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Ceres: SEC needs to better enforce climate change disclosure requirements

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Nancy K. Kopp says "The fact that the SEC is slipping backward rather than driving progress on climate risk disclosure is troubling."

The Securities and Exchange Commission “is not adequately enforcing” compliance of its requirements for corporations to disclose climate change financial risks, according to a new report by Ceres.

Some 41% of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index did not include any climate-related disclosure in their 10-K filings in 2013, the report said.

Ceres said the “majority of financial reporting on climate change is too brief and largely superficial, and that most companies are failing to meet SEC requirements,” according to a statement about the report, “Cool Response: The SEC and Corporate Climate Change Reporting.”

For the report, Ceres analyzed climate disclosure in 10-Ks from 2009 through 2013 of companies in the S&P 500 and reviewed SEC letters to companies commenting on compliance from 2010 through 2013.

In 2010, the SEC issued guidance, requiring companies to disclose in their financial reports the material impacts of climate and environmental change and the effects of related pending legislation and regulation on their business operations.

“We need robust reporting from companies about the investment risks posed by climate change, whether due to physical impacts or regulations that affect the market,” said Anne Stausboll — CEO of the $277.8 billion California Public Employees' Retirement System, Sacramento, and co-chair of Ceres' board of directors — in the statement. “The commission's enforcement of its climate disclosure guidance will help investors make smarter decisions, and will help companies understand and mitigate the risks climate change poses to their long-term competitiveness.”

Nancy K. Kopp — Maryland state treasurer and trustee of the $41.1 billion Maryland State Retirement & Pension System, Baltimore — said in the statement, “The fact that the SEC is slipping backward rather than driving progress on climate risk disclosure is troubling. … Climate risks and opportunities are greater than ever before.”

Mindy Lubber, Ceres president, said in the statement, “Investors want greater transparency on the business risks of climate change as a means to protect and increase shareholder value.”

Ceres plans to seek a meeting with SEC staff and commissioners as well as institutional investors later this month or in March, said Jim Coburn, Ceres senior manager and co-author of the report along with Jackie Cook, an outside specialist in environmental, social and governance investment issues.

Kevin J. Callahan, SEC spokesman, said officials declined to comment.

Ceres is a coalition of institutional investors, environmental groups and other organizations encouraging companies to address climate and other sustainability issues.