunity

Hui said that China's path to net-zero is a $15 trillion investment opportunity, and the Hong Kong exchange is hoping to guide future capital flows to support Asia's transition towards sustainability by providing market infrastructure for sustainable asset classes.

However, not every sustainability-linked business strategy may be as straightforward. Sarah Barker, partner and head of climate risk governance, at Australia-based law firm MinterEllison pointed out that the Australian economy heavily depends on natural resources as its main exports are thermal coal, metallurgical coal, natural gas and iron ore.

Barker said she sees a "widening gulf" between federal policy and the sustainability goals of a significant number of institutional investors, state and local governments, and increasingly, the business community. In particular, Australia's largest trading partners the Asia-Pacific — Japan, China and South Korea — have shifted their climate policies in recent years, while Australia is still hanging onto its original commitment of reducing 26%-28% of its 2005 emission levels by 2030, she said.

The lack of clear climate-related financial metrics is a hurdle for the business community. Efforts have been made by the country's securities regulator to softly introduce TCFD through its guidance, but investors are demanding more standardized information, she said.

"Investors are concerned about the lack of comparability in information that's published because we don't have universal assumptions, universal trajectories and universal metrics," Barker said.