Accounting | Sustainability

Path to net zero: CPAs can play a central role

Canada’s deadline to reach net zero is 2050. It’s an ambitious goal, but one that accountants can be instrumental in achieving

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Shot of a group of businesspeople brainstorming with notes on a glass wall in an officeWith their varied skillset, CPAs are expected to be key players and influencers in the transition to net zero (Getty Images/gradyreese)

Canada is committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. And, while some organizations have already made headway toward this goal, they cannot be fully successful unless others take the plunge as well. That means those that are not keeping up may be sidelined if they don’t act soon.

“In today’s climate, where environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns are paramount, an organization needs to consider its stakeholder and communities if it wants to remain viable,” says Armand Capisciolto, CPA, national accounting standards partner with BDO Canada and a panelist at a recent ESG symposium organized by CPA Canada. “It’s not just a matter of compliance anymore. If you offer a product or service that no longer meets stakeholder expectations, your financial performance will suffer.”

Given their varied skillset and their presence in all types of organizations, CPAs can lead the charge at every stage of the net-zero transition. Here are some considerations to keep in mind.


Most experts would likely agree that momentum has been growing around climate change for some time. But we are now at a point where the viability of many organizations depends on their ability to adapt and change their business models as quickly as possible. “There is a real urgency to act,” says Vincent Cartier, CPA, partner, advisory services at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.

Capisciolto agrees. “Clearly, the money won’t fall from the sky, but you need to invest in your future if you still want to exist in 10 or 20 years," he says.

As Capisciolto points out, 2050 is just under 30 years away—a relatively long timeframe for many people. “We are not used to thinking more than five years ahead, so we find it difficult to accept the forward-looking aspect of the issue. But, if you don’t make solid progress year after year, you won’t meet the long-term targets. This is why we need to work with different time horizons—short, medium and long term.”

Immediate action is all the more important given that the 30-year timeframe might actually need to be shorter. According to Ian Turpin, ESG practice lead, management consulting at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, the real horizon is 2040 if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C. That means reaching 50 per cent of our objectives by 2030.

Whatever the time frame, CPAs can guide organizations by helping them quantify objectives and the costs involved in achieving (or not achieving) them, says Cartier. “They can also act as integrators, by seeking out people with the necessary experience,” he says.


Many companies are already reporting on a voluntary basis. But regulation is definitely coming, says Gord Beal, FCPA, vice-president, research, guidance and support at CPA Canada. “What’s now voluntary will become mandatory,” he says. “Organizations need to be aware of what’s ahead and educate themselves.”

According to Capisciolto, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) must be particularly vigilant. “Some companies think the IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards or climate disclosure rules being set by securities regulators do not concern them, since they are not public companies. But, if these SMEs do business with public companies, they could very well be held accountable.”

This is all truer now that the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) has released two exposure drafts for comment and opened its centre in Montreal Also, it was recently announced that a Canadian Sustainability Standards Board (CSSB) will be formed.

In such a context, CPAs will be asked to take a leading role in establishing emissions reduction plans, tracking progress and communicating these plans externally.

“Governance is the G of ‘ESG,’ which we do not talk about enough,” says Capisciolto. “Boards of directors, of which many CPAs are a part, will need to ask the organization’s management, which also includes many CPAs in key positions, what internal controls and processes their teams have put in place to achieve targets. "


According to Turpin, the path to net zero is no longer just about accountability. “It’s about implementing a long-term strategy for financial and non-financial aspects so that stakeholders can benefit—especially since you may have to prove your commitment to your customers, employees, investors and other stakeholders that you intend to transition to net zero sooner than you think.”

Not only can CPAs play an instrumental role in developing a strategy; they have the skills and rigor needed to establish processes that will allow the organization to measure progress, particularly through data analysis. “A lot of this data may have to be audited later, so we will have to make sure that it is auditable, that the information captured is reliable,” says Cartier. “The investments will be so significant that CPAs will need to take a leadership role.”

Capisciolto agrees. “We are talking about fundamental changes for all organizations. That said, CPAs should not wait. Whether they are executives in companies, board members or service providers, such as auditors or consultants, CPAs should provoke discussion because they have the trust of their clients and considerable influence over the companies in which they work.”


Learn more about Canada’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. See how CPAs can lead ESG initiatives, and how to integrate ESG to create long-term value and how to communicate net-zero targets. Delve deeper into the role of sustainable finance and find out what it takes to build a sustainable value chain. Plus, learn about CPA Canada's own commitment to net zero.