While we await the SEC’s proposed rules regarding mandatory climate change disclosures (signaled to be coming as soon as next Monday, March 21), the SEC has been digging in to company filings to scrutinize how, if at all, its registrants are addressing climate change. As we previously reported, the SEC took a number of actions last year to suggest that there would be increased attention, and perhaps enforcement, related to the depth of a company’s climate change disclosures. True to its word, the past year has seen an increase in SEC comment letters focused on climate change and the scope of disclosures being made under existing regulations, as well as the SEC’s 12-year-old guidance on disclosures related to climate change.
In September of last year, the SEC released a sample comment letter to demonstrate the types of inquiries the SEC might make if it was not satisfied with a company’s climate change disclosures. The SEC has followed up by issuing comment letters to companies in line with the sample that was released. A selection of the types of inquiries seen in the comment letters are as follows:
- We note that you provide more expansive disclosure in your corporate social responsibility (CSR) report than you provided in your SEC filings. Please advise us what consideration you gave to providing the same type of climate-related disclosure in your SEC filings as you provided in your CSR report.
- In your CSR report, you state that you are committed to lowering the total amount of energy that you consume in your operations and reducing your greenhouse gas emissions. Please revise your disclosure to identify any material past and/or future capital expenditures for climate-related projects related to these initiatives. If material, please quantify these expenditures.
- Disclose the material effects of transition risks related to climate change that may affect your business, financial condition, and results of operations, such as policy and regulatory changes that could impose operational and compliance burdens, market trends that may alter business opportunities, credit risks, or technological changes.
- We note the disclosure in your annual report and proxy statement about enhancements you made during 2020 and 2021 to your environmental initiatives. Please quantify any material capital expenditures or compliance costs related to these initiatives.
- To the extent material, discuss the indirect consequences of climate-related regulation or business trends, such as the following:
- decreased demand for goods and services that produce significant greenhouse gas emissions or are related to carbon-based energy sources;
- increased demand for goods and services that result in lower emissions than competing products;
- increased competition to develop innovative new products and services that result in lower emissions; and
- any anticipated reputational risks resulting from operations or products that produce material greenhouse gas emissions
- If material, discuss the significant physical effects of climate change on your operations and results. This disclosure may include quantification of material weather-related damages to your property or operations and any weather-related impacts on the cost or availability of insurance.
The increase in comment letters is one of the many ways we expect to see the SEC continue its focus on climate change, and may just be the tip of the iceberg with the potential for mandatory climate change disclosure rules on the horizon.