Breaking Down ESG Ratings: The UK's Regulatory Landscape
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    Breaking Down ESG Ratings: The UK's Regulatory Landscape

    ESG ratings have emerged as an important metric for companies to excel in today’s sustainable business landscape. While the EU has established comprehensive frameworks and regulations, the UK is strategically assessing its path forward in the post-Brexit era.

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    13/05/2024Of Navodi Kuruppu
    13/05/2024Of Navodi Kuruppu


    On 6 March, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered the spring budget to the House of Commons, presenting plans on ESG ratings in the UK. According to these plans, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will regulate companies providing their ratings to users in the UK. In these plans, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has been tasked to regulate companies that provide ratings to their users in the country. This development is the result of Edinburgh Reforms consultation that took place in 2022. At the event, market participants raised concerns around providers’ methodologies and objectives. Stakeholders indicated they can “ESG-ratings-rules-in-UK-Spring-Budget-1709803189" target="_blank">be opaque and lead to confusion about what a rating implies”, stressing the need for clarity around what constitutes an ESG rating. The UK’s move to regulate the sector comes after the European Commission also presented new rules for ESG rating providers in June last year.

    UK Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower

    What are ESG Ratings?

    esg-meaning-and-importance-for-companies" target="_blank">ESG, short for Environmental, Social and Governance, covers the main topic areas where companies are expected to disclose comprehensive information. This includes both positive and negative impacts arising from a company’s daily operational practices. ESG ratings work similarly to credit rating, where agencies assess companies based on financial factors. However, ESG ratings go beyond financial metrics and are intended to provide information to market participants like investors, analysts, and corporate managers about the esg-ratings-do-they-add-value.html" target="_blank">relation between corporations and non-investor stakeholders’ interests. Investors rely on this material to make investment decisions, while corporations use ratings to get third-party feedback on the quality of their sustainability initiatives. With the publication of the UN Agenda 2030 in 2015, it has become key for businesses to align their practices with environmental, social and governance objectives.

    Team meeting on ESG

    What do ESG rating agencies do?

    Generally, there are esg-ratings-do-they-add-value.html" target="_blank">three categories of ESG rating agencies. First, there are basic data providers, who offer a wide range of publicly available and unprocessed data extracted from corporate accounts or websites. Secondly, there are comprehensive data providers which usually offer a combination of publicly available data from media, corporate reports, NGOs, own questionnaires, and data processed by their analysts. Usually, they include all aspects of ESG. Thirdly, there are specialised data providers, where most of them offer in-depth contextual data that encompass one or two ESG aspects. They are valuable for investors who seek to make progress in chosen ESG areas. To achieve high ratings, a company is required to prepare well for the assessment. This means understanding the research methodology and scope analysed by a specific rating agency and gathering data on existing esg-criteria-company-benefits-on-brand-and-human-resources

    Rating agencies analyse companies' data

    Regulatory Frameworks in the UK

    Following Brexit, the UK government decided against adopting the EU’s sustainable finance framework in order to develop its own regime. As of Summer 2022, the UK ESG reporting consists of esg-regulations-in-the-uk/" target="_blank">multiple domestic and EU-derived laws and regulations. The standards in the UK are often not ESG-focused, with esg-corporate-reporting-in-the-uk" target="_blank">different methodology and emphasis, resulting in lack of uniformity. Since the Edinburgh Reforms, the UK Government has been trying to improve this situation, to ensure good conduct in the ESG ratings market and improved transparency. While no single framework has been implemented this year, the FCA’s role can provide support in the regulation of companies in Britain. Their Sustainability Disclosure Requirements aims to bring trust and transparency to the UK market for sustainable investment products and represent a major ESG shift for the UK financial services sector. These standards will form the foundation of future reporting requirements in the UK.

    Union Jack flags

    UK Market Demand for ESG Ratings

    In recent years, the demand for ESG information has been growing. Before the use of the acronym “ESG”, the public and professional interest was focused on the wider issues of corporate responsibility, sustainability, and impact investing. But for the past decade, the concept of ESG has been evolving and has become commonplace in the investment community and in corporate boardrooms. In fact, the significant increase in ESG assets under management, surpassing esg-in-the-uk-financial-services-sector/" target="_blank">150% growth since 2015, has led to extraordinary demand for ESG financial products. As a result, esg-in-the-uk-financial-services-sector/" target="_blank">21% of consumers in the UK currently own at least one sustainable finance product. Also, esg-no-contract-uks-top-companies-demand-esg-compliance/" target="_blank">research has highlighted that 90% of the FTSE 100 will only work with suppliers who make their ESG credentials available. Another 3% are incorporating the requirement this year.

    Canary Wharf, London's business and financial centre

    ESG around Europe

    While the UK embraces a wide approach to ESG, posing challenges for ratings’ providers, other European states are taking different paths. Germany’s ESG framework is based on esg-comparative-guide#:~:text=The%20ESG%20framework%20in%20Germany,consists%20of%20non%2Dbinding%20recommendations." target="_blank">a combination of hard law and regulation as well as soft codes of governance. They have also published a comprehensive Sustainable Finance Strategy, consisting of 26 measures to develop consistent sustainability standards and disclosure requirements for financial market stakeholders. Also, the methodology considers the 17 SDGs throughout any investment and financing decisions. France and Italy operate under a framework similar to Germany's. Spain mirrors the UK, with no standalone ESG framework, resulting in a fragmented and intricate landscape. In 2022, Denmark’s DBA announced updated esg-reporting%C2%A0" target="_blank">guidelines on ESG reporting, simplifying the process for companies to report their ESG metrics. These revised guidelines feature quantitative key figures and calculation methods to facilitate easier and faster reporting.

    EU Flag

    Global views on ESG

    Beside the UK and the EU, countries around the world have diverse approaches to ESG and ESG ratings. In Australia, environmental sustainability is supported through the Prudential Practice Guidance on Climate Change and Financial Risks (CPG229) and the proposed climate change reporting standards outlined by the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB). Similarly, Brazil has passed laws based on risk management, ideally to conform to ISSB standards. Also, Canada has introduced the esg/canadas-climate-investment-taxonomy/#:~:text=Specifically%2C%20these%20regulations%20were%20intended,in%20March%202023%5B1%5D." target="_blank">Climate Investment Taxonomy Regulation, with the intention of assisting financial market players in making better-informed capital allocation decisions about climate initiatives. These initiatives emphasize the need for regulatory bodies and market players to work together, to ensure transparency and consistency in ESG reporting practices. Ultimately, these can serve as useful examples for countries like the UK in shaping their own standards and regulations in a more uniform way.

    World flags on a wall

    The future of ESG and ratings

    In 2024, sustainability is predicted to become deeply ingrained in the financial foundations of companies. According to PwC, in 2023 nearly one-third of CFOs are examining the potential impact of climate change scenarios on financial outcomes. According to Lloyds, in the UK, the number of firms setting ESG targets for their business has esg-in-uk-manufacturing.html#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20firms%20setting,and%20the%20Future%20of%20Sustainability" target="_blank">increased by 48%, with esg-in-uk-manufacturing.html#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20firms%20setting,and%20the%20Future%20of%20Sustainability" target="_blank">around two thirds (62%) of manufacturers now doing so since 2021. The growing emphasis on ESG is not simply a passing trend but it represents a fundamental shift towards a more sustainable and responsible financial system. By proactively integrating ESG principles into their operations, UK businesses can unlock numerous benefits, including enhanced access to capital, reduced risk exposure, proactive management of ESG factors and improved brand reputation.

    Collaboration is key in ESG
    13/05/2024Of Navodi Kuruppu
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