Monday, April 14, 2008

The furor over climate change disclosure

Financial Week: Things are definitely heating up—and not just because it's springtime. Public companies have come under fire to provide more information in their filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission about how climate change will impact their business.

Climate change disclosure has been a hot topic with environmentalists, lawmakers and investors, who seem bent on using SEC filings to affect public policy. Many are hoping that significant scientific and legal findings this past year will allow companies to provide more information about the effects of climate change. But 2008 corporate filings are not likely to reveal more about climate change, which will likely cause the temperatures of proponents of more disclosure to rise.

Public companies disclose how climate change will affect their businesses in their SEC filings. In determining what to disclose, management must assess whether an event they see on the horizon is reasonably likely to occur and, if so, whether its occurrence will materially affect their business. Investigations by Congress and non-governmental organizations, requests that the SEC provide guidance, calls for voluntary consensus standards, reports from public accounting firms and New York State attorney general Andrew Cuomo's well-publicized subpoenas to certain coal-fired power plant operators have all shone a spotlight on the issue of climate change disclosure. However well intentioned these expressions of interest may be, they all tend to disregard the governing legal standard for disclosure….

An ancient Mesopotamian balance sheet from the Louvre, Wikimedia Commons

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