Key milestones reached for Sustainability Reporting Standards

In our monthly ESG Policy and Regulation round-up we explore the latest in developments to help you get ahead of the key changes shaping the market.

Table of Contents

Recent UK, EU and globally significant policy and regulatory developments and implications for investors, lenders, issuers, and borrowers

  •  International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) published its inaugural sustainability reporting standards
  • European Commission published draft EU Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) under EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD)

Other announcements and publications


  • Basel Committee on Banking Supervision discussed the development of a Pillar 3 framework requiring disclosure of bank exposures to climate-related financial risks
  • Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) published a report “Stocktake on Financial Institutions’ Transition Plans and their Relevance to Micro-prudential Authorities”


  • UK Department for Business and Trade announced call for evidence on “Smarter regulation non-financial reporting review”
  • FCA voiced concerns about the sustainability-linked loan (SLL) market


  • The European Commission published their broad “Sustainable Finance Package”
  • European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) published final proposed ESG disclosures for simple, transparent and standardised (STS) securitisations
  • The European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) published their progress report on greenwashing in the financial sector
  • Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CS3D): The European Parliament agreed its position marking the beginning of the interinstitutional negotiations
  • EU Parliament opened a debate on strategic technologies within the Net Zero Industrial Act (NZIA)
  • European Single Access Point (ESAP): EU Institutions reached a provisional agreement
  • European Commission announced a “Call for Evidence” on industrial carbon management: carbon capture, utilisation and storage deployment
  • EU Directive to empower consumers for the green transition: both Parliament and Council adopted positions to begin negotiations 

Recent policy developments and implications for investors, lenders, issuers, and borrowers

ISSB published its inaugural sustainability reporting standards

The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) finalised [1] its first two international standards on sustainability reporting. IFRS S1 provides a set of disclosure requirements designed to enable companies to communicate to investors ‘the sustainability-related risks and opportunities’ they face over the short, medium and long term. IFRS S2 sets out specific climate-related disclosures and is designed to be used with IFRS S1. Both fully incorporate the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

The ISSB Standards are designed to ensure that companies provide sustainability-related information alongside financial statements – in the same reporting package. The Standards have been developed to be used in conjunction with any accounting requirements. They are also built on the concepts that underpin the IFRS Accounting Standards, which are required by more than 140 jurisdictions. The ISSB Standards are suitable for application around the world, creating a global baseline. The Standards are applicable for annual reporting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2024. Earlier application is permitted too.

As expected, some transitional reliefs have been introduced, including on the reporting of Scope 3 emissions, which outlines that in the first year of the application of the standard, companies may choose not to report Scope 3.

As a next step, the ISSB will work with jurisdictions and companies to support adoption. The first steps will be to create a “Transition Implementation Group” to support companies that apply the standards and launch capacity-building initiatives to support effective implementation. The ISSB will also continue to work with jurisdictions wishing to require incremental disclosures beyond the global baseline, and with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) to support efficient and effective reporting when the ISSB Standards are applied in combination with other reporting standards.

The European Commission published draft ESRS under EU CSRD

The European Commission ran a four-week consultation [2] on the first set of European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) – which closed on 7 July. This comes after EFRAG submitted its technical advice to the Commission in November 2022.

The draft, delegated regulation specifies how companies should disclose information under the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). The ESRS aims to provide clear guidelines and indicators that businesses should use to measure and disclose their ESG performance. It covers a wide range of topics, including: climate change, biodiversity, human rights, labour practices, product responsibility, and anti-corruption measures. The ESRS also emphasises the importance of reporting both positive and negative impacts, promoting a balanced view of sustainability performance.

The Commission expects to be able to adopt the ESRS in July; and the standards will begin applying for annual reports published in 2025 in reference to financial years beginning on or after 1 January 2024.

ESRS (Annex I) include cross-cutting standards as well as specific standards on E, S & G matters.

Cross-cutting standards

  • ESRS 1 General requirements
  • ESRS 2 General disclosures

Standards on environmental, social and governance matters

  • ESRS E1 Climate change
  • ESRS E2 Pollution
  • ESRS E3 Water and marine resources
  • ESRS E4 Biodiversity and ecosystems
  • ESRS E5 Resource use and circular economy
  • ESRS S1 Own workforce
  • ESRS S2 Workers in the value chain

Annex II includes a list of acronyms and the glossary. Sector specific standards, standards for listed SMEs, and standards for non-EU companies should be adopted by June 2024.

The standards are largely based on the technical advice submitted by EFRAG, but the Commission has made certain changes, as summarised below, intending to reduce the reporting burden for companies.

Materiality: All standards and all disclosure requirements and data points within each standard will be subject to materiality assessment by companies – except for the disclosure requirements specified in ESRS 2 “General disclosures”, which are considered material by default and should be adhered to.

Phasing-in some requirements: the Commission proposed additional phase-ins, such as:

  • Companies with less than 750 employees may omit: scope 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions datain the first year they apply the standards; disclosure requirements on “own workforce”in the first year they apply the standards; disclosure requirements on biodiversity and on value-chain workers, affected communities, and consumers and end-users – in the first two years that they apply the standards.
  • All companies may omit, in the first year that they apply the standards: anticipated financial effects related to non-climate environmental issues (pollution, water, biodiversity, and resource use); and certain datapoints related to their own workforce (social protection, persons with disabilities, work-related ill-health, and work-life balance).

Making certain disclosures voluntary: the draft standards initially submitted by EFRAG already included many voluntary datapoints. The Commission has further converted a number of the mandatory datapoints proposed by EFRAG into voluntary datapoints. This includes, for example: biodiversity transition plans; certain indicators about “non-employees” in the undertaking’s own workforce; and an explanation of why the undertaking may consider a particular sustainability topic not to be material.

Further flexibilities in certain disclosures: in addition to making certain datapoints voluntary, the Commission has also introduced certain flexibilities for some of the mandatory datapoints. For example, there are additional flexibilities in the disclosure requirements on the financial effects arising from sustainability risks and on engagement with stakeholders, and in the methodology to use for the materiality assessment process. The Commission has also modified datapoints regarding corruption and bribery and regarding the protection of whistle-blowers.

In terms of next steps, the Commission will be working to create an interpretation mechanism to provide formal interpretation of the standards. The Commission has also asked EFRAG to publish additional guidance and educational material, addressing the materiality assessment process and other issues. 

Key considerations for sustainable finance market participants

Investors and issuers should familiarise themselves with the standards by reading them along with the supporting materials. The standards include application guidance and an effects analysis, which assesses the anticipated outcomes and costs / benefits for companies and investors. It is worth highlighting that the ISSB’s standards and ESRS are meant to be interoperable, however they are not the same. At the least, the ESRS cover many more topics beyond climate as well as incorporating the principle of double materiality.

Issuers / Borrowers

Issuers of corporate debt internationally will now have frameworks in place to provide climate and sustainability related information in a standardised manner.

It’s long-awaited and welcomed, the development of providing issuers with uniform rules and metrics to apply when preparing decision useful information for investors and other key stakeholders. Namely, due to the fact it reduces the cost of having to complete many bespoke stakeholder questionnaires. Issuers, however, will have to ensure they have capabilities in place to collect and report data on carbon emissions, energy consumption, water usage, supply chain sustainability, workforce diversity, nature and biodiversity and other relevant ESG factors.

Corporate issues will need to bear in mind that whilst the ISSB is setting a baseline standard, many international companies will still be caught by the EU CSRD regime, which is more granular and prescriptive. The ESRS emphasises the importance of transparent and comprehensive ESG disclosure. Corporate debt issuers must provide relevant and reliable information on their ESG performance and by linking the disclosure to their debt strategy, they can help investors reach their own net zero goals (see NatWest’s latest research for detail [3]). It’s worth re-emphasising that reports prepared under ESRS will have to be audited by an independent assurance provider.

Furthermore, the ESRS encourages issuers to engage with stakeholders, including investors, regarding their ESG information and understand investor needs and priorities. Engaging with investors can help issuers to contextualise positive and negative impacts that ESRS asks for. This involves quantifying and disclosing the environmental and social impacts of the company's operations, products, and services. Providing information on the company's contributions to sustainable development goals can enhance its credibility and reputation for both sustainability- labelled and conventional debt issuance.

Investors / Lenders

Fundamentally, the introduction of standardised sustainability reporting standards will provide investors with more consistent and comparable ESG data across different issuers. This will enable investors to better assess and compare the sustainability performance of potential debt issuers, facilitating more informed investment decisions. Investors can evaluate the environmental and social impact of their investments, identify risks associated with climate change, and align their portfolios with their sustainability goals.

Regarding the ESRS specifically, concerns have been expressed in the industry regarding the new requirement to subject all disclosure requirements and data points to materiality assessment. Some investors may worry that this rule will leave financial institutions in a situation where they may still not be able to obtain the information they need to comply with various obligations under the EU’s sustainable finance laws and regulations (EU Sustainable Finance Disclosures Regulation (SFDR), ESG Pillar 3 reporting, etc.).

It is true that all data points would need to be assessed for materiality. It is also true however that, specifically for the data points that emanated from other laws and regulations, a company would need to explicitly indicate if any such data points are not material to them, and thus the data is not included in the reporting. On this point, for example, SFDR requires asset managers and institutional investors to report on 14 mandatory principal adverse impact indicators (PAIs) for their “Article 8” and “Article 9” funds. However, this does not mean that all the 14 PAIs would be relevant / material to all corporates. For example, “hazardous waste ratio” PAI may not be material to most financial services companies, and a bulk of other industries. It’s therefore fair that corporates could just indicate that some ESRS metrics may not be material to them.

More generally, reporting of immaterial information is considered ‘bad practice’ according to the established international financial reporting frameworks, as it would ‘clutter-up’ disclosures. The Commission’s amendments appear to be trying to promote the existing good practice although it should be recognised that there will likely be challenges in assessing the materiality until this practice evolves. Investors should be able to assume that immaterial information does not get reported by corporates and consider this fact accordingly in their own reporting. The Commission may therefore need to provide additional clarification allowing investors to skip certain information on the basis of materiality.

With regard to making some disclosures ‘voluntary’, the Commission may be looking for pragmatic solutions to alleviate the reporting burden within areas which require further work. For example, the notion of a biodiversity transition plan is very nascent and thus frameworks and guidance for such reporting would yet need to develop before the disclosures on a biodiversity transition plan could become a binding legal obligation.

Other announcements and publications


Basel Committee on Banking Supervision discussed the development of a Pillar 3 framework requiring disclosure of bank exposures to climate-related financial risks

Basel Committee members considered recent work [4] regarding the development of a Pillar 3 framework, requiring disclosure of bank exposures to climate-related financial risks. The framework would complement parallel disclosure initiatives such as those by the ISSB and other authorities. A consultation paper on the proposed framework will be issued by the end of the year. Committee members also agreed to further assess the use of climate scenario analyses by banks and supervisory authorities.

NGFS published a report “Stocktake on Financial Institutions’ Transition Plans and their Relevance to Micro-prudential Authorities”

The Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) published their report [5] which takes stock of emerging practices relating to climate transition plans and assessing the role of central banks and supervisors in relation to transition plans.

The report identified six key findings:

  • There are multiple definitions of transition plans, reflecting their use for different purposes
  •  There is merit in distinguishing transition planning from a transition plan
  • Existing frameworks speak to a mix of objectives, audiences and concerns for transition plans, but predominantly relate to climate-related corporate disclosures
  • Transition plans could be a useful source of information for micro-prudential authorities to develop a forward-looking view of whether the risks resulting from an institution’s transition strategy are commensurate with its risk management framework
  • There are some common elements to all transition plans which are relevant to assessing safety and soundness
  • The role that micro-prudential authorities play needs to be situated in the context of the actions of other financial and non-financial regulators rather than acting in isolation

As the next step, the NGFS plans to take forward engagement with relevant international authorities and standard setters, so that they can advance their respective work on transition plans. Additionally, the NGFS will also look to advance the discussion on the relevance of transition plans to micro-prudential authorities’ mandate, supervisory toolkit, and the overall prudential framework.


UK Department for Business and Trade announced call for evidence on “Smarter regulation non-financial reporting review”

The Department for Business and Trade and the Financial Reporting Council are conducting a review of the non-financial reporting requirements [6] which UK companies need to comply with to produce their annual report. The review will consider if company size thresholds (micro, small, medium and large) that determine certain non-financial reporting requirements, and the preparation and filing of accounts with Companies House, remain appropriate – including in the context of the evolving sustainability disclosure and reporting regimes (set out by the ISSB and the UK Transition Plan Taskforce (TPT).

The government is focused on assessing the costs and benefits, the value of information produced, and how the non-financial reporting regime might be improved in future.

This call for evidence is the first phase of the non-financial reporting review. It will run for 12 weeks and close on 16 August 2023. Once closed, the government will use the information collected to develop proposals for public consultation next year.

FCA voiced concerns about the sustainability-linked loan market

The FCA published [7] a communication outlining its concerns about the sustainability-linked loan market. It also published a “Dear Head of ESG / Sustainable Finance” letter outlining details of its findings which, among other observations, will be expected to be considered carefully by banks.

Key findings were as follows:

  • Not realising potential. While a number of banks are keen to promote SLLs, the market is currently not achieving its potential. Increased trust and transparency could deliver wider uptake. 
  • Borrower concerns. Borrowers are concerned about unwelcome scrutiny if they miss performance targets. They may also consider the time and costs of doing an SLL against a more conventional loan. 
  • Market participants that we spoke to believe a more ‘prescriptive framework’ would improve market integrity and reduce the threat of greenwashing accusations. This could include more meaningful, science-based targets. 
  • There is the potential for conflicts of interest if banks accept weak targets and count the loan as part of their sustainable finance quota. 
  • Several banks are advocating for uniform disclosure and independent monitoring and verification of targets. This could include well disclosed targets aligned to borrowers’ published transition plans.

The FCA have recognised that some of these issues have been addressed by the recently published revision of the Loan Market Association’s Sustainability-Linked Loan Principles (SLLP). The FCA have also encouraged a broader adoption of the existing SLLPs and noted that it will continue to monitor this market, as part of their wider work on transition finance and will assess if further measures would be needed.

Notably, earlier in May, the FCA published a series of discussion (“engagement”) papers, one of which is looking into improving the documentation around GSSS bonds (including Use of Proceeds (UoP) and  sustainability-linked structures).


European Commission’s published broad Sustainable Finance Package

The European Commission published [8] a broad Sustainable Finance package containing new measures and guidance aimed at building on and strengthening the foundations of the EU sustainable finance framework. This is expected to be the last set of measures of this scale to be adopted by the Commission before the end of its mandate, and it is expected to inform the work of the next Commission as well as the Platform on Sustainable Finance.

The package contains:

Proposal for a Regulation on the transparency and integrity of ESG ratings. It’s worth highlighting that the proposal does NOT intend to harmonise methodologies underpinning ESG ratings. Instead, it provides for:

  • Conditions for the provision of ESG ratings in the EU
  • Principles on the integrity and reliability of ESG rating activities
  • Transparency requirements of ESG ratings activities
  • Obligations relating to the independence and conflict of interests of ESG rating providers
  • European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) powers regarding the supervision of ESG rating providers

The proposal also states that:

  • Requirements would not apply to ratings not intended for public offering nor to ratings produced internally and used for internal purposes.
  • The provision of ESG ratings in the EU by third country ESG rating providers would be subject to an equivalence decision or an alternative regime for recognition.
  • ESMA, the Commission or any public authorities should not interfere with the content or methodology of ESG ratings.

This is a welcome and long-awaited step that would promote accountability and transparency in the ESG rating service industry.

Recommendations on facilitating finance for the transition to a sustainable economy. The recommendations aim to provide guidance as well as practical examples for companies and the financial sector on how companies can use the various tools of the EU sustainable finance framework on a voluntary basis to channel investments into the transition and manage their risks from climate change and environmental degradation. 

Guide on usability of the EU Taxonomy and additional FAQs and interpretation guidance. It offers step-by step guidance to help non-financial and financial companies assess their Taxonomy eligibility and alignment, further exemplified through 12 use cases. The FAQ provides clarification on the interactions between the concepts of ‘taxonomy-aligned investment' and ‘sustainable investment' under the SFDR. In the document, the Commission clarified that investments in ‘environmentally sustainable economic activities' within the meaning of the EU Taxonomy can be qualified as a ‘sustainable investment' within the meaning of the SFDR.

Delegated regulation on EU Taxonomy technical screening criteria (TSC) and reporting requirements:

  • TSC for economic activities making a substantial contribution to the four remaining environmental objectives (water & marine resources; circular economy; pollution prevention & control; biodiversity & ecosystems).
  • Targeted amendments to the delegated acts specifying the Taxonomy’s reporting requirements, including amendments to requirements around the key performance indicators (KPIs) for credit institutions.
  • Targeted amendments and additions to the delegated acts specifying the TSC for climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation.

Overall, the package is helpful and confirms the Commission’s focus on the implementation of the existing tools and legislation. However, we envision that the implementation on the ground by issuers and investors won’t be an easy journey and that sustainable finance frameworks will need to continue to evolve dynamically to be able to adapt to the changing market and best practice.

ESAs published final proposed ESG disclosures for STS Securitisations

The European Supervisory Authorities – EBA, ESMA and EIOPA (commonly referred to as ESAs) – submitted final draft [9] regulatory technical standards (RTS) to the European Commission for ESG disclosures in securitisations.

The RTS specifically focus on securitisations backed by residential loans, auto loans, and leases. The EU Securitisation Regulation (EUSR) requires originators and sponsors to disclose information on the environmental performance of underlying assets. However, an amendment in 2021 allows originators to choose to disclose information on the principal adverse impacts (PAI) instead. The RTS are based on the SFDR and provide a framework for optional PAI disclosure in specific securitisations.

The RTS do not extend the optional PAI disclosure framework beyond the mentioned underlying assets. Originators can continue with the original disclosure requirements if they prefer. The final RTS will be endorsed by the European Commission, within three months, and will come into force 20 days after being published in the EU’s Official Journal (which is the formal source of legislative information in the Union).

ESAs published their Progress Report on Greenwashing in the financial sector

The ESAs have published their respective progress reports [10] on greenwashing in the financial sector. These reports include a common understanding of greenwashing as ‘a practice where sustainability-related statements, declarations, actions or communications do not clearly and fairly reflect the underlying sustainability profile of an entity, a financial product or financial services. This practice may be misleading to consumers, investors or other market participants.’

The reports identify the areas of the sustainable investment value chain that are more exposed to greenwashing risk. The report concluded that greenwashing is the result of ‘multiple interrelated drivers’ and the fact market participants face challenges in implementing the necessary governance processes to support high-quality sustainability disclosures and transition efforts.

To mitigate greenwashing risks, the report concludes that: market participants must communicate on sustainability in a balanced manner; improved sustainability disclosures for retail investors are required; and the regulatory framework needs to mature, key concepts need to be clarified and sustainability impact be better integrated.

The ESAs will publish the reports with conclusions on greenwashing risks in May 2024 and will consider final recommendations, including potential changes to the EU regulatory framework.

Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CS3D) – European Parliament agreed its position marking the beginning of the interinstitutional negotiations  

The European Parliament has agreed on its position on the Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence (the CSDDD or “CS3D”) [11]. The CSDDD requires in-scope companies to conduct due diligence on, and take responsibility for, human rights abuses and environmental harm throughout their global value chains. This laid down a path to the negotiations among the European Parliament, Council, and Commission known as ‘trialogues’. Member States will have two years to implement the CSDDD once it’s formally adopted, expected no earlier than 2024.

Key negotiation issues include the scope of the CSDDD's applicability to the financial sector, conditions for civil liability, and the introduction of directors' duty of care.

The position of the European Parliament on the scope of the CSDDD is as follows:

  • EU-based companies: Global (net) turnover: exceeding EUR 40 mln. Employees: > 250 employees
  • EU-based parent companies: Global (net) turnover: exceeding EUR 150 mln. Employees: > 500 employees.
  • Non-EU companies: Global (net) turnover: exceeding EUR 150 mln provided that at least EUR 40 mln was generated in the EU. Employees: N/A.
  • Non-EU parent companies: Global (net) turnover: exceeding EUR 150 mln provided that at least EUR 40 mln was generated in the EU. Employees: > 500 employees.

There is an expected increase in ESG litigation, including class actions against companies for human rights violations in supply chains. Financial institutions and company directors may also face ESG litigation, as evidenced by, for example, cases against national banks and Oil & Gas companies’ board of directors in the EU and UK.

EU Parliament opened a debate on strategic technologies within the Net Zero Industrial Act  

The European Parliament and the Council of the EU are discussing the NZIA current proposal [13]. There have been suggestions to replace the list of strategic net-zero technologies indicated in the Act with a reference to the EU’s green finance taxonomy, which categorises industries according to their contribution to the EU’s climate goals. The proposal to scrap the two-tier system received a mixed reception, with some lawmakers divided on the approach. The European Parliament and the Council of the EU look to reach an agreement before year end.

European Single Access Point (ESAP) – EU Institutions reached a provisional agreement

The EU is about to create a single point of access to public financial and sustainability-related information about EU companies and EU investment products. The Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on three proposals creating the European Single Access Point (ESAP) [14].

It has been clarified that the proposal does not impose any additional information reporting requirements on European companies, the ESAP will provide access to publicly available information.

The ESAP platform is expected to be available from summer 2027 and gradually phased in to allow for a robust implementation.

European Commission announced call for evidence on Industrial Carbon Management – carbon capture, utilisation and storage deployment

The European Commission launched a call for evidence [15] on the role of carbon capture, utilisation and storage technologies which are considered crucial for the EU to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The initiative will assess what role these technologies can play in decarbonising the EU economy by 2030, 2040 and 2050 respectively and what measures are needed to optimise their potential, including in the deployment of EU-wide CO2 transport and storage infrastructures. The feedback period is open from 8 June to 31 August 2023.

EU Directive to empower consumers for the green transition – both Parliament and Council adopted positions, beginning negotiations

MEPs have approved draft legislation [16] to enhance product labelling and durability and crack down on misleading claims. The new directive aims to empower consumers for a green transition and promote environmentally friendly choices. The approved negotiating mandate includes provisions to ban general environmental claims without detailed evidence, prohibit misleading practices, and simplify product information through the use of certified sustainability labels. The legislation also targets early obsolescence by banning design features that limit product life and functionality with third-party components. Consumers will be informed about repair restrictions, and a ‘guarantee label’ will indicate both the legally required and possible extended guarantee periods.  The Council also adopted its negotiating mandate. It reinforces consumer rights, bans generic environmental claims, and introduces a harmonised graphic format, to help consumers recognise commercial guarantees of durability. Negotiations between the European Parliament and member states have now commenced to finalise the directive's exact content and wording. 

For those looking to discuss any of the above further, please reach out to our authors:

  • Tonia Plakhotniuk, Vice President, Climate & ESG Capital Markets
  • Daniel Bressler, Vice President, Climate & ESG Capital Markets, Corporates
  • Jaspreet Singh, Vice President, Climate & ESG Capital Markets, Corporates
  • Roze Warren, Associate, ESG Advisory
  • Tyler Mayzes, Analyst, Climate & ESG Capital Markets, Corporates
  • Siobhan Wartnaby, Analyst, Climate & ESG Capital Markets

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