"Greenwashing" by companies keen to massage their environmental credentials and increase their appeal to ethical investors came under scrutiny on Wednesday with the launch of a standards body which aims to weed out unjustified climate claims.
The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) seeks to build on and replace a patchwork of voluntary disclosure practices, which have had mixed success, with "baseline" global standards which companies could use tell investors about the impact of climate change on their business.
The aim is to bear down on companies giving a flattering picture of their climate policies and business practices, designed to meet concerns of investors in what has become a multi-trillion dollar global market for environment, social and governance (ESG) targeted funds.
"We are really focused on greenwashing," said Ashley Alder, chair of IOSCO, the global umbrella body for securities regulators which helped set up the ISSB. "It's super important, and if you don't have basic information on a globally comparable basis, then you increase the risks of greenwashing enormously."
"They (the new standards) are a baseline but they are not basic," said Alder, who also heads Hong Kong's securities watchdog.
The ISSB, unveiled at the UN's COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow and whose board and chair will be based in Frankfurt, will publish its first batch of global norms for climate-related company disclosures next year.
The new body's parent, the IFRS Foundation, published prototype climate disclosure standards for the ISSB to discuss and put out to public consultation ahead of adoption in the second half of 2022.
Alder said IOSCO was considering a possible assurance framework to ensure rigorous checks on whether the ISSB standards are properly applied by companies, as is already the case for financial reporting where outside auditors check accounting rules are followed.
"We do see that assurance is one of the legs of the stool that is necessary to ensure there is maximum confidence around reporting under these standards," Alder said.
IOSCO could also formally endorse the new standards, meaning its members, who account for 95% of the world's securities markets, would then be obliged to implement and enforce them.
The success of ISSB will hinge on backing from major countries, but the European Union has already moved ahead with its own disclosures, which are more ambitious as they require companies to also explain how their operations affect climate change.