It’s critical for businesses to include specific ESG metrics in their annual reporting, even if there is no specific regulatory requirement to do so (or sanction for not doing so), say Boua Doux and Delivré of Africa-focused international firm Asafo & Co.
“Government lenders, communities, and investors are all interested in assessing the impact of any project on the three ESG pillars – environmental, social, and governance,” says Boua Doux, a partner who specialises in energy and natural resources, based in Côte d'Ivoire. “Annual reporting that does not include ESG metrics will lead to stakeholders questioning the company’s actions which makes a project less attractive for new investors, lenders, and local communities.”
Companies that are not transparent about ESG considerations will also have more difficulty with ongoing actions, development, and sourcing new projects, Boua Doux and Delivré warned.
Delivré, a public law professor and projects partner in Asafo & Co’s Paris office, noted that while in the past the main objective of institutional investors was to maximise short-term returns for shareholders with little regard to social and environmental impact, these factors are now key. “We can see in Africa that there is a massive adoption of ESG criteria by companies seeking to attract investors.”
In fact, many African projects are now adopting ESG criteria on their own initiative, said Boua Doux, because they’ve identified communication on ESG impact as a tool that can increase the value of their project and increase stakeholder confidence in project sponsors.
They’re also cognisant of discussions and decisions being made about climate change at the international level, and how that may flow through, eventually, to local policies.
African governments are “committed to take the action needed to mitigate climate change”, Boua Doux said, so some companies and project stakeholders are already designing their projects and actions in compliance with such anticipated future requirements.
Delivré noted that the topic of climate change is already “quite well integrated” into some African legal frameworks, with a variety of laws in countries like Benin, Nigeria and South Africa. There are also some sectoral climate change policies such as the new Electricity Code in Senegal that provides a framework for renewable energy and transition to a clean energy mix.
Asafo & Co. works on ESG matters with African states, international financial institutions, private funds and lenders, as well as project sponsors and developers as part of its practice.
For project sponsors and developers, Boua Doux said that, along with helping them define their own ESG policy, compile elements for reporting, and review reports before publication, Asafo & Co. uses its expertise to provide comparative studies of common and best practices.
ESG is a very important topic for African nations and the broader region, emphasised Delivré, and “it’s absolutely necessary” that ESG criteria be adapted to the local context rather than simply be transplanted from elsewhere. In particular, while the environmental considerations of ESG reporting are often at the forefront, the “G” should not be overlooked. “Governance can be very important for the choice of co-contractor, and for the execution of a project in Africa. We regularly work alongside public stakeholders in Africa to shape policies that will align with the common objectives of all parties involved in a project,” she said.
While ESG reporting is a relatively new legal concept that may need to be tailored differently for various locales, there’s a great opportunity to form best practices together.
Delivré believes developed countries can learn from emerging countries and some African experiences. “I think there could be more dialogue between developed countries and African states regarding ESG criteria and its implementation in projects.”
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