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CPA Canada federal climate change pact counters sustainability criticism

Natural Resources Canada to split cost of $1.45 million awareness initiative

Author: Colin Ellis

TORONTO, Sept. 27, 2018 – CPA Canada is continuing to raise its profile on sustainability issues with the signing of $1.45 million climate change awareness campaign with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). With a review underway of the CPA Competency Map, the announcement of the joint funding agreement counters criticism that sustainability training is missing from the CPA professional education program (CPA PEP).  

CPA Canada and NRCan will contribute $725,000 over two years for training, research and guidance. The purpose of the pact is to help Canadian business leaders recognize and anticipate the emerging financial impacts of climate change and to help their organizations better respond to the increasing demand for enhanced climate-related disclosure. 

CPA Canada will focus on two projects related to awareness and reporting. It will provide climate change training through three training programs to build capacity within the private sector, targeting boards of directors, executives and CPAs working in business and professional services. 

Its second project will focus on climate change disclosure and decision-making through research and best practice guidance, by providing research and outreach with companies and investors to develop best practice guidance for implementation of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations. 

"Climate change has wide-ranging business, economic and social impacts," stated Joy Thomas, president and CEO, CPA Canada in a press release announcing the pact. "Driving awareness about the risks and opportunities associated with climate change is a strategic priority for CPA Canada. These initiatives will build upon our legacy of leadership and training in this area and will help promote transparent financial reporting, sound business practices and sustainable economic growth." 

CPA competency map undergoing review, countering criticism

The national member body of chartered professional accountants has engaged in a number of sustainability and climate change initiatives post-unification of the profession in 2013. 

CPA Canada declared its support of the recommendations made by the international Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) in 2017. It partners with the Canadian Chapter of The Prince's Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) CFO Leadership Network. Its publications include climate change case studies, briefings and guidance. Its corporate reporting awards of excellence recognizes sustainability disclosure. 

The organization has come under criticism recently for the absence of sustainability training in the CPA program. In their April 2018 paper, “Where Is Sustainability within the Canadian CPA Education Program?”, Professor Emilio Boulianne, FCPA, FCGA and PhD candidate Leanne Keddie, CPA, CMA, MBA, analyzed the history and content of the CPA competency map. 

The study, which you can read in part on Google Books, notes that, prior to unification, sustainability was part of the certified general accountant and certified management accountant competency maps and “noticeably absent” in the chartered accountant model. (Thomas, a legacy certified management accountant, may from professional experience be aware of the imbalance, and emphasis the CMA program placed on sustainability.) The study then proceeds to analyze the composition, experience and consultation work of the committee that created the competency map. 

“Content analysis of the CPA Competency of the CPA Competency Map reveals that references to sustainability are immaterial, indicating that sustainability is not a key competency for CPAs, and consequentially its presence is again negligible in its related education program,” concludes the study. 

CPA Canada is currently seeking feedback on proposed changes to the competency map with an expected release date of December 2018. They include an increased focus on data analytics and information sessions in keeping with the digital age. Sustainability is “one topic currently being reviewed.” 

As proposed, sustainability is included under entry level learning outcomes, specifically under the strategy and governance competency: “Analyzes the specific role of the board in an entity’s social responsibility strategy and sustainability.” The new learning outcome “Explains the role of the board in an entity’s social responsibility and sustainability strategy.” 

Whether this will be enough to address concerns is unknown. “Based on the information we have, the Canadian accounting profession is giving significantly less importance to sustainability in post-merger than in pre-merger times,” asserts the academic study. “But more importantly, Canadian accountants are comparatively losing ground internationally in this strategic area.” 

According to CPA Canada, the “training programs will address the need for increased understanding of the linkage between climate change issues and implications for the private sector. Building capacity and subject matter expertise in this area will enable accountants and business leaders to proactively respond to climate change risks and capitalize on new opportunities.”

Colin Ellis is the managing editor of Canadian Accountant.

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