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Sydney: aerial view

World Congress of Accountants: Can accountants save the planet?

8th Nov 2018
Managing Director
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Reporting from the World Congress of Accountants down under in Sydney, Alan Nelson explores the pressing issue of climate change and how accountants can help to save the planet.

The afternoon of the final day kicked off with a session entitled Global Risks and Future Shocks. The lead attraction was Ban Ki-Moon, the 8th Secretary General of the United Nations, but before we were introduced to him there was an additional unannounced appearance, via pre-recorded video message, by none other than Prince Charles.

HRH spoke passionately about the pressing issue of climate change. He quoted the IFAC code of ethics as requiring accountants to act in the public interest. What could be more in the public interest than sustainability?

His task force, A4S, has had considerable success at helping organisations to incorporate sustainable thinking into corporate reporting. Companies need ever more robust data on which to base decisions about sustainable business models and accountants are ideally placed to provide that.

The main part of the session was a panel discussion facilitated by Australian journalist and TV presenter Tony Jones. Before bringing on the other panellists, Jones paid Ban Ki-Moon the compliment of a ten-minute session alone.

He quickly warmed to his main theme, climate change. “Nature does not negotiate with human beings,” he said. Then, when asked whether, amidst all the upheaval and strife in the world, climate change is still the most important issue, he laid out his argument, simply and patiently. A prolonged drought causes crops to fail. That affects the economic conditions of people which has social implications and leads political instability. Everything flows from climate change.

On a different tack, he pointed out that if we fail to meet the 1.5% target for the rise in temperature we would see coastal cities underwater including Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, and of course Sydney, where we were all sitting.

Asked about President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, he described it as, “politically short-sighted, economically irresponsible and scientifically dead wrong.” He talked of building bridges not walls and described too many people who come onto the global stage and talk like global leaders, but then go home and act like national leaders.

Three more panellists were introduced, most interesting among them Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister. He talked compellingly about the need for a debate about the institutions that serve us, which is currently being drowned out by the populist right on the one hand and the defensiveness of the EU on the other. But it was his straight-talking witty answers to questions that really caught the ear.

Asked whether cryptocurrencies are likely to be a major destabilising influence on the world economy, he said “It’s irrelevant. You can invest your money in it if you want to lose it, are smart enough to get in, make some money and get out, but it is not interesting.”

Asked about Theresa May’s comment that a citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere, he said, “The only way to be a good citizen of the UK, is to be a good global citizen. There is no trade-off.”

It was a lively session and a fitting end to the World Congress, which has made a serious and effective effort to address some of the major issues facing not only the accounting profession but the international community as a whole.


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By Mrbailey
20th Nov 2018 03:32

I am afraid that if accountants cannot save businesses and report appropriately there is no hope of them saving the planet.

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alan nelson
By Alan Nelson
22nd Nov 2018 15:40

Ha - you may be right! But there was a generally positive vibe throughout the Congress about the importance of the profession is advancing sustainability issues and reducing corruption in developing countries. It felt good by comparison with the perhaps rightly but negative debate here surrounding some recent corporate failures.

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