Finalisation of the regulatory framework on sustainable finance in sight
The EU has taken major steps over the past number of years to build a sustainable financial system. On this blog, we have repeatedly given updates on the EU Taxonomy Regulation, the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation and the Benchmark Regulation that form the foundation of the EU’s work to increase transparency and provide tools for investors to identify sustainable investment opportunities. We are now steering toward a final regulatory framework on sustainable finance.
Sustainable Finance Package in a nutshell
On 21 April 2021, the European Commission has adopted a comprehensive package of measures (the Sustainable Finance Package) as part of its wider policy initiative on sustainable finance, which aims to re-orient capital flows towards more sustainable investments and enable the EU to reduce its carbon-footprint by at least 55% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
The Sustainable Finance Package is comprised of:
- Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which amends the existing reporting requirements under Directive 2014/95/E (Non-Financial Reporting Directive, NFRD) by expanding the scope of sustainability-related reporting requirements to more corporate entities;
- Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act, which provides technical screening criteria under which an economic activity qualifies as environmentally sustainable, by contributing substantially to climate change mitigation or climate change adaptation while making no significant harm to any of the other environmental objectives;
- Six Delegated Acts that amend requirements under UCITS, AIFMD, and MiFID II framework by incorporating new rules on consideration of sustainability risks, factors and preferences by investment managers and investment firms.
Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD)
With the aim to capture a wider group of companies and to bring sustainability reporting over time on a par to financial reporting, CSRD expands the scope of the existing NRFD, which currently applies only to companies with over 500 employees (even though national law in certain EU Member States stipulates lower thresholds).
The CSRD expands the scope of application of sustainability-related reporting requirements to all large undertakings (whether listed or not) that meet two of the following three criteria:
- balance sheet total of EUR 20,000,000,
- net turnover of EUR 40,000,000,
- an average of 250 employees during the financial year.
In addition to large undertakings, the CSRD reporting requirements will apply to all companies listed on the EU regulated market as well, with the exception of listed micro companies.
To that end, the CSRD aims to capture nearly 50,000 companies in the EU in comparison to only 11,000 companies that are currently subject to reporting requirements under NFRD. This should provide financial institutions that are subject to Regulation (EU) 2020/2088 (Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation, SFDR) with more relevant sustainability-related data about prospective investee companies, based on which they will be able to fulfil disclosure requirements under the SFDR.
As a next step, the Commission will engage in discussions on the CSRD Proposal with the European Parliament and Council.
Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act
The Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act represents the first set of technical screening criteria that are intended to serve as a basis for the determination which economic activities can be deemed as environmentally sustainable under the Taxonomy Regulation. Developed based on the scientific advice of the Technical Expert Group (TEG), the Delegated Act provides technical screening criteria for determination whether an economic activity contributes significantly to either climate change mitigation or climate change adaption while making no significant harm to any other environmental objective under Article 9 of the Taxonomy Regulation.
Final Draft of the Delegated Act still needs to be officially adopted by the Commission, after which the European Parliament and the Council will have 4 months (which can be extended by additional 2 months) to officially adopt it.
Amending Delegated Acts
As part of the Sustainable Finance Package, the Commission has also published six long-awaited final versions of the draft amending delegated acts under MiFID II, UCITS and AIFMD framework with the aim of incorporating additional requirements on consideration of sustainability risks, factors and preferences by investment managers and investment firms.
The proposed changes introduced by delegated acts, which are expected to apply from October 2022, can be summarized as follows:
Product Governance: changes to MiFID II Delegated Directive (EU) 2017/593 put the obligation on manufacturers and distributors of financial instruments to take into consideration relevant sustainability factors and clients’ sustainability objectives in the process of product manufacturing and distribution.
Suitability assessment: changes to MiFID II Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/565 require investment firms to take into account clients’ sustainability preferences in the course of suitability assessment. Given that requirements on suitability assessment apply only to firms providing investment advisory and portfolio management services, ESMA is separately considering (ESMA Consultation on appropriateness and execution only under MiFID II) whether the consideration of sustainability risks and factors shall be taken into account in the case of provision of other investment services for which requirements on appropriateness assessment apply.
Integration of sustainability risks and factors: amendments to MiFID II Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/565, UCITS Delegated Directive 2010/43/EU and AIFMD Delegated Regulation (EU) 231/2013 impose new obligations on investment firms and asset managers, by requiring them to take into account sustainability risks and factors when complying with organisational requirements, including requirements on risk management and conflict of interest requirements.
Further, UCITS and AIF management companies that consider principal adverse impacts of their investment decisions on sustainability factors under SFDR (e.g. impact of an investment in a fossil fuel company on climate and environment), will be required to consider this when complying with due diligence requirements stipulated under UCITS and AIFMD framework.
The Sustainable Finance Package also includes similar changes to Delegated Acts under IDD, which affect insurance distributors.
The proposals published as part of the Sustainable Finance Package represent some of the last pieces in the puzzle of the EU regulatory framework on sustainable finance, which aims to support the EU on its way towards creation of a more sustainable economy. These latest efforts by the Commission provide some further clarity to corporate entities and financial institutions that have been facing with new regulatory challenges for quite some time now. In the meantime, on 7 May 2021 the Commission has also published one additional Delegated Act under the Taxonomy Regulation, which outlines requirements on the content, methodology and presentation of key performance indicators (KPIs) that entities, which are subject to reporting requirements under Article 8 of the Taxonomy Regulation, need to comply with.
Nevertheless, there are some other important legislative proposals that still need to be published, like the final version of regulatory technical standards under the SFDR that is essential for compliance of financial institutions with disclosure requirements stipulated by this Regulation. Those regulatory initiatives show that aiming at a sustainable financial market in Europe is more than a fancy trend but rather a new effort which needs to be taken seriously and is not to be underestimated. If you have any questions about the EU regulatory framework on sustainable finance and its impact on your business, please get in touch with us.