Top companies quiet on emissions as tax fears ease
8 Nov 2012 THE AGE - PETER HANNAM
MANY Australian companies might moan about the carbon price but there is little sign the tax is prompting extra efforts to cut emissions or disclose more of what they are doing.Compilers of the annual Carbon Disclosure Project had expected July's start of the carbon tax to spur an increased response from the top 200 companies on the stock exchange. Instead, fewer than half participated, a level little changed from a year earlier.The response rate to the seventh annual CDP survey was higher among the top 100 stocks, at 71 per cent, though slightly down on the previous two years."We'd expect, as the impact of the carbon price and climate change become more material, the response rate will increase over time," said James Day, director of the CDP for Australia and New Zealand.Financial companies, such as Insurance Australia Group and National Australia Bank, were among those placing the greatest priority on dealing with the challenges of climate change, possibly out of concerns "over reputation and customer expectations".Among the largest companies declining to respond to the survey were rail freight operator QR National, Westfield Retail, Lend Lease and notably, given its market oversight role the ASX itself.Bank of Queensland, based in a state that was hit by significant flooding three years in a row, was among seven companies that responded to CDP 2011 but declined to participate this year.The report's compilers, which include Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, said the findings suggested companies were becoming "increasingly comfortable" with a price on carbon.Some 69 per cent of ASX 200 and the top 50 listed companies in New Zealand identified a risk from the carbon price to their business, down from 81 per cent in 2011. Just three respondents David Jones, Origin Energy and Arrium (formerly OneSteel) consider the tax to be a high risk, unchanged from a year earlier.Airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia were among companies worried that a carbon price might turn consumers off their services. Both, though, won praise for their thorough disclosure.Just 52 per cent of ASX 200 respondents reported absolute and/or emission-intensity reduction targets, although that was up from 40 per cent two years earlier.Companies in the highest-emitting sectors were among the least active in disclosing such goals, with just 20 per cent of utilities, a third of material stocks and 40 per cent in the energy sector doing so."We would hope to see that companies, particularly those in directly affected sectors, are moving to set real targets," said Shauna Coffey, director of sustainability and climate change at Deloitte.Taking into account non-respondents, the survey estimates 92 per cent of listed utilities do not have targets to cut greenhouse gases, with energy and material companies only marginally better.