Accounting for Climate Change : Incorporating Externalities due to CO2 Emissions into Financial Statements
The full cost of climate change is not accounted for in today’s financial reporting. Today’s sustainability reporting mainly consists of disclosures which do not affect any financial statement. If externalities were accounted for it would help stakeholders become aware of companies’ true sustainability.
The purpose of this thesis is to identify and describe ways for companies to account for their climate impact, in general and by incorporating externalities into the financial statements. A qualitative method is used in the form of a descriptive case study with a Swedish perspective. The study is based on interviews with accountants and company representatives who work actively with sustainability reporting issues.
The main finding of the study is that the best way to account for negative externalities is to use full cost accounting. However, it is difficult to use in practice since monetising externalities is difficult. The currently most used frameworks (the GRI guidelines and the GHG Protocol) account for externalities to some extent, but have no connection to financial reporting. An evolving framework within integrated reporting has the potential to increase the connection between the current disclosures in sustainability reports and financial reporting. So far the best solution to account for externalities is to separately account for taxes, fees and cap-and-trade since externalities are internalised in these costs.
The effects of accounting for negative externalities will differ depending on the degree of climate impact the company has. It will also depend on how far down the value-chain emissions are accounted for. It will nevertheless be an incentive to reduce climate impact and act as a management tool.
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