The ESG Review: An attempt for uniformity of ESG standards sees the International Sustainability Standards Board announced at COP26

It has been a week of announcements that, if they turn into actions, will have a profound, lasting and even salvational impact on our world.

I won’t list them, as you’ll no doubt have been tuned in carefully to everything being emitted from Glasgow over the past few days. But tucked nearly amongst the headlines of the day was the news on Wednesday that a new board would set “sustainability disclosure standards” for companies.

As the FT reported, “The IFRA Foundation said that it would form the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), tasked with creating a single set of standards ‘to meet investors’ information needs’.”

I’m pretty sure my first (and only) Filofax was marketed as being able to meet my information needs - the market desire for a single set of ESG reporting standards has risen to more of a desperate, horse-like appetite for clarity. This Greenbiz piece gives a fuller summary.

Meanwhile, in the same story, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink outlined why he believes pressure on public companies to set and pursue net zero targets without the same scrutiny on private companies is “the biggest capital markets arbitrage in my lifetime.”

And Bill Gates gave a sobering reminder of the scale of the decarbonisation task when he said he doubted the world would get to a 1.5 degree temperature rise containment, citing the doubling of costs of the likes of concrete and aviation fuel as reasons why so much more investment was needed to avoid increased prices from stalling economic development.

Fink’s comments may well leave the longest echo in ESG circles post-COP though. Often, what the BlackRock boss says sticks, and there is a rising sense in media reports that private companies could become a haven for pollutive industries.

In the UK at least, the Government at least seems to advocate an even-handed approach across public and private businesses with the Chancellor’s news (complete with green budget briefcase) that most big organisations will have to set out their net zero transition plans in public by 2023. Yet before you get too excited, the small print in the article does say “Any commitments will not be mandatory. Green groups say this is not enough.”

So are we back to the prospect of increasing limelight for listed firms, while private ones can take more shadow? Surely, beyond COP, as the problems that poses for the scale of economic transformation required become ever-more apparent, it will have to change.

Private companies might do well to get ahead of that by acting more like their public counterparts in anticipation.

The ESG News Review is written by Steve Earl, a Partner at BOLDT.

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