US companies are lagging behind Europe in their readiness to identify climate-change risks, according to the most comprehensive survey to date of industry awareness of the issues.

Only 47 per cent of the members of the S&P 500 index responded to a request last year for information on their assessment of climate change risk that was signed by 225 international pension funds and investors.

In contrast, 76 per cent of the members of the FT 500 index responded to the same questionnaire, which seeks information on carbon emission policies and other issues such as exposure to physical risk from severe weather.

The report on the responses was prepared for Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups, and Calvert, one of the largest US socially-concerned investment firms.

It comes amid growing corporate awareness of climate change risk in the US. Earlier this month, several leading US corporations, including General Electric, Alcoa and Duke Energy, formed a new alliance to lobby for regulation to control carbon emissions.

But Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, said the survey results indicated that “many US companies are still downplaying climate change and its far-reaching business impacts”.

In particular, she noted that only 5 out of 14 insurance companies bothered to respond to the survey, despite the industry suffering more than $70bn of losses from the 2005 hurricanes alone.

Many US banks also stated that “climate change had little to do with their business”, although the report highlighted the above average level of the responses from both Citigroup and Bank of America.

On carbon emissions, 80 per cent of the 228 companies that responded addressed the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but that only a quarter of them had disclosed measurable emissions reductions targets and specific time frames for reductions.

The report also highlighted the progress on emissions reporting made by Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, since it announced its intention to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions of 20.8m tons in October 2005.

“Despite its massive size, the company has managed to produce a comprehensive accounting of its worldwide emissions from refrigerants, on-site combustion, trucks, cars, airplanes, and purchased electricty,” the report said.

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