Big end of town ready on new climate regime

A survey shows big business is largely ready for Australia’s new climate disclosure regime that is slated to start soon, despite a strong pushback that could cause a delay.

A climate governance study released on Tuesday by the Australian Institute of Company Directors shows mixed readiness as Treasury works on aligning the nation’s accounting rules with international sustainability standards.

“The big end of town is better prepared than the rest, and that stands to reason,” the institute’s CEO Mark Rigotti told AAP.

“They’ve got more resources and they’ve probably been focused on this for longer.”

Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of respondents expected to be subject to mandatory climate reporting and said they were “somewhat” or “well” prepared.

Most (80 per cent) were concerned about climate change as a material risk for their business, while half said nature and biodiversity was a material risk.

Companies that were more mature on adapting to investor and consumer demands have moved the climate function away from the marketing department and into the chief financial officer’s responsibilities.

Less than half (43 per cent) of listed and a quarter of unlisted companies had a transition plan and targets, the survey of more than 1000 directors found.

Putting climate reporting on par with traditional “financials” is slated to begin on July 1 for Australia’s largest companies and biggest not-for-profit organisations as part of a broader phase-in over several years.

Mr Rigotti said he was concerned for businesses who may think they’re too small to report, but would need to calculate their carbon footprint as part of a supply chain feeding into bigger firms emissions.

“It’s complex and there are some settings in there that may not suit the ultimate purpose, which is to help decarbonise the environment and to have sensible reporting around it,” he said.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission warned eight months ago that companies had no excuse for being unprepared for one of the biggest changes to financial reporting and disclosure standards in a generation.

The Business Council of Australia has called for a delay to at least 2025 so companies can get their climate “training wheels” on, and an extension of the transition period to 2030 from 2027.

But others warn the window to hold global warming as close as possible to 1.5C is narrow and closing after years of denial.

Amid the strong pushback, the Carbon Market Institute said it was guiding companies in the “right direction” with a new requirement for carbon-intensive and large corporate members to publicly release decarbonisation transition plans.

The institute’s corporate transition director Kurt Winter warned against a watering down of the regime, so that any delays do not result in a longer lead time before companies become accountable.

“Protections were not established in other jurisdictions that have introduced mandatory disclosure, such as New Zealand, so we would caution against their extension or expansion in this case,” he told AAP.

“An effective regulatory framework to guide transparent disclosure of climate and nature-related risks is an important complement to other market-based mechanisms and policies to guide Australia’s economic transition,” he said.

Previously some have used carbon markets as merely a means to offset emissions rather than reducing pollution from their business operations.

But carbon crediting and markets have an important role to play and need to be closely aligned to credible decarbonisation strategies that have integrity at government and corporate levels, according to the institute.

The federal government is considering whether the July 1 start date should be delayed until January 1, 2025.


Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)


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