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by Susan Love, Strategic Engagement Lead for ACCA in Scotland
11 April 2024
Associate Feature: A sustainable future for Scotland: Finance skills to secure the  net zero transition

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Associate Feature: A sustainable future for Scotland: Finance skills to secure the net zero transition

Scotland has a long-held ambition of a just transition to net zero. In other words, leaving no one behind as we move to a more sustainable future and ensuring we maximise the benefits of opportunities in a fair and inclusive manner. 

Nobody said that achieving that ambition would be easy. In its most recent annual report, Scotland’s independent Just Transition Commission found that the country was off-course and that further urgent action was required by government. The UK’s Climate Committee report card on Scotland was scathing, doubting that climate targets for 2030 could be met, and citing an absence of effective strategy.  

In government, as in business, ambitions and commitment matter. But they need to be accompanied by a roadmap to chart progress. As a global professional body training the world’s accountancy and finance professionals, with members and students in 181 countries, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) recently published research exploring how organisations were preparing for climate transition. Based on survey work with finance leaders around the world, including a roundtable in Glasgow, we explored how sustainability was embedded into business planning, resource allocation, and internal and external reporting. 

Disappointingly, around half of organisations did not have a plan for reducing their emissions. Where sustainability plans were in place, particularly in larger organisations, accountability and ownership, including at board level, were often unclear.

As you might expect from the national audit body, Audit Scotland highlights similar challenges for government. Its review of governance and risk management of Scotland’s climate plans underlined the importance of good governance and management processes to develop and deliver a more comprehensive climate strategy. 

Ultimately, common to all organisations’ efforts to move to a more sustainable future will be the advice and actions of finance professionals. From reporting on emissions to measuring social impact and advising small businesses, their skills and judgment have a vital role to play. ACCA has a core mission of making accountancy a force for public good, so it’s not surprising that we were the first accountancy professional body to embed sustainability into our core qualification. Yet the climate crisis means fast-paced change is already upon us and finance leaders increasingly need to pivot from focusing on short term operational requirements to upskilling teams for the longer-term demands and emerging ethical challenges of climate change, such as the development of new performance frameworks and how to assess and report on value, while avoiding greenwashing.  

Government can do more to help finance professionals help organisations become more sustainable. Reporting is an important driver across public and private sectors, so ensuring consistent adoption of world-leading sustainability reporting standards, as well as developing the skills pipeline for sustainability reporting roles, will be key. 

We know that new ways of working are a challenge for all organisations but might be particularly difficult for already-stretched public sector finance teams. Making sure that we value the role finance professionals play and that teams are supported through training and innovation to meet new requirements will be beneficial. Similarly, exploring how tech, including AI, can help make reporting easier, while ensuring we maintain a proportionate approach for SMEs and smaller organisations, needs to be a much clearer part of our planning for a just transition in Scotland. 

While there are seismic challenges ahead of us if we are to realise the vision of a fair transition to a net zero world, the importance of making different decisions about what we value, underpinned by effective, data-informed planning, monitoring and assurance, should not be underestimated. These are the critical skills we train financial professionals to have, and it’s time to bring them to the centre of our climate discussions. 

This article is sponsored by Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

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