This episode is presented by: ICE
With so much finance-related news coming from COP26, Maggie Peloso, a partner at Vinson & Elkins, joins the show to help us make sense of how the talks in Glasgow will shape the future of ESG investing and disclosure.
Topics like the progress made on the launch of the International Sustainability Standards Board and the $130 trillion pledge from the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero are on the table.
We also discuss how the public perception of the term "net zero" has undergone a transformation since COP26 began.
More legal insights from Maggie Peloso
Maggie's appearance on the Renewable Energy SmartPod
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More about ICE: Environmental, Social and Governance issues are in the spotlight. Investors need the markets, data and indices to understand how their decisions impact the planet, people and their portfolios. At ICE, we provide data, markets and analytics to help you measure performance, manage risk and connect to opportunity. Visit ice.com/connecttoesg for more information.
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(Note: This transcript was created using artificial intelligence. It has not been edited verbatim.)
Colin Hogan 00:14
Hello everyone and welcome to the Modern Money Smart pod. I'm Colin Hogan.
Sean McMahon 00:18
And I'm Sean McMahon.
Colin Hogan 00:20
You know Sean, a lot of eyes in the finance industry had been focused on Glasgow, Scotland these last couple of weeks as leaders from around the world gathered for COP26.
Sean McMahon 00:30
Yep. And as the news is filtered out of the conference, I keep thinking back to the predictions our last guest, Simon Puleston Jones, made about what to expect from the conference. And wow, he really nailed quite a few of them.
Colin Hogan 00:42
Absolutely. numerous countries and companies have announced Net Zero promises, while Mark Carney and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero committed their whopping $130 trillion in assets toward transforming the economy for a net zero future.
Sean McMahon 00:58
But, as Simon predicted, most of those promises and commitments are awfully light on details. Well, our guest today is going to help us sort through all that and try to make sense of all the uncertainty surrounding climate finance. She is Maggie Peloso, a partner at the law firm of Vinson & Elkins.
Colin Hogan 01:15
Maggie is an expert on topics like net zero and ESG disclosure, and she has been following the events in Glasgow quite closely. So we are very excited to hear what she has to say about all the news from this year's COP.
Sean McMahon 01:28
That's right Colin. But before we get things going with Maggie, here's a quick word from the exclusive sponsor of today's episode, ICE
Colin Hogan 01:36
Environmental, social and governance issues are in the spotlight. Investors need the markets, data and indices to understand how their decisions impact the planet, people and their portfolios. ICE provides data, markets and analytics to help you measure performance, manage risk and connect to opportunity. For more information, visit ice.com/ConnectToESG or click the link in the show notes.
Sean McMahon 02:06
Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining this episode of The Modern Money SmartPod. My name is Sean McMahon. I'm here with my co host Cullen Hogan. And our guest today is Maggie Peloso. Maggie is a partner at the law firm of Vinson & Elkins. Maggie, how're you doing today?
Maggie Peloso 02:19
Good. How are you?
Sean McMahon 02:20
I'm doing great.
Colin Hogan 02:21
Hello, Maggie, thanks for joining us today. We know you've kept a close eye on COP26. And there have been a lot of headlines out of Glasgow since last week. So what are your biggest takeaways from the summit so far?
Maggie Peloso 02:34
Well, thanks for having me, Colin. I think the biggest thing to take away big picture in the climate finance space right now is that we are getting a lot of promises for a lot more action, a lot of pledges to figure out how to take those actions in a way that creates greater accountability. But we're really going to have to wait and see how it all plays out in the coming year.
Colin Hogan 02:54
You know, I think probably one of the biggest things to kind of dominate the news was the establishment of the International sustainability standards board. What's your take on that? And what do you think we can kind of expect out of this body now.
Maggie Peloso 03:08
So I think the International Sustainability Standards Board is something that many of us were expecting, right, the IFRS Foundation had announced this was something they were planning to launch at the COP. I think overall, it's a piece of good news and a piece of interesting news for corporate reporters for a couple of reasons. The first is that if you are a corporate reporter who's been trying to satisfy your investors with the monopoly of sustainability standards that are out there, right now, you've basically been playing sustainability whack a mole for many years, right, where you choose a standard, you report to it, and then your investors come back and say, hey, that's great. You did that. Now, please, also do this other thing. And we really had a lot of corporates who were saying, Gosh, I can't devote yet another FTE to just responding to sustainability requests. And at the same time, on the standard-setting side, we were seeing a bit of an arms race, right, so that you were seeing a lot of groups that were creating their own standards. And then they would put out these long documents, they were like, Hey, we're going to harmonize our standards, but there wasn't really a joining of forces in a way that was meaningful. And so I think one of the things that's particularly interesting and meaningful with the launch of the IASB is that it is incorporating within it the CDSB, the Carbon Disclosure Standards Board and the value reporting Foundation, which was formerly SASB and the Integrated Reporting Standards. So we basically are seeing three of what were the really major players and saying, We want to help you figure out what sustainability information is materials, you can put it into your securities filings coming together under one umbrella. I think that's ultimately a good thing because it will hopefully constrain some of the proliferation of standards and provide for a more uniform framework that can be used in a meaningful way. The other thing I think is really interesting here is that of course, if this is the standard center for accounting, so you're starting to really dance more around to this idea of well, is sustainability information material? How does it interplay with accounting information? And what do you put in which bucket. And in the initial report that came out in the implementation work group efforts basically said, this is something we've got to really be very aware of right, that we've got to figure out how these two sets of standards are going to play together. And I think that's going to be a very important development to watch.
Sean McMahon 05:24
So how long do you think it's going to take ISSB to basically get up and running? I mean, it's early days, right? And so a lot of times, even with IFRS, you know, new standards coming down take years. So what's your take on timeline for that?
Maggie Peloso 05:35
Oh, I wish I knew the answer to that question. And so the goal is to have these other organizations fully incorporated into the issb by 2022. And there are already some, some templates standards out there for more general reporting and for climate, they are both adopting a model that will look pretty familiar to a lot of people because it's essentially the four pillars of the TCFD. So the governance strategy, risk management metrics and targets. So given that we've got a bit of a head start from this working group that's already been working, and that the group is adopting frameworks that look pretty familiar, it's possible to see that that could come about a little bit quicker, but you then know have the hard parts of international standards setting and figuring out how are you going to prioritize standards that apply to everybody versus some of the sector specific reporting standards and how to manage all of those various work streams? So if I had to guess I would say, I think we're still a few years out. And of course, that then raises the complicating factor of how will this voluntary standard move alongside some of the actions we're seeing by regulators, and in particular, what the US SEC might do particularly around climate in the coming year?
Sean McMahon 06:46
And what do you see the SEC headed in that direction? What do you think they come out with?
Maggie Peloso 06:51
Well, they're gonna come up with a proposed rule. What's going to be in the proposed rule? I think that's a little bit more up in the air. I you know, Chairman Gensler has signaled that they are very likely to require the disclosure of at least scope one and scope to greenhouse gas emissions and some real interest in scope three, there have been some suggestions that if you have done something like announce a quantitative greenhouse gas goal, or a net zero target, which is all the other big things we're seeing at this COP, right, is that there were already many, many, many public companies that had Net Zero targets and a bunch more who have reached out to make them that you might actually need to tell your investors something about what you're doing to reach that target. So you could see the SEC going in that direction a little bit as well. You know what, I think it's still early days. And it's a little bit hard to tell exactly what we're going to see in that proposal until we see it. Now, I will say I personally, and I believe I might have done it. On your other podcast, Shawn had been predicting that the proposal would be out in mid to late October, that seemed to be consistent with the timing that the Biden administration had been driving for, it would have been consistent with when the SEC has historically released big rules. But we are now well past mid to late October, and we don't yet have a proposal, the SEC is now saying it's going to come sometime early next year, which I think is really just evidence of how complex this is, and how hard it's going to be to really have a rule that's meaningful and tries to provide investors with the information that they're telling the commission they need.
Sean McMahon 08:16
Right? You mentioned how a lot of companies and even countries are coming out with, you know, a lot of goals around net zero and things like that. And one of the news items that come out of COP is that the banks themselves can all agree on what the definition of net zero is. And so besides based targets initiative, as kind of taking the point on that, and they're going to try and bring all the banks together, I guess, how do you see that taking shape?
Maggie Peloso 08:38
I think there are a couple of different issues that are that are embedded in that question. Right. The first is you have the global financial community coming together and making commitments to net zero. So you have the Glasgow netzero Finance Initiative. And then under that you have the net zero banking Alliance and some of these other bodies that have really been very focused on getting entities to pledge, right, it's sort of we're all going to agree that we're going to build an airplane. And then we're going to jump off a cliff and hope that we can build the airplane. And there is a lot of very hard work that is being done by member banks within that. But when you work with the individual member financial institutions, right, they're all having to make their own very difficult decisions about things like, Well, how do I feel about offsetting? And if I'm going to offset is it that I'm looking for the corporates to whom I'm lending to do their own offsetting? Or am I going to say, you know, gosh, I'm not willing to not lend to my historic clients in carbon intensive industries that can't reduce all their emissions. So I as the lender, I'm going to go by offsets, and there's a lot there that's really not yet very well defined. I think that we'll see a lot of maturity come to that space over the next year or so because as participating financial institutions have to set their interim and long term net zero targets. They are already putting in a lot of very rigorous quantitative easing. work in thinking about what they want to do. But the other piece of it is the question of, should everybody have to do the same thing or report it in the same way. And that's where I think that the sbti initiative really comes into play. Right? What the sbti is really starting to do is say, hey, you know what, we don't think it's okay. And this isn't just about banks or lenders, this is really about corporates more broadly, for people to be able to say, net zero in three decades, and not have to do any of the hard work now right to be waiting for technological breakthroughs or figure that they can wait and essentially cram for the exam at the last minute, and it will all be okay. Right? What sbti is really trying to say is, the hard work has to start right now, if we're going to get serious about this. And so the way that they're doing that is that they are essentially requiring companies to have five and 10 years of short term targets that are aligned with a netzero pathway, which is important because it will help investors and other stakeholders to understand how corporates are really changing what they're doing to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions. They're also looking for long term science based targets. And then I think one of the things that's really important when you talk about sbti, is there looking for removal and storage of emissions, that cannot be eliminated. That's important, because that's really different from a broader like, we'll get to net zero by doing some kinds of offsets, because it essentially takes a class of avoidance offsets are some of the easier to obtain, you know, I'll pay you for not taking that coal out of the ground and burning it kinds of offsets off the table, and you're really then looking more at an offset market. That is, I will pay you to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in geological formations forever or to preserve high quality forests where we know that we can increase biomass and soil carbon in store carbon in a meaningful way. And I think that's really important to making Net Zero meaningful.
Colin Hogan 11:55
So are we too focused on the quantity related to these pledges and not the quality? If you look at a pledge, you know, like the global financial alliance for net zeros, pledged to reach Net Zero targets by 2050? You know, we see this figure of $130 trillion in assets. That's what these firms control in total, thrown around. We know, that's probably not the amount of capital that is actually going to be committed to net zero. You know, are we too focused on quantity? When it comes to this?
Maggie Peloso 12:26
Colin, I'm so glad you asked this question. Because, you know, in my private practice, this is something that we deal with a lot. I think we encounter a lot of companies who feel like they need to say net zero because they think that's what investors want to hear. And I do you think investors want to hear net zero if it is sincere and rigorously backed up with ways that you're going to change things like how you deal with capital allocation, but I do worry that net zero itself has become a bit of a greenwash, and that it allows companies to obfuscate from what they're doing right now, right, I promised you that later on in the future, I'm going to do something to get to net zero. But maybe I'm not doing anything today, you know, and in my line of work, that's worrisome because if somebody is going to invest in you based on your commitment to net zero, and you're not really sincere about doing anything in the near term, you can see how that could mature into securities litigation. So that is something when we're talking to clients, we're thinking about Net Zero pledges that we talk a lot about. But I think that even more to the point that there's this really difficult, I'm going to call it a social enforcement problem around how do you really figure out if companies mean, what they say and do what they mean around this, because it's pretty easy to say net zero and without the rigor of some kind of an external body. And this is another component of what the sbti is doing. They're looking at developing an MRV program. So monitoring, reporting and verification, to look at how companies are progressing towards their targets. And without something like that, or intervention by a regulator, who says, Hey, if you're going to make this kind of a commitment, you then have to report your rear in a regulatory filing about the progress you're making. There is a risk that you're going to get a lot of actors who will say the magic words to appease investors and other stakeholders, and aren't really doing things that are going to meaningfully address the decarbonization challenge.
Colin Hogan 14:31
After a quick break, we'll hear more from Maggie about Greenwashing and the value of net zero pledges.
Environmental, social and governance issues are in the spotlight. issues like climate change, diversity and data privacy have growing influence across the investment cycle, from assessing exposure to allocating capital and achieving sustainability goals. Investors need markets data and indices to help them understand how their decisions impact IT people and their portfolios. Ice provides quality data analytics and markets to help you measure performance, manage risk and connect to opportunity. For more information, visit ice.com/ConnectToESG or click the link in the show notes.
And now back to our conversation with Maggie Peloso, a partner at the law firm of Vinson and Elkins.
Sean McMahon 15:29
So before the break, we were talking about net zero. And I want to continue on that topic. Because what you said Maggie about people starting to ask some hard questions about what Net Zero really means, you know that absolutely jives with what I see is one of the big takeaways from COP26. What's clear from Glasgow is that countries and companies can no longer set a net zero goal and feel like they're just totally bulletproof from critics. I mean, it's gotten to the point where when Greta Thornburg was criticized for singing a song with some colorful language, she responded with a tweet that mocked the entire concept of net zero. So looking at things through that lens, do you think companies and countries might shy away from making Net Zero pledges just to avoid all the criticism? Or will they continue setting goals, and then really dive into the reporting aspect to defend those goals?
Maggie Peloso 16:13
I think it may well be more the latter than the former. But we'll see. Right? You know, the, the way in which netzero pledges can can work in the extreme has clearly been on display in this COP, one of the ones that's obviously gotten a lot of attention is Saudi Arabia's Net Zero pledge, which if you really want to be a climate geek about it, they don't count their emissions, the emissions that result from the use of oil and gas products that they export from the country. So that really changes the scope of what it is they're trying to get to net zero of, right. And this is something we see also in the corporate sector, right, I'm going to go net zero on my scope, one and scope two emissions. But my real climate impact comes from people using my product. And I'm just going to put that outside the boundary of things that I want to talk about. And so I do think that what we will likely see is that for larger organizations, who really staked a lot of their climate or sustainability reputation around some of these early Net Zero pledges, an increased level of rigor and increased level of seriousness, I do think when you look at the banks, the banks are really serious about this. And they're really serious about putting it into their more ordinary risk management processes. And as that happens, they will become a really important source of due diligence on the integrity of the pledges of others as they're making decisions about how to deploy their capital.
Colin Hogan 17:37
I for one was kind of struck by something Larry Fink had to Blackrock had said last week, and this is kind of on the sidelines of the summit. But you know, he pointed out that, you know, amid all these public companies pledges for Net Zero, you're really just pushing a lot of hydrocarbon assets into the more murky private markets at that point. And so, you know, if we're just talking about public companies all the time, and there's no holistic approach that makes every company of every type subject to the same standards, how impactful are these pledges really going to be?
Maggie Peloso 18:11
So I think it's a fair question. I do wonder if it's a risk that's a bit overstated. And the reason for that is that if you look at who are the private actors, right, perhaps if these entities are going back, or the assets are going back into state owned entities, or others who are in countries that don't have climate pledges, that that is happening, right. And you do see that many of the larger oil and gas companies that are making moves in this space, what they're doing is they're taking assets off their balance sheet by selling them to others who are going to produce them and perhaps don't have greenhouse gas commitments. But I would quibble a little bit with the idea that this is a public company, private company kind of divide because I think that that really overlooks some of the work that's being done by the PRI by the netzero. asset owners Alliance, right, that there are other groups out there that are really pushing on private equity to also be more serious about its own climate commitments. And frankly, a lot of the investors in private equity, they're the same people who are public market investors in publicly traded companies. So I don't think it's right to think that private capital, at least as it exists in the US, and European context is really immune from these kinds of climate pressures. I do think there is are some interesting questions there about how might you get to better reporting for those kinds of entities if you really want to understand what is the climate impact look like? And I think there are a couple of really interesting things to watch there. First, I'm going to come back to the banks, right. One of the big things that you see when you look at private entities, they obviously don't have the same worries about shareholder pressures. They do have worries about access to capital from the lending side, right? And so seeing their lenders change their behavior will be very impactful. The other thing that I think is important there is that as we look at what the strategies for a lot of these assets look like, it's not a, you know, party till the greenhouse gas party is over thing, it's really about trying to create value. And if you're thinking about ultimately wanting to hold assets and exit them and make money from it, climate strategy is an important part of it. So you know, one of the things we see in the US domestic market that's been really interesting is that, if you look at who's really looking hard at investing in things like carbon capture, you see quite a lot of it in privately held companies who are thinking about, well, how can I take my existing energy assets and make them something that's going to be valuable if I want to take them public again, in the future? And for many of them, it is things like, Can I get a permit to do carbon capture or have some other kind of climate facing business that's a part of this business.
Sean McMahon 20:54
That $130 trillion from Mark Carney and GFANZ, right? That's a massive amount of money. And so from a legal perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges to deploy that kind of capital?
Maggie Peloso 21:05
I think that one of the big challenges that we will see is how do you deploy that capital with transparency, and in a way that's meaningful, right, one of the things that we've heard about around the GFANZ rollout and sort of along the sidelines of the COP, is some increasing skepticism around the world of sustainable linked finance and sustainability, linked lending, which has been very, very hot over the last year or so. And part of that, I think, comes from the idea that, again, this is a sector where things are changing very quickly, where we don't have a ton of universally recognized standards. And so there can be some real differences of opinion in what kinds of things you get to call green, or sustainable or climate ready. And so if you don't have some kind of a uniform and agreed upon scorecard for how you're going to deploy that capital, there is some risk that you basically throw a lot of good after bad or good after things that don't work. And I think in the climate space, we're going to have to put a lot of money towards things that don't ultimately work because everyone's still looking for what are the the moonshot, decarbonisation technologies. But I think that the questions of how you really get to good diligence and clear ideas around what kinds of performance standards you want for energy transition, and climate adaptation and decarbonisation kinds of investments will be a really, really important part of how meaningful this work ultimately is.
Colin Hogan 22:37
So after everything we've kind of seen come out of COP26. In generally speaking, you know, what advice would you give public companies or investors who want to going forward avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing?
Maggie Peloso 22:52
I think the most important thing is that you need to really mean what you say, I get really nervous when I see entities who feel like they want to say something, because they think it's what everyone wants to hear. But they don't yet have the policies and procedures in place to make that part of who they are, you know, I would much rather see companies go ahead and start taking actions and trying to address their climate risks. And then talking about what they've done after the fact as opposed to, oh, my gosh, I'm worried that if I don't say Net Zero, my value might not be as high. So I'm going to say net zero. And then I'm going to do the homework afterwards to figure it out. I think particularly as we have more and more regulators paying attention to this both in the US and abroad, that strategy is really risky. And that you really do need to take the time to do your homework and think really hard about what your climate risks and opportunities are, and how you're going to pursue them and have and have a clear eyed vision of that before you go out into the world and make big declarations about climate change
Sean McMahon 23:59
Alrighty and just circling back to some of the news that you know, coming out of the conference, you know, one of the big, I guess, pledges or packs that was announced, you know, how to do with methane and reducing methane on a global scale of I think it was 30%. What are you hearing from your clients about that?
Maggie Peloso 24:12
So I think this is a really interesting and important one, right? Because let's start with a little bit of scientific level setting methane is important to buy us time, it is a much more potent, but much shorter lived greenhouse gas. So if we need time to ramp up big technological solutions, you know, carbon capture and sequestration, decarbonizing the grid, some of those kinds of things, we can do quite a lot to limit the effects of warming by addressing methane in the near term. I think what's really interesting when you look at the global methane pledge is that it's sectorally focused and this is an idea that's been sort of bumping around in the UN f triple C dial up for quite some time, you know, in the world was trying to figure out what to do after the Kyoto Protocol. There was a lot of talk about should we have sectoral standards, right so that you could really focus your technology trends For around like, there is a standard for the global seal sector and a standard for the global ag sector. And that has yet to really take hold in the broader UN Framework Convention sort of space. But what's happening in the methane agreement is that we are seeing that there's going to be a need for sector standards for ag for sector standards for oil and gas in a way that I think, could be really interesting and testing out how effective that might be in facilitating technology transfer and doing other things. I think it's also really important to focus in that sector away on methane, because, frankly, there are a lot of things you can do to get those methane emission reductions in many of these member countries that are just not that expensive or that hard if you have good technology transfer, right, that there are methods of land use methods of managing agricultural waste, leak detection and repair for oil and gas operations where you could do some really meaningful things right away. I think it's also really important just because of the wide variety of actors have been brought to the table in agreement.
Sean McMahon 25:58
All right, I want to just bring this back to the overarching conversation we're having here ahead of COP. You know, greenwashing was already a thing, right? ESG investing was booming, you know, billions and billions and billions of dollars. And one of the things you said at the top of our conversation, I think the way you phrased it was these companies you'd be held to account for? Do they mean what they say and do what they say? Right? So obviously, you and your colleagues events and outcomes, you know, when a company is trying to figure out a strategy for their ESG and disclosure and compliance and things like that, you know, they pick up the phone, you know, they call you? What are some of their first questions they have.
Maggie Peloso 26:32
I think one of the first questions is sort of what is it going to look like around the corner? You know, if I respond to this immediate request in front of me, is that going to be enough? Or what what is this open me up to in a broader way? Because I think that that there had for a while then a real tendency to sort of be like, Well, okay, fine, maybe I can do SASB for you, right, I can give you some extra sustainability reporting. But that's kind of what I'm going to do. I'm going to put it in my recording function and not do a lot more with it. And I think that now, when clients are coming to us that they are starting to really see some of this as broader multifaceted risks. You know, really, in the last six months or so I've started to get many more questions that come from the place of, I'm inclined to do this. But I'm really worried about being accused of greenwashing. So what are the things I need to do to put enough integrity behind what I'm saying that it feels really defensible? And that it's not just going to feel good for me, but that it's going to feel good for the stakeholders with whom I'm trying to communicate? So I think there's a much higher level of sophistication there. And so then you really do get into the spadework of like, what does it take to make a commitment in this space that is real, that is meaningful, that is backed up by things you can actually do or that you think you can do? And how are you going to communicate? What it is you want to do and what the uncertainties around it are, so that you can preserve your credibility?
Colin Hogan 27:57
So before we wrap up, Maggie, looking ahead, do you have any bold predictions you'd like to make for COP27? What can we expect next year?
Maggie Peloso 28:06
I think that at COP27, we will continue to see a lot of the action being on the sidelines, right, with these bigger, voluntary international commitments around finance around methane around forestry, that we will see a lot of the energy in how have these bodies come together and put out rules? And what are people doing to start to comply with those rules? I think in the international process, one of the things that we're seeing proved very difficult in this COP and will remain difficult going forward is this question of loss and damage, right of essentially, transfer payments from more developed countries to less to deal with the cost of adaptation. I think that will remain a real sticking point. I think one of the big unknowns going into the next COC will be what energy markets do, right? It's very notable that China has not had a very senior presence at this conference has not been that willing to engage, and just a few weeks ago, increase domestic coal production because they're trying to continue to meet economic growth targets at a time when they are a bit energy constrained. And I think that the dynamics of the energy market over the next nine to 12 months will shape pretty dramatically. What will be possible when we get to the next call?
Sean McMahon 29:11
Alrighty, Maggie. Well, thank you very much for your insights. We really appreciate your time.
Colin Hogan 29:15
Maggie Peloso 29:16
Thanks for having me.
Sean McMahon 29:19
That's all for now. Stay tuned for more episodes focused on COP26 In the coming weeks. But before we go, we just want to say another quick thank you to the exclusive sponsor of today's episode, ICE.
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