5 min read

EU Taxonomy: A Law of Significance


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On Friday 19th June, the European Parliament adopted the Taxonomy Regulation. This could be the most significant piece of legislation which affects the treatment of sustainability risks by the European investment community. The Taxonomy is more than a system of classification of ESG risks and opportunities – its weight could make ripples around the global investment community.

Whilst ESG has been a niche investment class for the last couple of decades, the difference now is that Climate Change is seen as a mainstream investment risk. As Larry Flint said earlier this year, “Climate Risk is Investment Risk”. The members of the UN Asset-Owners Alliance, managing $4.7tn of assets, have committed to transition their portfolios to Net Zero Carbon by 2050. The world’s largest pension funds – GPIF, CalSTRS & USS – list climate change as their biggest ESG risk. This is not a niche regulation. It is expected to directly affect 7,000 listed companies and all issued fund-managed products. 

Whilst the Taxonomy’s main focus is on environmental issues – i.e. Climate Change Mitigation; Climate Change Adaptation; Sustainable & Protection of Water & Marine Resources; Transition to a Circulate Economy; Pollution Prevention & Control; and Protection & Restoration of Biodiversity & Ecosystems – it also has minimum social safeguards. Further legislation is expected to better regulate the social impact of investments so this Taxonomy is not the end in correcting existing market distortions.

The Taxonomy is important because it intervenes in how environmental investments are classified. It also sets our screening criteria and thresholds of significance. This is influential because it describes thresholds for a variety of activities. The thresholds are markers for what a ‘Significant Contribution’ is to tackling a particular challenge, like Climate Change Mitigation. It also sets in law thresholds for Do No Significant Harm (DNSH) so if you are investing to make a Significant Contribution to tackling Climate Change Mitigation you must also DNSH to Biodiversity.

For climate change mitigation, a 50%-55% reduction in emissions by 2030 is one criteria and net-zero by 2050 obviously. The weighty Technical Appendix, which accompanies the Taxonomy guidance, is more detailed and sets significance thresholds for a range of activities, including construction and the improvement of property:

  • “Acquisition and ownership: buildings built after 2021 are eligible if they meet the criteria for the ‘Construction of new buildings’, while buildings built before 2021 are eligible if their performance is comparable to the performance of the top 15% of the national stock, in terms of calculated Primary Energy Demand during the use phase. An additional requirement is applied only to large non-residential buildings (built both before and after 2021) to ensure efficient operations through energy management.
  • “Construction of new buildings: to be eligible, the design and construction of new buildings need to ensure a net primary energy demand that is at least 20% lower than the level mandated by national regulations. This is assessed through the calculated energy performance of the building, i.e. performance forecasted on the basis of modelling building physics under typical climatic and occupancy conditions.”

These criteria and thresholds are set out now and will be reviewed on 3-year cycle. You can expect them to ratchet up every 5 years so if you have long-term holds in your fund it is important to be aware of this process. The publication of this Taxonomy now is valuable because it can be built into due diligence processes and investment appraisals, including risks to income, growth and exit value. The start of 2022 is when this disclosure requirement will come into effect, but expect the preparation to start now. 

The Taxonomy Regulation builds on the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD) and the recent Regulation on the Disclosure of Sustainability Risks in Financial Services, which sets out high-level requirements for clear communication of these investment risks from March 2021. These are all key legal components of the European Green New Deal and the related Action Plan on Sustainable Finance.

Data is key to compliance with these regulations as these are measurable criteria. By investing over the next 12 months in the right data model and software platform will provide a competitive advantage. EVORA’s advisory team and our SIERA software platform can help real asset investors navigate their way through this emerging legislation, which is a key transition risk and opportunity as we move to a greener economy. 

Coincidentally, the 19th June is also Juneteenth, which is an internationally significant day for social equality. It marks the day on which the US Emancipation Proclamation was finally enforced in Texas in 1865. This brought to the end the abhorrent practice of “investment” in slaves as “property”, which directly affected three continents and has repercussions around the world up until the present day. 

Today’s Black Lives Matter movement is a tangible reminder of why ethical and environmental investment decisions made today do matter for generations. This has been true for slavery and will be true for our environmental and social governance now and in the near future. If we don’t get it right now, future generations may well look back on us and ask why we didn’t take more responsibility.

If you would like to attend a training session on EU Legislation and Taxonomy, please email [email protected] where we can provide you with information on dates and times.