SEC's Coates says agency should help create ESG disclosure system

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission logo adorns an office door at the SEC headquarters in Washington, June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

(Reuters) – A new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission official said the agency “should help lead” the creation of a disclosure system for environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues for corporations.

John Coates, named acting director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance on Feb. 1, made the remarks on Thursday during a conference on climate finance hosted by the Institute of International Finance, which was webcast.

While the comments were in line with those Coates previously made as a Harvard University law professor, they showed how the agency will now likely play a more active role in the development of ESG reporting standards.

Also on Feb. 1 acting SEC Chair Allison Herren Lee named Satyam Khanna to the new role of senior policy adviser for climate and other ESG issues, showing increased attention to the area.

Coates said his view does not imply the SEC should mandate rigid, specific disclosures that he said could soon prove outdated. But companies are already issuing many sustainability reports organized as recommended by private groups like the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, and shareholder interest for more such information is only rising, Coates said.

“To some extent what has traditionally been voluntary is becoming less voluntary, not through law but because of investor demand,” he said.

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