Modernizing ESG Disclosure
76 Pages Posted: 13 May 2021 Last revised: 6 Jun 2022
Date Written: November 5, 2021
Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began a comprehensive effort to “modernize and simplify” the disclosure rules that apply to U.S. public companies. In that period, investor demand for the SEC to standardize how companies disclose climate-related risk and other “environmental, social, and governance” (ESG) information has risen, and private standard setters, international organizations, and financial regulators outside the U.S. have already introduced ESG reporting frameworks.
The SEC, and indeed, the U.S. capital markets themselves, are now at a crossroads. The Biden administration has prioritized a coordinated response to climate change, and the SEC has committed to move forward rapidly to reform ESG disclosure. As a result, the SEC and Congress must now engage with difficult policy debates as they consider how to implement corporate ESG disclosure reform and whether to pursue a sustainable finance transition. These issues include questions about the rationale for ESG disclosure reform, its potential costs and benefits, and the precise form any new reporting rules should take.
This Article presents a roadmap for modernizing ESG disclosure that can be undertaken directly by the SEC, as well as more ambitious proposals that are a necessary foundation for sustainable finance reform and that could proceed with Congressional authorization. While there is growing consensus about the core goals of both of these paths, this Article is among the first to address the key issues that must be resolved in the U.S. context. Going beyond prior proposals, this Article advocates a tiered approach that will promote greater transparency and comparability of ESG information and also better align the regulatory framework for ESG reporting under the federal securities laws with emerging international standards.
Keywords: securities regulation, ESG, disclosure, sustainability, climate, risk, finance, non-financial, reporting
JEL Classification: K22, G18, G32, G38
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation