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Is ISSB the Global Standard It’s Cracked Up to Be?

by delta
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The adage about creating a new problem when you solve an old one isn’t about ESG, but it sure is applicable. The IFRS’ ISSB standards S1 and S2 have been met with excitement by many. Many commentators, including myself, have written about how the ISSB standards may be becoming the global standard for sustainability reporting. However, there are dissenters who believe that the ISSB standards are lacking and that other sustainability frameworks are more suitable:

“Why can’t we just accept GRI as the historic and proven global baseline and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) develops a financial materiality filter that is applied on GRI-compliant reporting? Why do we need the ISSB at all (besides also having the #ESRS that even apply to non-EU firms of a certain size irrespespective of their origin)? And how can the collaboration between GRI and the ISSB ever work? … the ISSB would have to drop its materiality assessment and simply turn into a financial materiality filter.” 

The ISSB standards are investor focused and view climate and sustainability disclosures through a financial lens. This is part of what caused excitement among financial market participants but is also why detractors argue they aren’t suitable. To many, the ISSB standards don’t go far enough to be the basis for robust sustainability disclosures. After all, the ISSB has published only two standards, one for sustainability-related financial information, and the other for climate-related disclosures. In contrast, the European Sustainability Reporting Standards covers twelve topic areas. Additionally, there are other frameworks like GRI, which is currently the most widely used sustainability reporting standard, being used by more than 10,000 organizations in over 100 countries.

Regardless of if the ISSB becomes the global standard, there is no denying that the framework is now a major player in sustainability reporting. The debate surrounding ISSB does raise some interesting questions though. Mainly:

  • What should we look for in a global baseline?
  • Should a baseline be the bare minimum that jurisdictions can build out from?
  • Or should a baseline encompass a wide variety of issues and be standardized across jurisdictions?

As policymakers grapple with these questions, they have different standards to pick from and it remains to be seen which, if any, will become THE global standard.

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