Company Sustainability Disclosure (UK/International)

With COP26 underway a slew of announcements are being made on the topic of business disclosure of environmental impact.

UK

In October (ahead of COP26), the government responded to its consultation on mandatory climate-related financial disclosures by publicly quoted companies, large private companies and LLPs. The response is here. Hitherto, on 9 November 2020, the government had announced it would implement TCFD recommendations across the economy – this announcement is here.

Re the need for better alignment between SECR (UK) and TCFD (International – see below under International) requirements, HMG will consider how best to achieve that. Any changes to the SECR regime to facilitate that alignment will require a separate consultation process, and that process will run in due course, but will take into account the proposed introduction of the Sustainability Disclosures Requirements (SDR) Regime, as set out in Greening Finance: A Roadmap to Sustainable Investment published on 18th October 2021 (see below) and the requirements introduced in the June 2021 Procurement Policy Note that require mandatory Scope 3 disclosures in carbon reduction plans when bidding for major government contracts. HMG will look to implement any changes to the SECR regime by 2023. A Q&A guidance document will set out to in-scope companies and other stakeholders to what extent current SECR requirements meet TCFD recommendation 4b, regarding the disclosure of emissions. This document is not yet published.

On 18 October (ahead of COP26), the Chancellor published a roadmap setting out details of new Sustainability Disclosure Requirements applicable to businesses, pension schemes, investment products and asset managers and owners. This roadmap is here. The document focuses on the “informing” first phase (of the road map), which it states will be delivered through new economy-wide Sustainability Disclosure Requirements. Public consultation is to follow, and thereafter there will be rules.

On 3rd November (within COP26), the Chancellor announced the UK will be the first net-zero aligned financial centre. Initially this means asset managers, regulated asset owners and listed companies must publish transition plans. Standards for these transition plans are being developed. A q&a about this process is here (dated 2nd November)

International

On 3rd November (within COP26), the IFRS Foundation (the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation, a non-for-profit incorporated in Delaware US) announced the establishment of an International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) to develop global baseline sustainability reporting standards. The IFRS Foundation confirmed consolidation of two sustainability reporting organisations, the Value Reporting Foundation and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, to create a global standard-setter for sustainability disclosures for the capital markets.

The Foundation also published two prototype standards to enable the ISSB to build on existing frameworks, including the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) (set up by the Financial Stability Board, an international body), when developing its standards. Standards will be subject to public consultation and can be considered for adoption by jurisdictions on a voluntary basis. Jurisdictions will have their own legal frameworks for adopting, applying or otherwise making use of international standards.

This announcement is welcomed by the UK and a number of other countries – the UK press release is here.

The Future of Carbon Pricing (UK)

UK CRC (carbon trading based on electricity through half hourly meters) is closed. The final compliance year for participants in CRC was 2018 to 2019. A participant’s CRC registry account must be maintained until 31 March 2022 and evidence packs until 31 March 2025. The CRC regulators will continue to do compliance audits and take enforcement action where necessary until 31 March 2025.

From 1 April 2019 SECR requires many companies formerly within the scope of the CRC to report energy consumption and energy efficiency actions. They must do this as part of their annual director’s report. Subscribers with Law Checklists have a line entry for SECR, which I have asked on a number of occasions should be completed, as evidence you are on top of this requirement.

The UK Government and Devolved Administrations consulted on the future of carbon pricing in the UK after EU Exit, receiving over 130 responses from a range of stakeholders, with the majority supporting most of the proposals on the design of a UK ETS.

As a result, the UK intends to establish a UK Emissions Trading System with Phase I running from 2021- 2030, which could operate as either a linked or standalone system.

As stated in ‘The UK’s Approach to Negotiations’ the UK would be open to considering a link between any future UK Emissions Trading System (ETS) and the EU ETS (as Switzerland has done with its ETS), if it suited both sides’ interests.

As announced at Budget 2020, the UK Government will publish a consultation later this year on the design of a Carbon Emission Tax as an alternative to a UK ETS, to ensure a carbon price remains in place in all scenarios. I blog posted some time ago, that provision for a Carbon Emissions Tax is already on the statute books in a UK Finance Act.

The UK ETS will apply to energy intensive industries (EIIs), the power generation sector and aviation – covering activities involving combustion of fuels in installations with a total rated thermal input exceeding 20MW (except in installations for the incineration of hazardous or municipal waste) and sectors like refining, heavy industry and manufacturing. The proposed aviation routes include UK domestic flights, flights between the UK and Gibraltar, flights from the UK to EEA states, and flights from the UK to Switzerland once an agreement is reached.

In light of the UK’s commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, the UK ETS will show greater climate ambition from the start. As such, the cap will initially be set 5% below the UK’s notional share of the EU ETS cap for Phase IV of the EU ETS.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) will advise later this year on a cost-effective pathway to net-zero, as part of their advice on the Sixth Carbon Budget. The state will consult again on what an appropriate trajectory for the UK ETS cap is for the remainder of the first phase within nine months of this advice being published.

The aim is that any changes to the policy to appropriately align the cap with a net zero trajectory will be implemented by 2023 if possible and no later than January 2024, although the aim is also to give industry at least one year’s notice to provide the market with appropriate forewarning.

Auctioning will continue to be the primary means of introducing allowances into the market. To safeguard competitiveness in the UK ETS and reduce the risk of carbon leakage, a proportion of allowances will be allocated for free. Some free allowances will also be made available for new stationary entrants to the UK ETS as well as existing operators who increase their activity – these allowances will be accessible through the New Entrants Reserve. The initial UK ETS free allocation approach will be similar to that of Phase IV in order to ensure a smooth transition for participants for the 2021 launch.

In a standalone UK ETS the state will introduce a transitional Auction Reserve Price (ARP) of £15 (nominal) to ensure a minimum level of ambition and price continuity during the initial years.

A Small Emitter and Hospital Opt-Out will be implemented for installations with emissions lower than 25,000t CO2e per annum and a net-rated thermal capacity below 35MW. An Ultra-Small Emitter Exemption will be implemented for installations with emissions lower than 2,500t CO2e per annum.

International credits will not be permitted in a UK ETS at this time. This is without prejudice to ongoing reviews on how best to implement the UN global offsetting scheme, CORSIA, alongside a UK ETS.

The sections above re the UK ETS are abridged (with highlights) from the summary in the Responses Document – the document itself is here.

Environmental Reporting Guidelines (UK)

(31 January 2019) updated Environmental Reporting Guidelines are issued. These are here.

These Guidelines are issued for :

(1) companies and limited liability partnerships complying with the Companies Act (Strategic Report and Directors’ Report) Regulations 2013, and the Limited Liability Partnerships (Energy and Carbon Report) Regulations 2018

(2) all organisations carrying out voluntary reporting, on Energy and GHG emissions reporting, and through the use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

I will add this to all subscribers Cardinal Environment EHS Legislation Registers & Checklists systems.