Like many governments around the world, UK politics currently appear somewhat unstable. And the UK’s problems are a reflection of the world, where established views and beliefs are suddenly no longer the unassailable certainties they have seemed to be for decades.

Davos met this week for the first time in two years against this very unsettled backdrop.  A few thoughts and reflections on discussions there follow…

Conversation seemed to centre around emerging trends which challenge the apparent established order of the postwar years. Liberalised economies, increasing globalisation and spreading democracy have been remarkably successful at lifting many millions of people out of poverty and providing them access to electricity, clean water, food and economic opportunity.

Yet now the acceptance of the universality of that approach appears to be under challenge and the world economy teeters on the edge of a downturn…

Continue Reading A few thoughts from Davos…

Securities and Capital Markets

On March 21, 2022, the SEC proposed landmark rules regarding climate-related disclosures that would, if finalized, impact both domestic and foreign private issuers that are subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  The much-anticipated proposal will elicit discussion regarding the type, amount, and materiality of certain climate-related information that a company could be required to report.  The proposal also highlights the significant shift in market expectations globally regarding a company’s oversight of evolving climate-related risks and opportunities.  The SEC also published a fact sheet describing the proposed new disclosure requirements, which includes a matrix outlining the proposed phase-in periods and accommodations for the new disclosures.  The timing and scope of final rules remains uncertain, but the earliest that certain large accelerated companies would need to comply with the proposed rules if adopted would be 2023 (with the possibility of a filing by 2024).

Below we summarize:

  1. Background developments that led to the proposal;
  2. Key provisions of the proposed rules;
  3. Controversial elements of the proposal that may engender further debate; and
  4. What companies should be doing now.

Background

In recent years, investors have become increasingly focused on climate-related issues and risks related to a company’s business.  This heightened awareness has resulted in the SEC taking various steps to address investor demand for more transparent, comparable, decision-useful climate-related disclosure.  For example, in 2010, the SEC released guidance on how companies should apply existing disclosure requirements pertaining to a company’s business operations and exposure to material climate-related matters.[1]

In March 2021, SEC Commissioner and then-Acting Chair Allison Herren Lee requested public input from investors, companies and other market participants on whether current disclosures regarding climate-related opportunities and risks provided adequate information to investors.[2]  ESG-related task forces were also established with the purpose of evaluating climate-related disclosures and claims.  In July 2021, SEC Chair Gary Gensler announced the SEC would propose mandatory climate-related disclosure rules.  In September 2021, the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance issued a Sample Letter to Companies Regarding Climate Change Disclosures to provide companies with additional guidance regarding climate-related disclosures.
Continue Reading SEC Proposes Landmark Climate-Related Disclosure Rules

Introduction

The European Commission (the ‘Commission’) formally adopted on 27 January 2022 its new Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy (‘CEEAG’). The CEEAG replace the guidelines which were in force since 2014 (EEAG) and integrate the new objectives of the EU Green Deal of a reduction of 55% net greenhouse gas emissions compared to the 1990 levels by 2030 and of carbon neutrality by 2050. The Commission has estimated that achieving the new 2030 target would require EUR 390 billion of additional annual investment compared to the levels in 2011-2020, an investment that cannot be borne by the private sector alone, and would therefore require public investments.

Application

The CEEAG apply from 27 January 2022 to aid for environmental protection, including climate protection, and energy that is awarded or intended to be awarded as of that date. Member States must also adapt their existing support schemes to comply with the CEEAG by 2024. The CEEAG set out the criteria under which the Commission will assess whether aid may be authorised. These assessment criteria relate to a positive condition, i.e. whether the aid facilitates the development of certain economic activities within the Union, and a negative condition, i.e. whether such aid does not adversely affect trading conditions to an extent contrary to the common interest.

The Commission will only assess the aid under the CEEAG in the situations where the aid does not already fall under the exemptions of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). The GBER allows aid under certain ceilings without the need for Commission’s scrutiny. It is noteworthy that the GBER is currently under revision to align with the European Green Deal objectives and to complement the CEEAG.
Continue Reading The Commission adopts its new Climate, Energy and Environmental Aid Guidelines (CEEAG)

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (“COP”) in Glasgow has drawn to a close, with seemingly mixed messages and a somewhat ambiguous conclusion, it is worth reflecting on the overall trajectory of the climate issue, societal expectations, and the accomplishments that — with time — Glasgow is likely to represent.  COP26 highlighted the fragility of the planet, as well as the fragility of the global consensus-based United Nations approach to protecting it.  It highlighted the sweep of global climate-induced challenges and the scale of transformation needed to address them.  With rising temperatures has come a rising global focus on climate and a far greater set of emerging societal expectations for meaningful responses by government and the private sector.  Despite the risk that the global agreement forged in Glasgow is seen by climate activists as all talk and no action — what they referred to as “blah, blah, blah” — I believe that a number of features will endure as important accomplishments.

Representatives from 197 nations, businesses, hundreds of civil society organizations, scientists, educators, media, and climate activists — you name it — all converged on Glasgow to shine a global spotlight on the climate crisis.  The Conference had some 40,000 registered participants.  With just a few thousand of those involved in the negotiations themselves, the rest converged around elevating climate understanding, climate solutions, and climate action. And still tens of thousands of others converged to protest and lend their voices to the climate debate. Expectations were heightened by the delay of the COP for a year due to Covid-19, as well as the return of the United States to the Paris climate process. Yet all of those expectations focused on a UN negotiating process that depends on achieving unanimity for each of its outcomes.

Despite the challenges posed by gathering under the cloud of Covid and the large numbers of attendees, the COP was in some ways better organized than ever before.  It has become less exclusively an international negotiation and much more of a communications mechanism to rally world opinion around the need for ambitious climate action. The UN proceedings kicked off with a Global Leaders Summit with 120 heads of state. It featured inspiring statements from governmental and societal leaders, such as Sir David Attenborough.  The Summit then flowed into the overall COP, which had a thematic organization for each day of the conference, by which it highlighted actions or the sweep and scale of climate impacts in a more coherent fashion than ever before — spanning from energy, finance, transport, cities and the built environment, science and innovation, nature, gender, youth, and adaptation to and loss and damage from climate change.  And the overall gathering encapsulated a heightened global focus on climate as a defining generational issue in a way that has never happened before.  

The World Rallied Around the Urgency Shown By the Evolving Climate Science 

The defining element of the Glasgow considerations was the acceptance of a far sharper sense of climate science findings around the scale and urgency of emissions reductions needed to stabilize the earth’s climate and prevent catastrophic consequences.  Every aspect of the discussions was judged by the context the new climate science shows.
Continue Reading Report from Glasgow COP26: Assessing the United Nations Climate Conference

I.  Introduction: the Scottish Government’s Draft Hydrogen Action Plan

On the 10th of November 2021, the Scottish Government published its Draft Hydrogen Action Plan (the “Plan”), as a companion document to its December 2020 Hydrogen Policy Statement.

The Plan sets out the Scottish Government’s detailed proposals for the Hydrogen industry in Scotland

Covington’s Senior Advisor Carl Bildt, former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden, analyses the key trends expected to drive geopolitics and business over the near term.

Globally, strategic competition between the United States and China, and to some extent with a revisionist Russia, continues to be a source of geopolitical tensions. At the

The election of President Joe Biden in the US and the fast-approaching COP26 have focused minds on the importance of taking concrete steps to tackle climate change. This week has been an important part of the build-up to Glasgow and has witnessed a number of important climate change events. The European Commission released its Draft