IASB chair discusses sustainability

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02 Apr, 2019

At the Climate-Related Financial Reporting Conference in Cambridge, UK, IASB chair Hans Hoogervorst gave a speech titled ‘What sustainability reporting can and cannot achieve’.

Mr Hoogervorst admitted that he had been sceptical about climate change in the past, but changed his mind over the years. During his speech, he criticized public policies that have enabled climate change; he called climate change “a massive example of such market failure.” He highlighted (1) the importance of sustainability reporting, (2) how it relates to financial reporting, and (3) the role of the IASB. Mr Hoogervorst was clear:

I do not think the IASB is equipped to enter the field of sustainability reporting directly. Setting sustainability reporting standards requires expertise that we simply do not have. Moreover, there are already more than enough standard-setters active in this field.

He went on to discuss how sustainability issues will become more visible in financial statements as the effects of climate change become more prominent. He noted, “[M]any sustainability issues may only emerge in the long run. In such cases they will tend to escape the financial statements, which are essentially backward-looking.”

He then explained how the IASB is working to improve ‘broader financial reporting’. Mr Hoogervorst discussed the IASB’s management commentary project — a renewal of its 2010 Management Commentary Practice Statement. He mentioned that the updated Practice Statement will focus more on intangibles and require companies to report on sustainability issues — including climate change — if those issues impact their businesses in a material way.

Mr Hoogervorst closed his speech by reflecting on the plethora of sustainability standards and initiatives. He praised the Corporate Reporting Dialogue, which is working to align the frameworks of various standards. He also cautioned against expecting too much from sustainability reporting as an agent for change: “[W]e should not expect sustainability reporting to be very effective in inducing companies to prioritise planet over profit.” He explained that financial incentives are crucial in combatting climate change and stated:

I strongly believe that the most promising strand of sustainability reporting comprises those standards that focus on the investor and on the impact of sustainability issues on the future returns of the company. This is the type of sustainability reporting which will fit well with our Management Commentary Practice Statement, rather than the reporting that focuses primarily on a company’s contribution to the public good.

For more information, see the transcript of the speech on the IASB’s website.

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