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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

According to the Financial Times, major US financial institutions that are part of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) are now threatening to pull out because of increasing concerns of legal liabilities.

… JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America have threatened to leave Mark Carney’s financial alliance to tackle climate change because they fear being sued over increasingly stringent decarbonisation commitments. In tense meetings in recent months, some of the most significant members of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero have said they feel blindsided by tougher UN climate criteria and are worried about the legal risks of participation, according to several people involved in internal discussions…

The banks’ biggest concern is over strict targets on phasing out coal, oil and gas introduced over the summer by the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, a UN-led net zero standard-setting body that accredits pledges made by Carney’s alliance.

Under the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposal for climate disclosures, registrants that commit to specific climate goals and targets – such as those embedded in GFANZ – must provide details on achieving those in the regulatory disclosure. Doing so could add cost and increase legal and regulatory exposure that go beyond what is normally associated with a voluntary program such as GFANZ. The withdrawal being considered is a clear indication that the SEC proposal is already driving potential actions by regulated companies. (A quick plug on that point: have started recording a series of podcasts looking at parallels between the SEC’s conflict minerals rule – a disclosure-only ESG mandate in place for 10 years – and the disclosure-only climate proposal. One topic I am exploring in those podcasts is the link between disclosure and actions/unintended consequences. I think we can learn a great deal from the conflict minerals experience. Stay tuned – podcast recordings will be announced when they are available for members.)

The increasing politicization in the US of ESG is also weighing on bankers’ minds:

US banks have also come under pressure from domestic politicians, notably in the Republican party, over their sustainability commitments. Red states such as Texas and West Virginia have been openly hostile to financial institutions that they feel do not offer enough support to the fossil fuel industry. ‘There are a lot of banks looking at this and saying there will be a Republican Congress next year, so we’re going to have to be accountable for that,’ said one person involved in the NZBA [Net Zero Banking Alliance – part of GFANZ] discussions. ‘It’s true that a global alliance without American banks, that’s a failure.’

A withdrawal by US financial firms would test the resolve of the remaining members and dampen some of the optimism at the upcoming COP27 meeting in Egypt. Of course we will be monitoring this situation as it develops.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile