More companies report climate risks, but few do it well
According to Ceres, just shy of 60 percent of S&P 500 companies report climate risks in their financial disclosures (10-K), but the quality of disclosures is going down over time. “Most S&P 500 climate disclosures in 10-Ks are very brief, provide little discussion of material issues, and do not quantify impacts or risks,” writes Ceres in Cool Response: the SEC & Corporate Climate Change Reporting. Companies typically include no more than “one short paragraph or a couple of lines focused on climate-related risks or opportunities.”
Uncertainty or complacency?
Why are companies so shy in disclosing climate risks? Part of the answer is that the uncertainty around climate change hazards -- their magnitude, timeliness or location – make it difficult for companies to assess whether the risks qualify as “material." More often than not, however, the timid reporting has more to do with the lack of a systematic risk analysis, backed by an established methodology and solid benchmarks. Politics and concerns over liability also play a role in a hushed reporting tone, whereby companies may think they are better off avoiding the topic altogether rather than providing partial and potentially inaccurate information.
Thinking beyond carbon regulatory risk
The quality of climate risk disclosure is often much higher in CDP reports, which effectively prods for detailed answers. In its 2013 Global 500 Climate Change 2013
report, CDP points to “a seismic shift in corporate awareness of the need to assess physical risk from climate change and to build resilience.”
Yet, the same report highlights a common shortfall among reporters: “Companies tend to focus on tangible risks in areas such as carbon taxes or energy prices, whereas the benefits from climate related opportunities are often less tangible, such as changing consumer behavior. (…) This suggests that businesses may be missing some significant risks and opportunities because valuation methods are unavailable.”
Five ways to improve your climate risk reporting
Accurately identifying risks and opportunities and developing a strategic adaptation plan are crucial to a company’s long term’s profitability. How can you better identify climate risks and opportunities, reduce your vulnerability, and improve your reporting score?
- Focus on the big-ticket items: for an initial risk screening, you’re better off focusing you your assets and facilities with the highest embedded value. While imperfect, this will help you identify low-hanging fruits and gain support from your management for a more comprehensive analysis.
- Be timely: climate change is not all about floods, drought or hurricane. When looking at assets with a long life span, you should consider gradual changes in temperature and precipitation, which could drive utility costs up, as well as sea-level rise and the increased likelihood of storm surge.
- Think global: an effective analysis will identify and benchmark risks and opportunities across your entire value chain, not just your own operations: examine your suppliers and your extended supply chain network, your distributors and your customers. The main source of risk could be in your market or in one of the raw materials you depend on.
- Act local: your adaptation response needs to be crafted individually for each location. You may need to consider traditional risk management tools, such as insurance, along with non-traditional methods geared specifically to the local circumstances of your facility, supplier or distributor.
- Be a team player: climate change is not a problem that can be solved alone. A robust adaptation strategy will require meaningful engagement with local stakeholders and partnerships with public agencies.
What are the challenges and successes you’ve had assessing climate risks for your company? Share your experience!
Image credits: 1) Ceres 2014 2) http://www.rootsemporium.co.uk/ 3) CDP 2013
Emilie Mazzacurati is the founder and CEO of Four Twenty Seven. Four Twenty Seven provides customized climate risk analysis and adaptation strategic planning to corporations and public institutions. Four Twenty Seven's climate risk Forecasting and Adaptation Strategic Tool (FAST) provides a rapid and effective way to screen your value chain and reduce vulnerability to climate change risk.