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"China's top firms not sharing enough"

The proportion of China’s biggest companies willing to share information about their carbon footprint is slowly rising, but disclosure remains low and the pace of change sluggish. This was the message from the latest report on the greenhouse-gas emissions of China’s top 100 listed firms, released by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) last week.

Even that may be putting too positive a spin on the figures. Just 11 of the 100 corporates approached provided the full data requested in CDP’s fourth annual China questionnaire, which covered areas including emissions accounting, energy-saving strategies and CSR reporting. This is actually a slight fall on last year, when 13 companies responded. Thirty-nine companies ignored the request and 15 declined to participate.

However, the number of firms that sent in some information, though they did not complete the full survey, increased to 35, up from 26 in 2010. The authors say this signals an increased willingness to take part which they hope will translate into full responses next year – hence, the optimism.

Guo Peiyuan, general manager at Syntao, the consultancy that compiled the report for CDP, said that, while the “upward trend” was encouraging, the top line 11% participation rate was still far too low. “We should have at least 60% of companies responding to our questionnaire,” he told the crowd at the report’s launch in Beijing.

So why aren’t more of China’s top businesses sharing? The question was raised again yesterday at a business leaders’ climate-change conference in Hong Kong, organised by non-profit organisation The Climate Group.

Wu Changhua, The Climate Group’s greater China director, said the main barriers were sensitivity of data and limited capacity. She said: “To be frank, it’s early stages. Very honestly, I don’t think all the Chinese companies are ready yet… A lot of the private companies don’t have the capacity for reporting, monitoring etc. It requires awareness raising and capacity building.”

Fellow panellist André Schneider, vice-president of Global Energy Basel, argued that industry associations should be leading the way in helping to build this capacity.

It is also hoped that the energy and carbon targets set out in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan will soon start to trickle down to company level, pushing individual firms to invest time and resources in carbon accounting. Guo Peiyuan pointed out at the report launch that firms that don't start doing detailed emissions calculations soon may find it difficult to meet regulatory requirements in future – and that this in turn presents a business risk due to the sanctions that may be imposed as a result.

Guo also said that those like CDP pushing for change would have to be "patient" and understand that getting Chinese firms to implement CSR was going be a long process. Four years in and only 11 firms playing ball – it seems he may have a point. 

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