February 2023

Right now accountancy and the way it is taught, and the way it is ‘undertaken’, is inadvertently fuelling the climate crisis, says Professor Ian Thomson.

In fact, he would go one step further – the way in which most people do their accounting actual incentivises climate change.

A keynote speaker at the recent PQ magazine/LSBU 6th annual conference, Birmingham
University’s Thomson said there is an urgent need to decarbonise the hidden carbon curriculum in university accounting degrees, and that doing nothing is no longer an option.

The problem is that the environment was seen as a marginalised issue by many accountants until recently, yet all transactions past, present and future have a direct effect on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

They aren’t a subsection, and can no longer be seem that way, he claimed.

Thomson said: “All the decisions and actions taken by institutions, governments, business, communities and individuals impact on greenhouse gas that enters our atmosphere – it is ubiquitous.”

He wants everyone to envisage a world where everything came with a GHG price tag as well as a financial price tag. Imagine a world where every decision maker is carbon sensitive and climate literate, with every decision taken accounts for the GHG consequences, he said, and every accountant is able to calculate the impact of every decision.

Thomson believes this is where we need to be right now, and accountants are in breach of their ethical duties if they aren’t doing it, he said.

Yet right now, nothing has a definitive GHG tag and very few accountants are able to calculate the climate impact of any decision.

Thomson stressed: “When accountancy students graduate they should be asking themselves what carbon accounting competencies or capacity they have on graduation.” He felt we are not preparing our students for the actual types of decisions they are going to be required to undertake.

He is worried about the lack of lecturers who can teach the impacts of climate change and how to deal with notions like stranded assets and stranded liabilities, which are challenging businesses’ ability to carry on as going concerns.

Things have changed where he works. Birmingham Business School was the first university in the world to integrate climate change throughout its accounting and finance degree programme, so it’s in every core module.

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