The Climate Corporate Accountability Act (SB 260): the Biggest Climate Bill You’ve Never Heard Of
By Kalpana Narlikar, Team Wiener Intern
SB 260 — or the Climate Corporate Accountability Act — is a California bill introduced by Senator Scott Wiener. It requires US based corporations that do business in California and make over $1 billion in annual revenue to publicly disclose their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to an emissions registry. These corporate emissions disclosures would have to be verified by the emissions registry or a third-party auditor approved by the California Air and Resources Board. SB 260 is co-sponsored by Carbon Accountable, Sunrise Bay Area and California Environmental Voters.
Many large corporations already disclose their GHG emissions. However, many others don’t — and the ones that do often disclose only select data. This allows corporations to greenwash their emissions data so that they look more environmentally friendly, when in reality they have simply hidden the significant environmental impacts of their operations.
SB 260 would prevent this greenwashing by creating what Carbon Accountable has called a “level-playing field,” ensuring that the emissions data reported by all corporations is held to the same standard. This way corporations that are doing a good job of reporting and reducing their emissions can be recognized, and corporations who have been hiding behind clever marketing and green advertising are forced to be transparent with their consumers. One of the most important components of the legislation is the requirement for corporations to report Scope 3 emissions — or value chain emissions. Supply chain emissions are the least disclosed but often the largest contributor to a company’s carbon footprint. Since these indirect emissions are much harder to measure directly, SB 260 allows corporations to use approved formulas to calculate their Scope 3 emissions.
The bill also streamlines reporting and avoids duplication of effort by using the globally recognized GHG Protocol as its disclosure standards. This way, companies that are already using the GHG Protocol to disclose their emissions can just resubmit that information to the emissions registry without having to re-calculate everything.
SB 260 passed the Senate in late January of this year and was then sent to the Assembly. So far, it has passed the Assembly Natural Resources, Judiciary and Appropriations Committees, and is now headed to the full Assembly for a vote. If it passes the Assembly then it will be sent to the Governor, who will decide whether to sign it into law.
This historic bill is only a few steps away from becoming law, so advocacy efforts are more important than ever. This is the moment for all of the SB 260’s authors and co-sponsors to get the final assembly votes and outside endorsements for the bill so that they are sure the bill will pass in the assembly floor vote. The best thing every-day supporters of the bill can do right now is to call their assembly members and urge a yes vote from them. Then, if the bill passes the assembly advocacy efforts will turn towards the governor to ensure he signs it into law.
If it becomes law, SB 260 will be the first law in the country to require large companies to publicly disclose all of their GHG emissions. Apart from being the first state to do this, California is probably also the best state for this law because it is not only the state with the largest economy in the US, if it were its own country, California would be the 5th largest economy in the world. That means that if you take any given large US corporation, they probably do business in California. So this bill would essentially set a national standard, since it requires large US corporations to report all of their GHG emissions, not just the ones generated in the state. On top of that, if SB 260 became law, every person in the country with access to the internet would be able to see the amount of GHG emissions these large US companies are responsible for.
The transparency this bill would create will be incredibly useful to consumers, local and federal governments, and the companies themselves because before any of us can figure out how to be more climate conscious and take action we need to know as much as we can about the source and scale of the problem. Large corporations are responsible for a significant amount of the world’s GHG emissions. We need as much information about the specifics of those emissions as possible so consumers know where to spend their money in a green way, so governments know where to best effectively regulate emissions, and so corporations know where to reduce their emissions. With all this information gathered and disclosed transparently, consumers and governments would be able to hold corporations accountable for their emissions and live up to the name of the Climate Corporate Accountability Act.
Kalpana Narlikar is a high school student in San Francisco, and an intern in Senator Scott Wiener’s office.