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Pollution from power plant

A power plant emits smoke and smog. (Photo: Aleksandr Gavrilychev/Getty Images)

'Flying Blind': Analysis Shows World's Biggest Polluters Hide Climate-Related Financial Risks

"When companies don't take climate-related matters into account, their financial statements may include overstated assets, understated liabilities, and overstated profits," said one expert at analysis firm Carbon Tracker.

Julia Conley

A new report out Thursday shows how a majority of the world's largest corporate polluters are not just misleading the public about their commitments to climate action, but also failing to disclose how climate risks are impacting their finances.

Carbon Tracker, which assesses how fossil fuel companies are financially adapting to the climate emergency, revealed in Still Flying Blind: The Absence of Climate Risk in Financial Reporting that 98% of 134 companies did not show that they'd considered the impact of climate matters when compiling yearly financial statements.

The companies assessed in the report include BP, Shell, and National Grid, and are collectively responsible for 80% of corporate industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

The report comes a year after Carbon Tracker first assessed corporate polluters' disclosures regarding climate issues.

"Although most companies analyzed in Still Flying Blind had net-zero targets or ambitions, 98% of companies did not align the information in their financial statements with achieving these goals."

Last year, the group reported on 107 companies and their auditors, finding that 70% of corporations failed to disclose climate-related risks.

In this year's report, none of the companies "provided all of the information required by the relevant standards or requested by investors," said Barbara Davidson, Carbon Tracker's head of accounting, audit, and disclosure, "even after adjusting for changes in the methodology since last year and despite some improvements in disclosure." 

"This is despite the fact that most companies operate across a range of high emitting sectors including oil and gas, mining, transportation, and industrials," she added. "When companies don't take climate-related matters into account, their financial statements may include overstated assets, understated liabilities, and overstated profits."

Global regulators have called on corporations to disclose to investors the risk of continuing to produce or use fossil fuels rather than shifting to renewable energy, as climate scientists and energy experts have said they must to avoid the worst impacts of the climate emergency. Such disclosures could help drive money toward endeavors to meet the net-zero emissions target of the Paris climate agreement.

"Although most companies analyzed in Still Flying Blind had net-=zero targets or ambitions, 98% of companies did not align the information in their financial statements with achieving these goals," said Carbon Tracker.

The report also found that in 96% of cases, auditors of the companies did not appear to have considered "the impact of emissions reduction targets, changes to regulations, or declining demand for company products, for example, when auditing these companies." None of the auditors of the 46 U.S.-based companies provided evidence that they considered climate impacts in their audits.

One auditor—Deloitte—highlighted inconsistencies in BP's reporting, and five auditors partially met requirements set by Climate Action 100+, an investor-led initiative that aims to ensure corporate emitters are taking necessary climate action.

Only eight of the companies—6%—earned "partial" scores by satisfying at least one of the seven metrics set by Climate Action 100+.

Carbon Tracker noted that three companies, including natural resource firm Glencore, did disclose "relevant climate sensitivities, such as commodity prices used to test for impairments."

"Glencore's financial statements are particularly illuminating," said Rob Schuwerk, U.S. executive director of Carbon Tracker.

In the event that net-zero emissions are achieved by 2050, Glencore "would have to write down virtually all the value of its thermal coal assets," said Schuwerk. "How many more company balance sheets carry similar risks?"

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