On March 3 and 14, 2022, the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (“EFRAG”) published its most recent set of Working Papers on the future of the EU’s European Sustainability Reporting Standards (“ESRS”). The ESRS will establish dozens of sustainability-related disclosure requirements that will be mandatory for thousands of EU companies under the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (“CSRD”) (see our blog on the CSRD as background). Companies subject to the CSRD will be required to include these disclosures in their annual reports, and these disclosures will need to be audited. Importantly, this is the first time EFRAG has provided significant detail regarding reporting standards for topics that fall under the “S” pillar of the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) framework. The European Commission is currently aiming to have the CSRD and ESRS apply from January 2023, with initial reports due in 2024, and EFRAG will hold public consultations on its draft reporting standards in the coming months.

Continue Reading European Reporting Standards for the “S” in ESG: EFRAG’s New CSRD Disclosure Requirements for Workers and Human Rights Take Shape

As the world struggles to adjust to the harsh new reality of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the most recent instalment of the Sixth IPCC Report slipped out almost unnoticed.  And that is worrying, since the assessment in this section of the Report is even starker than previous assessments – noting in particular that in order to avoid global temperatures increasing by greater than 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial levels, the world needs to halve its emissions this decade: a reduction that the world does not currently appear to be remotely on course to do.

However, whilst the IPCC Report and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are not linked, Russian aggression in Ukraine may serve as a catalyst to speed up the European energy transition and accelerate its retreat from dependency on Russian gas and exposure to volatile international oil markets, which could in turn deliver a more rapid reduction in European emissions.  In the process, perhaps setting the world on a path to achieving an outcome that currently seems unattainable.

Continue Reading The IPCC and The Ukraine Crisis

On February 2, 2022, the European Commission adopted a Complementary Climate Delegated Act (the “CCDA”) listing specific gas and nuclear activities as “environmentally sustainable” for purposes of the EU Taxonomy Regulation, subject to strict criteria. Only certain activities that comply with strict emissions limits and other criteria detailed below may be so designated. Even so, the Commission’s decision to list nuclear and gas activities as “environmentally sustainable” is controversial and may still be blocked by EU Member States and the European Parliament through an upcoming scrutiny period, and may also be legally challenged before the EU Courts. Nevertheless there is a significant chance that the Commission’s criteria to consider the listed gas and nuclear activities as “environmentally sustainable” will enter into force by the beginning of 2023. This would allow such listed gas and nuclear activities to have access to green investors and ear-marked public funds under the EU’s Next Generation EU investment program.

Continue Reading Gas and Nuclear Activities in the EU Taxonomy Regulation: Under What Conditions Does the Commission Deem Them Environmentally Sustainable?

The European Commission (the “Commission”) formally adopted on 27 January 2022 its new Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy (CEEAG). The CEEAG replace the guidelines that were in force since 2014 (EEAG) and integrate the new objectives of the EU Green Deal of a reduction of 55% net greenhouse gas emissions compared to the 1990 levels by 2030 and of carbon neutrality by 2050. The Commission has estimated that achieving the new 2030 target would require EUR 390 billion of additional annual investment compared to the levels in 2011-2020, an investment that cannot be borne by the private sector alone, and would therefore require public investments.

Continue Reading The Commission adopts its new Climate, Energy and Environmental Aid Guidelines (CEEAG)

The Italian Legislative Decree 196/2021 (“Italian Decree”) implementing the Single-Use Plastic Directive (“SUPD”) will enter into force on January 14, 2022.  The Italian Decree diverges from the SUPD on significant aspects: it provides a more flexible definition of plastic; delays the entry into force of the ban on prohibited SUPs; and exempts from such ban specific biodegradable and compostable materials.  The Decree also imposes specific return obligations on waste plastic bottles.

While the Italian Decree provides companies with additional flexibilities to market their SUPs in Italy, companies should carefully assess the risks that may arise if EU Courts finally hold that the Decree is not compatible with EU law.

Continue Reading Italy Transposes into National Law the EU Single-Use Plastic Products Directive

Last December, the European Commission published its legislative Package on Hydrogen and Decarbonized Markets (“Package”), which proposes new rules aiming to develop a hydrogen market in the EU. The new rules bring much awaited legal clarity to the concepts and role of blue and green hydrogen within the EU’s energy regulatory framework for the climate transition.

In effect, the Commission’s legislative Package is intended to promote the use of blue hydrogen until at least 2030 provided that it achieves the same decarbonization as green hydrogen (i.e., 70% GHG reduction).  However, the European Parliament and Council may amend both the proposed definition and conditions of blue hydrogen and the proposed regulative incentives during their consideration of the Package and its adoption through the legislative procedure that will now follow.  Moreover, the European Commission will be empowered to develop much of the methodologies implementing the definitions of blue and green hydrogen.  Companies intending to engage in blue and green hydrogen operations in the EU/EEA would be well advised to closely follow these developments.

Continue Reading New Definitions for Blue and Green Hydrogen: The European Commission’s Package on Hydrogen and Decarbonized Gas Markets

The European Commission seeks stakeholders’ feedback until 18 November on its proposal to define cross-border projects in the field of renewable energy generation that would be eligible to receive EU funding under Connecting European Facility instrument.

Continue Reading European Commission Opens Public Consultation to Define Selection Criteria for Renewable Energy Projects Eligible of EU Funding

On July 14, the European Commission presented its legislative proposal for a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (“CBAM”).  This long-anticipated tool is intended to make importers pay for the greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions embedded in the covered goods that they market in the EU.  A Covington webinar on the main elements of the proposal and related policy considerations is available here.
Continue Reading Will the EU CBAM Cover More Than What You Think? Complex Goods, System Boundaries, and Circumvention Under the Commission’s CBAM Proposal

The European Commission has presented a package of key enabling legislation on sustainable finance (the “Sustainable Finance Package”).  This includes the much-awaited first technical screening criteria under the Taxonomy Regulation — outlined in the Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act (“TCDA”) — and a proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (“CSRD”), which significantly revises and expands on the existing Non-Financial Reporting Directive’s remit and disclosure rules for corporates. While the former is directly aimed at financial institutions and investors, and the latter at large and listed entities, the package has broader implications for all corporates.

Sustainable Finance Package: Context and Comment

The Commission’s intention with its Sustainable Finance Package is twofold: (1) in the short term, to set a clear regulatory framework to encourage investments that will contribute to a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic; and (2) in the long term, to ensure the transition to a carbon neutral EU economy by 2050, in accordance with the 2020 European Climate Law.  Following the adoption of the EU Taxonomy Regulation (explained further below), the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation, and the Benchmark Regulation, which enhances the transparency of benchmark methodologies, the Commission has in this legislative package laid out the next building blocks for its envisioned sustainable finance ecosystem.

Continue Reading The EU’s Green Capitalism Takes Shape: Taxonomy Screening Criteria and Corporate Sustainability Reporting

On April 21, 2021, the European Commission approved “in principle” a Delegated Regulation establishing the criteria under which different economic activities substantially contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation under Regulation 2020/852 on the Establishment of a Framework to Facilitate Sustainable Investment (“Taxonomy Regulation”).  Among other things, the Delegated Regulation defines the climate mitigation and adaptation criteria that the manufacture of hydrogen must meet to be considered a “sustainable investment” in the European Union.
Continue Reading The European Commission Approves the EU Criteria on Sustainable Hydrogen Activities