Carbon count

Ever since the invention of the wheel, and probably well before that, the
development of a standardised way of doing things has been characterised by the
age old tension between good intentions and personal interest.

Few would admit it openly, but one of the main reasons it has taken several
centuries (and counting) to agree a standardised form of accounting is due to
the fact that consultancies have a financial interest in perpetuating the
confusion that results from conflicting standards.

The old cliché of “where there’s mystery, there’s margin” is only a cliché
because it’s true.

The problem with the latest debate surrounding the emergence of standards for
carbon accounting is that in this scenario, good intentions simply have to win
out. Businesses do not have the time to spend several centuries waiting for
standards to be developed and they certainly do not have the time for
long-running and confusing battles between rival standards, regardless of how
much money it promises to make certain firms.

The international climate summit in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December promises
to focus minds on the risks posed by global warming but, despite the miles of
column inches, many of these risks remain underplayed. All the latest climate
science suggests the threat of rising sea levels, heat waves, deadly storms and
crippling droughts are more pronounced than previously thought, while fears over
energy security, oil supplies and rising energy bills continue to mount.

For any number of climate, legislative and financial reasons, businesses have
to curb their carbon footprint and they can only start to do this if they have
an accurate insight into the scale of their carbon emissions.

Accountants might not be known for their sense of urgency but, over the
coming months, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) needs to act
with unprecedented speed to provide international standards for measuring and
reporting on carbon emissions.

The group also needs the support of the wider industry, both in terms of
funding and political backing, while any organisation that wants to put personal
interest ahead of the requirements of the global economy by prolonging the
debate between rival standards should think long and hard about what is actually
at stake.

James Murray is editor of

Further reading:

Standards lobby heads for
climate summit

Related reading

Fiona Westwood of Smith and Williamson.