Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Sustainability Reporting

Evolving Climate Accountability: A Global Review of Public Sector Environmental Reporting

Explore the key sustainability highlights

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The climate crisis now sits at the top of global, political and economic agendas. Political priorities and economic imperatives have shifted abruptly in the past two decades, as the effects of climate change have become more evident.

The practice of sustainability reporting, which draws together not only environmental but also social and economic measures, is now widespread in the private sector. This is an incredibly positive trend. Knowing and understanding the impact of your actions is essential if we are to effectively mitigate climate change and make our societies more sustainable.

But sustainability reporting in the public sector is in a markedly different place. Public sector organisations are lagging behind their private sector counterparts. 

CIPFA set out to identify what, if anything, public sector organisations around the world are doing to report their impact on the climate. We surveyed public sector professionals around the world and hosted a series of regional roundtables. Participants included public sector accountants, practitioners, academics, auditors, public servants and standard-setters.

Although knowledge gaps surely exist, this research is intended to provide a baseline from which the evolution of public sector sustainability reporting can be measured.

The research identified seven key areas that require further consideration if sustainability reporting is to become a mainstream part of public sector external reporting. These include:

  • Clarity on the definition and scope of sustainability reports to ensure a common understanding and interpretation of what constitutes public sector sustainability reporting.
  • Accelerating the alignment and harmonisation of existing frameworks and standards with a view to adopting a framework that is appropriate for the public sector to underpin sustainability reporting.
  • Committing to public sector sustainability reporting at an institutional and organisational level to add impetus to the maturation and evolution of reporting.
  • Prioritising the development of the broader skill set and expertise needed to support high-quality sustainability reporting and any related audit or assurance activities.
  • Recognition of the key role of assurance in sustainability reporting and the consideration of 'phasing in' assurance arrangements, given the relatively immature nature of reporting in the public sector.
  • Integration with wider forms of reporting to avoid duplication, provide a holistic view of organisational performance and better inform decision making.
  • Promoting and strengthening institutional arrangements for the oversight and scrutiny of sustainability reports.

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