Businesses lobby on climate, but don’t detail risks

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One of the nation’s largest energy companies, DTE Energy is deeply embroiled in the climate change debate on Capitol Hill. The Detroit-based power company is among the 880 businesses and organizations that The Center for Public Integrity has tallied lobbying on global warming this year.

But in DTE Energy’s annual report (2007 and 2008) to shareholders, the company offers no details on how national legislation to cut carbon dioxide emissions might affect its bottom line, only that “the operations of our fossil-fuel generation assets may be significantly impacted.”

That put DTE Energy among a slew of companies deemed to be offering “poor” disclosure of climate-related risks to investors, according to a new analysis commissioned by the investor-environmentalist coalition Ceres and the Environmental Defense Fund. The report looked at 100 global companies with a stake in the climate debate, and found that in their fiscal year 2007 annual reports, 59 made no mention of their greenhouse gas emissions or their position on the issue, 52 disclosed no actions to address climate change, and 28 had no discussion of climate risks.

This is important because U.S. securities laws mandate that publicly traded corporations disclose “material” financial risks. Ceres and EDF argue that climate risks now rise to the level that they should be disclosed, including detailed numbers in corporate annual 10-K reports. Jim Coburn, senior manager of investor programs at Ceres, says companies are doing internal calculations of how greenhouse gas legislation would affect them. “To disclose none of that, not even a range of numbers, doesn’t give investors any useful information on which to base investment decisions or on which to engage the companies,” he says.

The Securities and Exchange Commission says it plans to take a close look at what kind of disclosure should be required on climate change, after a June 12th letter by a coalition of 41 pension funds and asset managers requested that the agency issue guidance on what global warming risks companies need to disclose.

Incidentally, 57 of the 100 companies analyzed in the Ceres report lobbied on climate over the past year, according to the Center on Public Integrity’s The Climate Change Lobby report. Of those, 22 were deemed to have provided investors with "poor" quality climate risk disclosure, while an additional seven provided none.

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