Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)

The European Parliament and the Council of the EU have made some significant changes to the European Commission’s proposal.

On 5 February 2024, the European Parliament and Council of the EU announced that they had reached a provisional political agreement on the text of the ESG Ratings Regulation (the Regulation). The agreed text was subsequently published on 14 February 2024. The Regulation was initially proposed by the Commission in June 2023, and seeks to introduce a new regulatory regime for ESG ratings providers “operating in the Union”. Refer to this Latham blog post for previous commentary on the proposal.

This annual publication explores some of the core focus areas for UK-regulated financial services firms in the year ahead. 2023 saw significant progress on the regulatory reform agenda, and many measures consulted on or reviewed as part of the Edinburgh Reforms will be finalised and/or implemented in the course of 2024.

We also saw the passing of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023, many provisions of which have already come into effect and have made important changes to the

Benchmark administrators should review the quality of their ESG benchmark disclosures ahead of a review by EU regulators during 2024.

By Nicola HiggsBecky Critchley, Anne Mainwaring, Ella McGinn, and Charlotte Collins

On 13 December 2023, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), the EU’s financial markets regulator and supervisor, announced its plans to launch a Common Supervisory Action (CSA). Along with National Competent Authorities (NCAs), ESMA plans to review the mandatory disclosures of benchmark administrators providing benchmarks that pursue ESG objectives under the EU Benchmarks Regulation (EU BMR).

The CSA is the first that ESMA will conduct since it assumed its direct supervisory role under the EU BMR. As part of the CSA, ESMA and the NCAs will share knowledge and experience to harmonise how they supervise ESG disclosure requirements for benchmark administrators.

The FCA’s long-awaited regime seeks to raise standards, increase consumer understanding, and reduce instances of greenwashing.

By Paul A. Davies, Laura N. Ferrell, Sarah E. Fortt, Nicola Higgs, Betty M. Huber, James McCrory, Nell Perks, Michael D. Green, Clare Scott, James Bee, Anne Mainwaring, Jaime Martin, Ella McGinn, and Charlotte Collins

On 28 November 2023, the FCA published its Policy Statement (PS23/16) containing final rules on its Sustainability Disclosure Requirements (SDR) and investment labelling regime. The FCA originally consulted on this regime in October 2022 (see this Latham blog post). Publication of the final rules was somewhat delayed in light of the volume of feedback received to the consultation.

The FCA has set out good and poor practices for asset managers to consider in relation to funds with ESG or sustainable characteristics.

By Nicola Higgs, Anne Mainwaring, and Charlotte Collins

On 16 November 2023, the FCA published the findings from its review of how asset managers have been embedding current regulatory expectations regarding the design, delivery, and disclosure of funds marketed as having ESG or sustainable characteristics.

With the FCA yet to finalise its Sustainability Disclosure Requirements (SDR) and investment labelling regime, it reviewed authorised fund managers’ (AFMs’) compliance with existing regulatory requirements, including the Guiding Principles set out in the Dear Chair letter issued in July 2021 (see this Latham blog post). The recently implemented Consumer Duty has added an extra dimension for AFMs to consider since the Guiding Principles were issued. The FCA highlights that the consumer understanding outcome is particularly relevant for AFMs providing ESG or sustainable funds; under this outcome, firms need to provide investors with the information they need at the right time and present it in a suitable way.

The FCA and the PRA have published their long-awaited consultations which aim to formalise how firms approach diversity and inclusion.

By Sarah E. Fortt, Sarah Gadd, Nicola Higgs, Andrea Monks, Rob Moulton, Nell Perks, Becky Critchley, Charlie Bowden, Ella McGinn, and Charlotte Collins

On 25 September 2023, the FCA and the PRA published separate but related consultation papers on D&I in financial services (FCA CP23/20 and PRA CP18/23). The regulators published a joint Discussion Paper in July 2021 on how they might accelerate the pace of meaningful change in relation to D&I and misconduct in financial services, by establishing minimum standards and providing firms with a better understanding of regulatory expectations (see Latham’s related blog post).

While some of the regulators’ proposed measures overlap, others are separate, and so dual-regulated firms will need to read both papers carefully. Equally, some of the measures would apply to all firms, but the more granular requirements would apply only to larger firms. Firms will therefore need to ensure they understand which requirements would be relevant to them.

The EU regulators are reviewing the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation introduced in 2021, exploring the need for potential additional adjustments.

By Paul A. Davies, Nicola Higgs, Michael D. Green, James Bee, and Anne Mainwaring

On 14 September 2023, the European Commission initiated a consultation on its sustainable financial disclosure practices, seeking feedback on Regulation (EU) 2019/2088 — the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR). The consultation surveys stakeholders’ experiences during the implementation of the SFDR and, in particular, solicits feedback on its interactions with the broader EU sustainable finance framework.

As the pace of reform increases, we take a look at key developments and the timeline ahead.

Significant progress has been made on the Edinburgh Reforms since they were announced in December 2022, with developments gathering pace before the summer break. Given the breadth and speed of the reforms, now is a good time to take stock of where things stand and what we can expect in the months ahead. In this publication, we highlight some of the key developments and set out expected dates for future progress.

An evolving landscape of reforms in the ESG ratings sector continues to pose challenges to providers of ratings and scores.

By Paul A. DaviesNicola HiggsRob Moulton, Michael D. GreenBecky Critchley, Anne Mainwaring, and Charlotte Collins

International momentum to regulate ESG ratings continues as the European Commission released a consultation on 13 June 2023 to create a new regulatory regime for ESG ratings providers. This consultation follows a Call for Evidence that the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) issued on 4 April 2022.

The Commission has clarified requirements for financial product classifications and the definition of “sustainable investment” under the SFDR.

By Paul A. DaviesNicola HiggsMichael D. GreenAnne Mainwaring, and James Bee

In April 2023, the European Commission (Commission) published a series of answers to questions that the European Supervisory Agencies (ESAs) had raised in September 2022 on the legal interpretation of certain aspects of the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR). The answers seek to clarify outstanding questions from stakeholders, including in relation to the definition of “sustainable investment” under the SFDR. Previous uncertainty with respect to this definition contributed to considerable market movement in the form of product re-classifications in the latter half of 2022.