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How to track corporate action on climate change

When the Unitarian Universalist Association announced its new fossil fuel divestment policy, the resolution stated that the UUA would divest its holdings in the Carbon Tracker 200 within five years.

What is the CT200? Originally assembled by the Carbon Tracker Initiative  — the organization whose 2011 report Unburnable Carbon focused the attention of investors and others on the concept of stranded fossil fuel assets — the CT200 list the world's 200 largest fossil fuel companies. The list is currently maintained by Fossil Free Indexes, an environmental, social and corporate governance index and research company.

To be precise, the CT200 lists the 100 largest oil and gas companies and the 100 largest coal companies. Noted and links to media coverage included in the rankings describe investment and reputational risks incurred by the companies due to environmentally unsustainable business practices. The list also reports on the reserves on the books of each company, measured in gigatons of CO2.

As the fossil fuel divestment movement grows increasingly mainstream — even BlackRock recently partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council to launch an “equity global index series that will exclude companies linked to exploration, ownership or extraction of carbon-based fossil fuel reserves” — the smart long-term investment money would seem to be on divestment.

But as UUA's carefully crafted divestment policy points out, divestment alone probably is not enough to steer the world to a low-carbon economy. That is why the Association was explicit in its determination to maintain the level of shareowner engagement that it has developed over its years as an institutional investor.

Besides, as the UUA's Simon Billenness pointed out to in a recent conversation, the fossil fuel divestment movement is “also influencing the way shareholder activists engage with companies that are not in the fossil fuel industry, like electrical utilities.”

Investors rely on the climate change disclosures of companies to assess whether how those companies are responding to climate change, both in strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the business realities of a low-carbon economy. In 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission published interpretive guidance for corporate reporting on climate change. “Certain existing disclosure rules ... may require a company to disclose the impact that business or legal developments related to climate change may have on its business,” the Commission stated at the time.

To provide investors with improved access to corporate climate change disclosures, Ceres has collaborated with Jackie Cook of CookESG Research to provide a searchable database of such disclosures by companies listed on the Russell 3000 index. Only half of Russell 3000 filers had something to say about climate change in their 201410-K filings, the database reveals.

“Robust climate-related data from companies is a critical need, but it’s still lacking,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres.

“This portal helps investors make sense of textual climate disclosures, conduct company-to-company comparisons and identify best practice,” Cook added. “The full value of the SEC’s 2010 interpretive guidance can only be realized if we actually monitor companies’ climate disclosures and act on the information — or absence of information.”

The tool will be extended in the future, Ceres states, “to include U.S. and non-U.S. companies and coverage on a broader range of sustainability issues, including hydraulic fracturing and water availability, which also pose material risks and opportunities to a range of companies.”

This article originally appeared at Social Funds. Top image of examining a report by EDHAR via Shutterstock. 

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