Climate Change Disclosure

As I noted in a prior post, earlier this month I participated in a panel in a climate change liability event sponsored by Clyde & Co in collaboration with Willis Towers Watson as part of the Mayor of London’s Climate Action Week. In connection with the event, on July 11, 2019 the Clyde & Co law firm published an excellent, comprehensive paper on climate change developments and risks, entitled “Climate Change: Liability Risks for Businesses, Directors and Officers – The Coming Wave of Litigation” (here). This paper provides an overview of the challenges that businesses face as a result of climate change-related developments and of the potential areas of liability that may arise as a result of these developments.
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Alleged deficiencies in climate change-related disclosures have been a target of advocacy groups, shareholders, and regulators. The latest example of this phenomenon is the civil lawsuit the New York Attorney General filed on Wednesday against Exxon Mobil Corporation. The NYAG alleges that the company sought to “systematically and repeatedly deceive investors” about the future impacts climate change regulation could have on the company’s assets and value. The lawsuit underscores the fact that climate change disclosures are and will remain under scrutiny and that the claims alleging insufficient or deceptive climate change-related disclosures remain a significant area of corporate liability exposure. The October 24, 2018 complaint can be found here. The NYAG’s October 24, 2018 press release about the lawsuit can be found here.
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As I noted when it was filed in 2016, the securities class action lawsuit investors filed against ExxonMobil and certain of its executives represented something of a milestone as it was the first securities class action lawsuit of which I am aware based on climate change-related allegations. In an August 14, 2018 opinion, Northern District of Texas Judge Ed Kinkeade largely denied the defendants motion to dismiss. The opinion contains a number of interesting features, including in particular in its discussion of the plaintiff’s climate change related allegations. Judge Kindeade’s opinion can be found here.
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For some time, I have been arguing that climate change-related disclosure is going to be an increasingly hot button issue. Among other things, I have long believed that advocacy groups will attempt to use disclosure-related issues as a way to try to draw attention to climate change policies. On August 2, 2018, in the latest example of advocacy groups focusing on climate change-related disclosures, the non-profit legal group Client Earth filed complaints with the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) against three different U.K. insurers. The legal group contends that the insurers’ annual reports failed to meet the requirements of the Disclosure Guidance and Transparency Rules due to the absence in the reports of any climate change-related disclosures.
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As I have previously noted on this site, climate change-related disclosure is a hot button issue for certain activist investors and non-governmental organization. A series of recent actions underscores the extent to which some groups are attempting to escalate these disclosure issues, with significant impact. As described below, a number of companies have joined collaborative efforts to advance climate change disclosure initiatives within their industries. These developments have relevance not only for companies’ disclosures to investors, but they may also have liability implications as well.
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