EU company reporting, Exxon probe, German diesel ban and India's industrial shutdown
The European Commission has started a public consultation on how large companies should report social and environmental information, in compliance with a European Union law on non-financial disclosures that will take effect at the beginning of 2017. The law requires all listed and some unlisted companies with more than 500 employees to include in their annual reports statements on their policies and actions relating to environmental and social issues, human rights and the fight against corruption. The law allows companies to use existing frameworks to report non-financial information – such as the United Nations Global Compact – but the consultation aims to collect feedback so the Commission can provide “further guidance and help” in the form of “non-binding guidelines on methodology for reporting”. The consultation is open until 15 April
California could join New York in investigating whether fossil-fuel giant Exxon Mobil covered up what it knew about climate change, thereby misleading shareholders about the material risks it faced. According to the LA Times, the California attorney-general has started an investigation. New York's attorney-general confirmed late last year that a probe was under way. Under US Securities & Exchange Commission rules, companies must be transparent about risks to their businesses, including climate risks, and it is alleged that Exxon Mobil withheld relevant information dating back to the 1970s. Alongside trends such as divestment of fossil-fuel stocks by investors, the investigations add to the pressures facing the oil industry as the impact of global warming becomes ever more apparent. Exxon Mobil denies that it buried climate studies.
A German court in mid-January ruled that two cities in the federal state of Hesse have “no alternative” but to ban diesel cars because they are obliged to take measures to meet air quality standards. In a victory for NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe (German Environmental Aid), which brought the case, the court said that Darmstadt and Wiesbaden must take drastic action to comply with limits on pollutants such as nitrogen oxides that should have been met in 2010. As well as restricting car access, the cities should consider congestion charges and bans on trucks, the court said. Alan Andrews of environmental lawyers ClientEarth, a partner of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, said the ruling showed that “judges can and must step in to uphold our right to breathe clean air where governments fail to do so”.
Indian tribunal flexes muscles
A large number of industrial plants in India could face a forced shutdown after the country's National Green Tribunal (NGT) ruled in early January that their environmental licences were illegal. The licences were granted by India's Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change between 1998 and 2003 as “ex-post-facto environmental clearances” to facilities that were already operating. The NGT ruled that the procedure under which the clearances were given was “just a farce” and “stage-managed” and the illegal licences were “incurable in any manner.” The ruling initially affects 23 industrial plants in the western state of Gujurat, but could ultimately encompass many more. The NGT, set up in 2010 to provide rapid rulings in environmental cases, is seen as increasingly aggressive and influential in pushing for higher standards in India.