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Defining Moments of 2019: Putting climate risk on the corporate agenda

11 December 2019 at 9:00 am

In 2019, we challenged the boards and management of some of South Africa’s biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters and the big commercial banks about their failure to disclose and respond adequately to the risks posed by climate change.

In May 2019, CER attorneys joined environmental justice group the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) at the annual general meeting of shareholders in steelmaker ArcelorMittal South Africa in Vanderbijlpark, challenging the AMSA board about their GHG emissions and other pollution.

AMSA is one of the top 10 GHG emitters in South Africa, and has a long history of air and water pollution in the heavily polluted area of the Vaal known as “Steel Valley”. CER attorneys have been representing VEJA for many years in its struggle for environmental justice against AMSA, including in a court case brought by VEJA about access to information about environmental impacts held by AMSA. That case culminated in a 2014 Supreme Court of Appeal judgment in which the court ordered AMSA to release records of its pollution to fenceline communities, pursuant to litigation brought by VEJA. This case is set to become center stage again as companies like AMSA and Sasol resist releasing information about their GHG emissions. More about this in 2020.

In November 2019, CER attorneys joined a group of civil society organisations and affected community members at the AGM of Sasol Limited. Despite being one of South Africa’s largest corporations and its 2nd largest emitter of GHGs, Sasol has been slow to disclose and respond to climate risks – and has only just committed to preparing a “roadmap” to reduce its GHG emissions by November 2020.

On 25 November, we launched the 5th report in our Full Disclosure Series. The new report, entitled “Full Disclosure 5: The Truth About South African Banks’ and Companies’ Ability to Identify and Address Climate Risks”, considers South African banks’ and companies’ disclosure of and engagement with climate risks against an international benchmark. The report raises critical questions about how major South African corporates are preparing for a low carbon economy, and how such preparation will give some companies a competitive advantage over others.

South Africa’s vulnerability to climate change has become more evident in the last few years, with a significant increase in extreme weather events like droughts and floods, which are costing the country billions of Rands. Climate models predict that these impacts will worsen drastically. Climate risk is a matter of critical importance for corporates, for finance institutions, their shareholders and other stakeholders – can they act quickly enough to address the economic and environmental risks of climate change? Full Disclosure 5 demonstrates that, to protect affected communities across South Africa, the South African economy and those who invest in it, there is an urgent need for regulation of disclosure and response to climate risk.

Read the Full Disclosure 5 report here

Watch a short video clip on Full Disclosure 5 here:


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