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EU faces Franco-Dutch call for rules to stop 'greenwashing'

LONDON (Reuters) - French and Dutch securities regulators called on Tuesday for European Union rules to prevent “greenwashing” or inaccurate claims that investments are sustainable and climate-friendly.

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows illegal deforestation close to the Amazonia National Park in Itaituba, state of Para May 25, 2012. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo

Several firms provide ratings on a company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks that asset managers use to make “green” investment decisions.

The European Commission wants to boost sustainable investments and is due to publish an action plan in 2021.

The Dutch and French regulators made their joint call in a bid to persuade the EU executive to include proposals for rules for ESG raters in its package

“While their influence is expected to grow considerably, providers of sustainability-related services remain largely unregulated,” France’s AMF and its Dutch counterpart AFM said.

The EU’s European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) should become the regulator for ESG ratings firms, they added. ESMA already regulates credit raters like Moody’s and S&P.

“The proposed framework is aimed at preventing misallocation of investments, greenwashing, and ensuring investor protection.”

ESMA’s chair Steven Maijoor has said that supervision of ESG ratings was “far from optimal” due to a lack of clarity on the methodologies that underpin ratings.

Sustainable finance is growing rapidly, and the EU is keen to increase “green” investments to help its economy recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Any decision to propose EU rules to regulate ESG ratings would be up to its executive body, the European Commission.

The bloc is introducing rules for asset managers on ESG disclosures in March, along with a “taxonomy” to provide clear legal definitions on sustainability that will make greenwashing far harder, a European regulatory official said.

“It requires financial market participants to report on sustainability factors and impact, which pretty much automatically pushes them to dependence on these ratings and data,” the official said.

STRONGLY OPPOSE

Andy Pettit, director of policy research in Europe for Morningstar, which acquired ESG rater Systainalytics in April, said, “We strongly oppose any attempts by the European Commission to regulate the harmonization of providers’ ESG ratings and scores.”

“Creating a one-size-fits all scenario runs counter to ensuring vibrant and innovative markets,” Pettit said.

Refinitiv, which provides ESG ratings, said the EU’s priorities in tackling greenwashing should be “elsewhere”, citing the bloc’s efforts to create a taxonomy to define green activities and other initiatives on data disclosure.

“The European Commission is rightly focusing its efforts on the areas that require immediate attention and solutions,” said Elena Philipova, Head of ESG at Refinitiv, 45% owned by Reuters News’ parent Thomson Reuters.

By completing its other projects, Philipova said the risk of greenwashing would be minimised and help bring a closer alignment of ESG ratings.

“Establishing common principles for ESG ratings that pursue similar objectives can come at a later stage but currently the priorities should be elsewhere.”

Reporting by Huw Jones and Simon Jessop; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Alexander Smith and Mark Potter

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