Public sector lags behind private sector on climate reporting

Source: CIPFA, 12 July 2021

A recent international survey of public sector professionals by CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, shows that more than half (56%) of public sector organisations do not currently report on their climate impact. This research provides a baseline from which the evolution of sustainability reporting in the public sector can be managed and evaluated. Of the 44% of respondents who said their organisation does produce a sustainability report, only around half said they used a standard definition of sustainability, while only 25% of reports prepared were subject to an audit or verification process.

CIPFA identified 12 sustainability reporting frameworks that could potentially be used by public sector organisations to report on climate matters, however, none focused on the public sector context.

Climate information is overwhelmingly reported on a voluntary basis, with few international jurisdictions making the practice mandatory for public sector organisations. The absence of an accepted reporting framework, a legislative mandate, political support and credible data were cited as key challenges by respondents that limit the practice from becoming mainstream.

Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive at CIPFA said: “The climate crisis is now firmly at the top of global political and economic agendas. We’ve seen private sector companies incorporating non-financial measures to better assess their overall performance, which includes their impact on the climate. The issue is that this type of reporting hasn’t materialised in the same way for the public sector in most countries.”

Karen Sanderson, Director of Public Financial Management at CIPFA said: “The planet doesn’t differentiate when it comes to who is responsible for emitting carbon and other greenhouse gases. CIPFA conducted this research to see what, if at all, different public sector organisations around the world are doing to report and assess their impact on the climate. We now know that public sector organisations are lagging their private sector counterparts, and that there is a global appetite for this type of the reporting among public sector professionals.”

CIPFA identified seven key areas for the development of public sector sustainability reporting:

  1. clarity on the definition and scope of sustainability reports
  2. greater institutional/organisational focus and commitment to public sector sustainability reporting
  3. development of skills and capabilities needed to deliver sustainability reporting
  4. determination of the role of audit and assurance
  5. increased scrutiny of sustainability reports
  6. acceleration of efforts to harmonise existing frameworks and standards
  7. integration of sustainability information with other forms of reporting

Download the full report (pdf)