New initiative focuses on climate change's challenges and opportunities

CPA Canada and Natural Resources Canada’s new initiative recognizes that adaptation to climate change is a business issue and that accountants have a valuable role to play in addressing it.

Are you ready to add "climate change adaptation" to your list of services? As organizations around the world grapple with the growing challenges of climate change — catastrophic weather, supply chain disruptions and shortages of resources — CPA Canada recognizes the profession has a valuable role to play. Whether managing risk, identifying and seizing opportunities or looking for ways to improve a company’s resilience, accountants are uniquely positioned to make a business case for taking action.

That’s the idea behind a new strategic initiative, sponsored by CPA Canada and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and managed by the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS). Historically, climate change issues have largely been managed by sustainability or environment professionals. But companies also need help to prepare for the burgeoning financial, operational, regulatory and legal challenges.

The new initiative, called Enabling Canadian Chartered Professional Accountants to Adapt to a Changing Climate and Emerging Operating Environment, aims to equip accountants with the right resources. The project will deliver case studies, guidelines for existing competencies and professional development opportunities.

The first case study was launched in April, and there will be a steady flow of resources released until December 2015.

Accountants a natural fit

CPA Canada’s partnership with NRCan began in early 2014. "For NRCan, it’s a natural extension of work it is doing to address adaptation," says Maya Fischhoff, knowledge manager at NBS and one of the initiative’s project managers. She says NRCan recognizes the value that accountants bring.  It has worked with other professions and saw a need for financial and accounting expertise.

Based at the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ont., NBS is a nonprofit organization that bridges the worlds of academia and business. It produces authoritative resources on sustainability issues to shape management practice and research.

"This project, which brings financial professionals into the adaptation arena, is groundbreaking," says Fischhoff. In the past, companies have focused on mitigating climate change, mainly by cutting their energy usage or switching to renewable energy. Mitigation is often framed as something that’s morally right for companies to do, whether or not there are economic payoffs. In contrast, adaptation treats climate change as a business issue, focusing on risk management.

The business case for sustainability

Enabling Canadian Chartered Professional Accountants to Adapt to a Changing Climate and Emerging Operating Environment began with stakeholder consultation and an extensive review of academic research and practice-oriented materials from Canada and other countries. The project found a dearth of information about accountants and climate change adaptation. It also found that relatively few Canadian organizations are preparing for climate change.

Other barriers to adaptation include skepticism about climate change science, a lack of data to analyze the costs and benefits of adaptation measures and a lack of long-term planning. "Adaptation is a business issue. It’s risk management," says Fischhoff.

"There are also opportunities. For companies that get out ahead, there’s money to be made." Fischhoff and her project co-manager, Monica Sood, CPA, CA, principal of sustainability, research guidance and support at CPA Canada, are overseeing the deliverables.

They include:

  • briefs with the most relevant and actionable content from the literature review;
  • case studies and videos that show how accountants have helped public and
  • private sector organizations adapt to climate change;
  • thought pieces containing guidelines on the application of accounting competencies — risk management, performance management and audit assurance — to climate change adaptation; and
  • webinars and workshops that will be rolled out in the coming months. 

Adding to the dialogue

The initiative builds on earlier work that CPA Canada and the three legacy designations have done on sustainability. For several years, they have been involved with the landmark Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S), launched in 2004 by the Prince of Wales. Among other goals, A4S works to "demonstrate the business case for including sustainability in organizations’ operations."

In March 2014, CPA Canada released A Starter’s Guide to Sustainability Reporting (see cpacanada.ca/startersguide), which provides guidelines, planning tips and best practices. The profession has also published numerous guides and briefing documents and held conferences and information sessions about sustainability.

Business issues related to climate change are expected to grow as weather extremes become more frequent and intense. Companies that heed the long-term forecast can reduce the impact — and take advantage of opportunities — while accountants play a major role. 

For more information about the initiative, contact Monica Sood at msood@cpacanada.ca.

About the Author

Jaclyn Law


Jaclyn Law is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto.

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