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ICAEW adds to calls for a ‘green and just’ recovery

9 June 2020: along with more than 100 other organisations, ICAEW has signed a letter to the UK Prime Minister calling for a green and socially just recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Along with more than 100 other organisations, ICAEW today signed a letter to the UK Prime Minister, under the auspices of the United Nations Global Compact and the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD). 

The letter adds to the momentum of business and civil society voices calling for a green and socially just recovery. In particular, this letter points out that a framework for action already exists in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals and we urge the government to implement that. 

The future looks bleak. We must face it with vision and ambition and move quickly to action 

ICAEW recently commissioned Oxford Economics to produce both a global and UK forecast. Unsurprisingly, the picture they paint is pretty dire. What is important is how we respond, hence why we are signing this letter. A return to austerity is not an option: the public has kept the economy alive during the crisis; it cannot now pay the price of recovery through cuts. Just like the Beveridge Report in 1942 was based on a political consensus that post-war, a new social contract of a better future for all had to be forged, a new consensus has to be built now.

But we face difficult choices: we have discovered how quickly we can take the homeless off the streets, that we can pay a universal basic income, that years of cuts to our health and care system undermined its resilience. However, all of this must be paid for. This means continued heavy borrowing; the public finances are going to look horrendous (just as they knew they would be when Beveridge wrote his report) and for some time, but government borrowing rates are low. It will also mean increasing taxes. We cannot pursue a debt-free future for the next generation if there is no other future to pass on; there is no intergenerational equity in that. 

The challenge for business and the accountancy profession

The challenge for business and the accountancy profession is to work out what this green and just vision means for us and is our role in turning it into a reality. Public expectations of business will be high post-crisis. The profession has a vital role to play not only in making things happen but helping/providing the information and the transparency to enable the public to hold business and government accountable for their promises.

What is the roadmap?

The Goals are a vision of a better future, one of prosperous economies, based on fair and just societies, delivered within what nature can support and underpinned by good governance and partnerships. They directly address the three key challenges of our age: the climate emergency, massive depletion of natural capital and rapidly increasing inequalities. COVID-19 is a moment in this maelstrom and a taster of what we face if we do not act. The Goals outline 17 outcomes that need to be delivered to meet this vision and the capitals thinking of the Capitals Coalition offers a methodology for doing this. 

The Goals need to be strategically embedded in organisations, not understood as philanthropic add-ons. This is exactly what is needed for the recovery. Capitals thinking goes beyond impacts, measurement and categories to dependencies, valuation and a systems-based approach. Starting with dependencies drives an organisation to consider how its success depends on nature and society and then as a consequence, what impact it needs to have to maintain natural, social and human capital. Progressing from measurement to valuation is moving from simply asking ‘how big?’ saying why these capitals matter. Dividing societal and environmental issues into segmented issues may well add some clarity but it loses all of the interconnectivity between them that is so necessary for understanding the immediate crisis we face and the larger landscape of risk.

We need to act collectively and respond quickly

The legacy of this crisis has to be an international one because the challenges we face are global. We cannot afford to retreat into nationalism and that means rebuilding our faith in our international organisations. This may well involve reforming them. This too is fundamental to the Global Goals, which is why Goals 16 (Peace Justice and Strong Institutions) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) are so important. 

Read the letter in full here.