Ceres Asks SEC to Review Oil Company Reporting

The investor group Ceres asked the SEC to scrutinize the alleged failure of oil companies to disclose carbon asset risk by oil companies. An April 17, 2015 letter from Ceres on behalf of investors representing more than $1.9 trillion in assets under management specifically requests the SEC to issue comments asking issuers to "address reduced demand scenarios, risks associated with capital expenditures on high cost unconventional resource projects and associated stranded asset risks."

While the letter is a continuation of efforts by some investors to obtain disclosure of more information related to climate change and sustainability, it also signals a departure from previous general requests to the SEC because it identifies three issuers that the investors want the SEC to give special scrutiny. The main complaint by the investors is that the SEC filings by these three oil companies do not discuss future scenarios where hydrocarbon demand goes down and how these scenarios affect decisions on capital and exploration expenditures. The investors profess a concern that upcoming capital expenditures and their associated payback periods and break-even prices cannot be justified if the low hydrocarbon demand scenarios come to fruition.

The investors suggest that their request is supported by the changing economics of the oil industry, including an estimate by the Carbon Tracker Initiative that approximately $1.1 trillion in capital expenditures will occur in the next 10 years on carbon-intensive projects that require at least an $80 per barrel break-even price. The investors note that the SEC rules require disclosure of material trends and uncertainties and that 2010 SEC guidance on climate change disclosure specifically suggested disclosing as a material uncertainty the potential decreased demand for goods that produce significant greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the investors variously state that they "require" information about (i) the carbon content of reserves, (ii) capital expenditure plans for new reserves, including payback periods and alternative uses of capital, (iii) long-term risks to unproduced reserves, and (iv) the trend toward high-cost, carbon-intensive exploration projects. For contrast, the letter points to two other oil companies that agreed to provide information about low-carbon scenario assessments starting in 2016.

The Ceres letter continues the drumbeat of investor demands for more disclosure on these topics, and not just qualitative discussion but also quantitative analysis. This letter could be viewed as part of a campaign to discourage carbon-intensive oil and gas production more than it is an effort to obtain information needed for investment decision. After all, if an oil company's assessment of the risk of possible future low-carbon scenarios is relevant to an investor, the absence of that discussion by the three companies identified in the Ceres letter should tell the investor all that it needs to know.

Global CEOs Write Open Letter to World Leaders Urging Concrete Climate Action

On April 16, 2015, CEOs from 43 companies and 20 economic sectors, with operations in more than 150 countries and territories, published a letter urging world leaders to reach an ambitious climate deal at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties 21 ("COP21") to be held in Paris in December 2015. COP21 "aims to deliver a new climate change agreement that will put the world on track to a low-carbon, sustainable future while keeping the rise in global temperature to under 2 degrees Celsius." The CEOs' letter calls for the climate deal to be aligned with the United Nations Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals have been proposed by an open working group of the UN General Assembly, the report of an intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing, General Assembly dialogues on technology facilitation, and many others.

The coalition of CEOs, facilitated by the World Economic Forum, extends an open offer to national governments "to meet and co-design tangible actions as well as ambitious, effective targets that are appropriate for their different jurisdictions." According to the letter, the coalition believes that the private sector has a responsibility to "actively engage in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions, and to help lead the global transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient economy." In this regard, the coalition also seeks to elicit concrete actions and initiatives from a wide range of companies and industries that will put the concepts into actual "practices, operations and policies." 

In their letter, the CEOs explain their own commitments to climate action. They claim that their companies are already taking voluntary actions to reduce environmental and carbon footprints, while setting targets to reduce their own GHG emissions and/or energy consumption. They write that they will act as ambassadors for climate action, actively manage climate risks and incorporate risk issues into their decision making, and take steps to implement effective strategies to strengthen their own companies' and societal resilience. They will focus on what they see as solutions and economic opportunities, following their own thematic sound bite to support public awareness: "The science debate is over: climate change is real and addressable."

The CEOs describe their vision supporting a climate deal. First, they "believe that effective climate policies must include explicit or implicit prices on carbon achieved via market mechanisms or coherent legislative measures according to national preferences, which will trigger low-carbon investment and transform current emission patterns at a significant scale." Second, they "urge a strategic action agenda … that will complement business efforts to stimulate innovation as well as collaborative actions across value chains, and to develop and scale up alternative and renewable energy sources, promote energy efficiency, end deforestation and accelerate other low-carbon options and technologies such as ICT." Third, they "welcome transparency and disclosure regarding financial investments and policies in relation to all energy-related activities — including fossil-based and alternative." Additionally, they "support assessments of resilience to climate risks and call for new financial instruments to stimulate alternative energy and efficiency projects as well as green bonds. This will enable climate action to be integrated with financial reporting and instruments." Finally, they "encourage governments to set science-based global and national targets for the reduction of GHG emissions and the development of alternative energy sources."

The letter calls for action now—"hastening the shift to low-carbon economy in an economically sustainable manner will generate growth and jobs in both the developing and developed world." They believe that a "comprehensive, inclusive and ambitious" climate deal at COP21, in combination with a strong set of clear policy signals from world leaders, is key to accelerating this transition. 

There has already been some reaction to the CEOs' letter. Tim Gore, Climate Advisor of Oxfam International, an international confederation of 17 organizations working together in more than 90 countries to fight poverty, agreed generally with the CEOs' call to governments to agree to a climate deal at COP21. "But," Gore said, "companies themselves need to go further in addressing their own climate change footprints by establishing science-based reduction targets, adopting internal carbon prices, committing to 100% renewable electricity goals, and implementing comprehensive adaptation strategies that apply across their value chains." Gore went on to encourage the business community generally to call on their governments to support strong action items coming out of COP21. Gore concluded that only when companies start putting new climate-related policy commitments into practice "will real change happen for the millions of people suffering the consequences of climate change." 

COP21 will take place on December 7–8, 2015, in the Le Bourget area of Paris, France.