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Public companies must start giving investors information about climate, SEC decides

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Securities and Exchange Commission says publicly traded companies in the U.S. will have to start giving investors information about climate change. Businesses will have to account for their climate pollution and explain how they're dealing with risks from rising temperatures. But as NPR's Michael Copley reports, it isn't clear what impact the new rules will have on global warming.

MICHAEL COPLEY, BYLINE: A lot of businesses already disclose some information about climate change. They report their greenhouse gas pollution and their efforts to cut emissions that heat the planet, and they do it voluntarily. Now, the Securities and Exchange Commission will require those kinds of disclosures in the financial reports of publicly traded companies. Cynthia Williams is a law professor at Indiana University. She says investors want that information.

CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: The SEC is regulating to meet investor demand. And investors have been asking for this information - institutional investors in particular - for at least a decade, probably longer.

COPLEY: The rules the SEC adopted will require public companies to disclose significant risks they face related to climate change and explain how they're managing those risks. Companies will also have to identify costs from severe weather events. And larger public companies will have to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions from their operations. That includes factories, offices and corporate vehicles. And they'll have to report climate pollution from things like power plants that feed electricity to their facilities. But it's not clear what impact the rules will have on emissions that are heating the planet. A lot of companies have set climate targets, but researchers say few have shown credible plans to meet their goals.

KATHY FALLON: It's not surprising that, to date, we may not have seen a relationship between these stated commitments and actual emissions reductions because there's been a hodgepodge.

COPLEY: That's Kathy Fallon. She works at the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. Fallon says the new rules could start to change that.

FALLON: And it will be easier for investors to put their money behind where their values lie. And ideally, that will lead to a much stronger connection between reporting, investing and emissions.

COPLEY: Gary Gensler, the SEC chair, has said repeatedly that the rules aren't climate regulations. They're rules for reporting financial information. Industry groups are expected to challenge the rules in court.

Michael Copley, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIPPIE SABOTAGE SONG, "OM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michael Copley
Michael Copley is a correspondent on NPR's Climate Desk. He covers what corporations are and are not doing in response to climate change, and how they're being impacted by rising temperatures.