December 2023 marked the culmination of an important year for IFAC in terms of our global engagement and advocacy on key policy priorities for the profession, including sustainability, public financial management and anti-corruption/anti-money laundering. From our admission as an Affiliate Member to the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), to agreeing a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Bar Association (IBA), IFAC has been delivering on our commitment to elevate the voice of the accountancy profession on the global stage. Nowhere has this been this more pronounced than in our recent engagement with the United Nations and related organizations.
Specifically, December 2023 saw IFAC participate as an official observer at COP28 (the United Nations Framework Convention Against Climate Change (UNFCCC) 28th Conference of Parties), as well as COSP10 (the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) 10th Conference of States Parties). Both events serve the primary purposes of convening the national signatories to the underlying international treaties, along with other stakeholder organizations, to assess progress in the treaties’ implementation and to agree on additional commitments that help further those treaties’ goals. The 2015 “Paris Agreement,” which aims to limit the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, is an example of the agreements made at COP events in the past.
IFAC at UNFCCC COP28 | November 30 – December 12 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
This was IFAC’s first in-person presence at a COP event—as an official “Blue Zone” Observer—reflecting global recognition of the important role for high-quality corporate disclosure about climate and other sustainability-related information and the critical role the accountancy profession will play in delivering such information.
IFAC in the Blue Zone
The centerpiece of IFAC’s participation at COP28 was a high-level panel featuring IFAC President Asmaa Resmouki on December 4. The session began with IFRS Foundation Chair Erkki Liikanen addressing the remarkable achievements of the ISSB since its announcement two years ago at COP26. The session continued with President Resmouki joining IOSCO Chair Jean-Paul Servais, ISSB Chair Emmanuel Faber, and ACCA CEO Helen Brand for further discussion.
President Resmouki discussed how the profession will meet the demand for sustainability-related skills, the importance of assurance of sustainability disclosures, and how the accountancy profession has a unique opportunity to shape how society understands and uses sustainability-related data and information.
IFAC Policy and Advocacy
Concurrent with COP28, IFAC released three important statements. The first addressed IFAC’s support for the ISSB’s COP28 Climate Declaration, which marks a significant step in prioritizing the climate agenda and bringing the benefits of effective disclosure to stakeholders—by encompassing cross-sector collaboration in order to reduce carbon emissions and increase the allocation of climate financing. IFAC joined nearly 400 organizations from 64 jurisdictions in committing to advancing the adoption or use of the ISSB’s climate-related reporting at a global level:
“Climate risks are increasingly having a real effect on companies and capital. Therefore - in response to calls for climate action at COP28 - we support the establishment of market infrastructure to enable consistent, comparable climate-related disclosures at a global level. We are committed to advancing the adoption or use of the ISSB’s Climate Standard as the climate global baseline.”
Next, IFAC announced its support for the ISSB’s Knowledge Hub—launched during COP28 to help fill the “knowledge gaps” that must be addressed in the short-, medium- and long-term to achieve the goal of a harmonized system for high-quality sustainability-related financial information. IFAC contributed several important publications to the Hub.
Following extensive stakeholder outreach and research, IFAC announced during COP28 its plans to revise the International Education Standards to bring greater focus to sustainability reporting and assurance competence. IFAC also encouraged all Professional Accounting Organizations to enhance their current learning requirements with respect to sustainability and to recognize those courses offered by others, including the IFRS Foundation’s anticipated e-Learning curriculum that will focus on implementing IFRS S1 and S2.
Finally, among the many topics and initiatives addressed at COP28, the development of emissions targets and transition plans stood out as a highlight. Here—complementing IFAC’s benchmarking analysis of corporate reporting on emissions targets and transitions plans for Getting to Net Zero—ACCA, PWC and IFAC released a joint report on The Role of the CFO and Finance Function in the Climate Transition: Driving Value and Sustainability.
Evidence based policy development, advocacy, and stakeholder engagement are hallmarks of IFAC’s sustainability-focused work on behalf of the profession. COP28 offered a unique opportunity for IFAC—in its role as convener and voice of the global profession and acting in collaboration with other accountancy bodies who attended COP28—to represent the critical role of accountants as enablers of the sustainable transition.
IFAC at UNCAC COSP10 | December 11 – 15 in Atlanta, United States
IFAC was an official observer organization, as we were in the previous COSP in Egypt in 2021. The discussions at COSP10 focused on several resolutions regarding strengthening whistleblower protection legislation and implementation, strengthening beneficial ownership transparency, the role of gender in fighting corruption, and public procurement transparency and integrity.
In addition to IFAC’s participation at the UNCAC COSP as an observer, IFAC was a participant in the UNCAC Private Sector Forum, adjacent to the plenary proceedings. IFAC spoke alongside the International Bar Association, Transparency International, the Antiquities Coalition and the World Economic Forum’s Gatekeepers Task Force as part of the Private Sector Forum session Between crime and compliance: The ambiguous role of gatekeepers in the global financial system. The session explored the interplay between global standards, local implementation, and the role of professional bodies in the fight against money laundering and corruption.
IFAC’s engagement with the UNCAC COSP demonstrates the accountancy profession’s commitment to fighting corruption and related economic crimes. It provides a platform for IFAC to highlight key messages including the positive role that the profession plays in fighting corruption in public practice, in business, and the public sector; the profession’s support for effective implementation of the UNCAC and other important global standards, like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Recommendations; and the importance of Professional Accountancy Organizations (PAOs) as partners in the fight.
As an important member of the community of stakeholders participating in the Private Sector Forum, IFAC also signed the Call to Action from Business to Government on the 20th Anniversary of the UNCAC, an initiative led by the United Nations Global Compact. The Call to Action, with over 500 signatory businesses, calls of governments to:
- Accelerate effective implementation of the UNCAC
- Increase focus on transparency and sustainability in public procurement
- Support Collective Action
- Better leverage technology to fight corruption
- Promote ethical leadership
In addition to IFAC’s formal engagements, IFAC also leveraged the UNCAC COSP to host a virtual launch event for Understanding Whistleblower Protection: Laws, Practices, Trends and Key Implementation Considerations. The report and launch event—which convened policymakers and regulators with the accountancy and legal professions to discuss the report’s key findings—were particularly timely, considering the ongoing discussion of multiple whistleblower protection resolutions at the COSP.
Broader Engagement with the UN
Participation in the UNFCCC COP and UNCAC COSP was just part of IFAC’s UN engagement in 2023. Earlier in Q4, IFAC participated in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Investment Forum and International Standards of Accounting and Reporting (ISAR) Symposium on Developing Public Sector Sustainability Reporting Standards in Abu Dhabi, October 15-20, 2023.
IFAC at UNCTAD | October 15 – 20 Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The Role of Standard Setters
The starting point for the discussions at UNCTAD 2023 was the realization that the global community is falling short with respect to SDG 13 and the 2030 goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The need for decision-useful information from companies and public sector entities took center stage as an important bridge between SDG-level public policy and reliable measures of actual performance, with high-level speakers such as IOSCO Secretary General Martin Moloney acknowledging the significant progress made by standard setters including the ISSB, EFRAG, IAASB, IESBA and IPSASB.
The role of standard setters was even more pronounced in the second opening panel of the conference which included Jean Bouquot (IFAC Deputy President), Gabriela Figueiredo Dias (IESBA Chair), Sergio Mujica (ISO Secretary General), Priti Savla (India Sustainability Reporting Standards Board Chair), Archana Shirsat (INTOSAI Deputy Director General), and Isabelle Tracq-Sengeissen (IAASB Board member). IFAC Deputy President Jean Bouquot highlighted, the four key challenges that lie before the accountancy profession, including the recognition that sustainability starts inside of companies who adopt an “Integrated Mindset,” the need for a global system of reporting based on the ISSB, the need for capacity building, and getting ready for high-quality assurance of sustainability information.
This year’s UNCTAD also recognized the importance of public sector entities and sustainability. UNCTAD and ACCA sponsored a Symposium on Developing Public Sector Sustainability Reporting Standards that the World Needs—offering a global platform to showcase the IPSAS Board’s thinking on the development of public sector sustainability reporting. By participating in the panel session, IFAC highlighted lessons learned from its work in support of high-quality corporate sustainability reporting and assurance that also apply to public sector entities. At the event, which was led by ACCA’s Maggie McGhee and Alex Metcalfe, ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), IDI (INTOSAI Development Initiative), and IFAC released a summary of their forthcoming introduction to Preparing for Sustainability Reporting and Assurance: An Introduction for the Public Sector Globally.
Sustainability Beyond Climate
On the final day of the conference, IFAC and PAFA participated on a panel dedicated to achieving better gender equity within the accountancy profession. IFAC presented data from its country-by country analysis of accounting professionals as well as efforts IFAC is taking to promote and highlight the important role of female accountants.
UNCTAD is an important voice in the sustainability disclosure ecosystem—including being an inaugural member of the ISSB’s Partnership Framework for Capacity Building and leading four Regional Partnerships for the Promotion of Sustainability Reporting. Through a memorandum of understanding, IFAC has agreed to participate as observers in these partnerships, which are also of interest to many of IFAC’s members. UNCTAD 2023 brought into focus the critical role of standard-setters and the accountancy profession in helping to achieve sustainability goals. IFAC was pleased to work with our partners while in Abu Dhabi to help deliver this important message.
IFAC and ECOSOC | Summer 2023
Earlier in 2023, IFAC provided an update on our accreditation by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (U.N. ECOSOC) as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with Special Consultative Status, which provides IFAC with greater access to events and proceedings across the UN. IFAC quickly used this status to join a Multi-Stakeholder Africa Development Summit, where IFAC highlighted the importance of the accountancy profession and PAOs in promoting and supporting broad economic and social development in Africa.
Looking forward: 2024 and Beyond
In September 2023, the United Nations conducted a midpoint stock take of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. It was apparent then—as it was when the 2030 agenda was established in 2015—just how central the global accountancy profession is to enabling sustainable development.
This is why IFAC is so strongly committed to bringing the voice of the accountancy profession to the global stage. Looking forward, IFAC will build off the heightened engagement in 2023 and continue to engage with the UN and other key global stakeholders to ensure that the perspective and expertise of the profession are at the table on important global issues.