Specific ESG Areas of Focus for the SEC and the Role of Third‑Party Rating Agencies in Allowing ESG Comparisons (Part Two of Two)

Although environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing directly involves fund managers, investors and target entities, certain third-party actors have an outsized impact on the future of the industry. The SEC and other regulators loom large over its eventual development, with SEC Chair Gary Gensler finally settling on targeting climate disclosures, fund names and terminology to start. Third-party rating agencies are also important, however, as they will eventually be a primary source of comparative information for investors evaluating ESG funds. Those were covered in a Practising Law Institute panel moderated by Perkins Coie partner Gwendolyn A. Williamson and featuring Sharanya Mitchell, head of regulatory and international legal at Cohen & Steers; and Alexandra Russo, thematic equity and sustainability specialist at Allianz Global Investors. This second article in a two-part series identifies challenges of tracking ESG outcomes; the role of third-party ESG rating agencies; likely areas of immediate SEC regulation; and the political focus on ESG. The first article detailed how ESG strategies’ performance during the pandemic is affecting the space, as well as issues created by the lack of standardization in ESG terminology. For coverage of other PLI panels, see “Prioritizing Upper‑Tier Structures: Hazards of Overlooking Internal Arrangements and Importance of Weighing Certain Governance Issues (Part One of Two)” (Aug. 17, 2021); and “Complications of Using Standard Form Provisions and Managing Administrative Burdens of Side Letters (Part One of Two)” (Jun. 29, 2021).

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