SEC Reverses Bush Policy on Climate Risk in Shareholder Resolutions

The US Securities and Exchange Commission released a staff bulletin yesterday that reverses a Bush administration policy that excluded shareholder resolutions which asked companies to disclose their climate-related financial exposure. While not the rule-making we discussed last week, this could be a significant change for the boards of large companies who may now be forced to respond to shareholder concerns about the risks that greenhouse gases and climate change can create.

The Bulletin states that going forward, the Corporation Finance Division will no longer automatically allow the exclusion of proposals that deal with the evaluation of risk, but will look at the subject matter giving rise to the risk. The Division will generally not permit a company to exclude a shareholder proposal that deals with significant policy issues relating to the evaluation of risk. The Division noted in its decision that risk management and risk oversight can have major impacts not only on the shareholders, but on the company itself, and that application of the Bush administration framework in SLB No. 14C led to unwarranted exclusions.

CERES, which had long lobbied for such a change in the SEC’s policies, applauded yesterday’s announcement, concluding that “the guidance strikes the right balance of ensuring that resolutions about critical matters reach company share owners, without opening the floodgates to proposals of more questionable significance.”

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