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3 key takeaways from COP28

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 10 Jan 2024

Sarah Reay Climate Change Manager ICAEW young woman green background

ICAEW Climate Change Manager Sarah Reay shares her thoughts from a whirlwind week of discussion and debate at the world’s most high-profile climate summit.

COP – officially the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – is an international climate conference that was first held in 1992. It has since snowballed in size and scope, convening delegates from participating countries as well as heads of state, business leaders, climate scientists, youth activists and many other stakeholders seeking to address the foremost issue facing our planet. The agreements that come out of COP are of particular relevance to accountants, who will be responsible for translating high-level commitments from theory into reality across the economy.

This year’s COP28 in the United Arab Emirates saw 85,000 attendees – including ICAEW Climate Change Manager and member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition Sarah Reay. Here, she shares her key learnings from the experience.

1 The ‘numbers people’ must be in the room

You might think, ‘Why do accountants need to be at COP?’ But climate change is a systemic risk, and we all need to take responsibility for addressing it. Financial institutions should be asking: ‘Who are we lending to, and what impacts are they having on the environment?’ I’m talking about water quality, waste disposal, food production. For example, in agriculture, if free pollinators of crops such as bees die out, then do we manually pollinate or get robots to do it? Accountants will be vital in helping businesses transition to new technologies and greener ways of operating. And when it comes to climate finance at COP, we need the ‘numbers people’ making the case for why we need to drive capital into different markets. They also have a central role in driving finance to the places that need it most, such as developing nations who need private capital to enable them to build their capacity around things like renewables or climate adaptation and mitigation methods.

2 Young people will be the drivers of change

The youth turnout at COP was huge this year, and we had the first ‘Youth Stocktake’, which showed how crucial younger people are in driving climate action. ACA students are already making these connections with sustainability. When interviewing, ask prospective employers what their credentials are – do they have a sustainability strategy? Once you’re working, try to embed sustainability in your business mindset. Be proactive and ask: ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’ It might feel quite scary for someone who’s early in their career to do that, but you’d be surprised – some employers will just never have been asked so they’ve not done anything, and you can help by giving them the resources. Don’t underestimate the power that you have as a young person – you are the future of the workforce.

3 Accountants can change the world

ICAEW members sit across every single sector in the economy, so you have a catalytic role to play in driving action. Our 12,000 member firms advise 3.1m UK businesses. If we’re all talking to those organisations, the power of the collective is huge. Individual actions do add up. There is a big focus on the financials, but we also need to fundamentally shift our mindsets. We need to ask: ‘Are we valuing things in the right way? Have we thought about our impact on people and on the planet?’ The economic systems that we have currently are driven to look at GDP as the measure of success, but if we look only at that metric then the UN Sustainable Development Goals won’t be achieved, and we’re not going to limit temperature rise to 1.5˚C. There needs to be other metrics looking at other capitals, such as natural capital and social capital, to make meaningful change. We need more people thinking systemically, and that’s a really exciting opportunity for young people coming into the profession.

Join the ICAEW Sustainability and Climate Change Community to keep on top of news and insights, and take part in events such as webinars and in-person conferences. And learn how the ACA qualification is evolving to embed sustainability.

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