In the context of natural capital management and its reporting, ACCA (The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), the European Confederation of Institutes of Internal Auditing (ECIIA) and Deloitte outline the core principles governing the approach that auditors should take, highlighting the importance of governance, and setting out the required policy support, as well as mindset and skills of the auditors.
Nature is an increasingly material risk for business and society and there are calls for credible business activity to better manage natural capital impact, with true and fair reporting suitable for a wide range of stakeholders.
However, issuing a sustainability report is not always enough if an organisation wants to gain credibility and trust, and attract investors. Audit and Assurance on high-quality non-financial information (NFI) are an essential step in enhancing relevance, reliability, comparability and therefore confidence and trust in an organisation’s sustainability content, data and processes portrayed in both internal and external report.
Ahead of COP 26, as the European Commission is about to issue its eagerly awaited review of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive, and the IAASB has recently released its EER assurance Guidance, ACCA, ECIIA and Deloitte have developed the key principles that should govern the natural capital internal audit assignments or external assurance engagements in a new Guide on Natural Capital Management Working Together for the Planet: Audit & assurance of sustainability information.
Sharon Machado, head of business reporting at ACCA and lead author of the guide says: ‘This new guide for internal and external auditors is part of a series produced by ACCA under the heading Professional accountants changing business for the planet that helps professional accountants - and in this guide, auditors - serve their public interest remit. It outlines the practical application principles, supported by examples, that underpin the achievement of relevant and reliable natural capital management audit, advisory or assurance. Many of these principles can equally be applied to other sustainability and non-financial information work. The guide draws on the recommendations from, and is intended to complement the IAASB and European Commission initiatives.’
The guide recommends employing a case-by-case and risk-based approach that reflects materiality, understands the control environment with a view to completing assurance mapping, deemed to be a key step to integrated assurance. Auditors already value the importance of collaboration with experts, for example with natural capital experts. Here the value of collaboration between internal and external auditors should not be underestimated, for example to deliver against the European Commission’s entity, sector specific and agnostic reporting or the IAASB’s EER guidance requirements.
Julien Rivals, Deloitte France Sustainability Practice Co-Lead, Vice-Chair of Accountancy Europe’s sustainability Working Group said: ‘ESG Information has become as important as financial information, therefore raising the question on how to ensure its reliability and give confidence to decision makers and other users of this information. External assurance is part of the answer, but we need to ask ourselves: Why do we want assurance? What do we want to assure? How do we want to provide assurance so that we avoid an expectation gap? And who will provide the assurance?’
Thierry Thouvenot, President, European Confederation of Institutes on Internal Auditing (ECIIA) said: ’Sustainability is a key risk in organisations, as stated in our recent Risk in Focus survey, and it is important for internal auditors to embed this new risk in their work, enhance their skills and coordinate the efforts with the other assurance providers, on the sustainable trust journey’.
Highlighting the importance of governance, the guide also urges auditors to adapt their mindset and skills to meet the broad and exciting challenges of sustainability assignments. ACCA, ECIIA and Deloitte also argue that policymakers have a crucial role in supporting the organisation and auditors’ role with investment and guidance for sustainable strategy setting and implementation, governance, accounting, reporting and assurance.
The new guide will be launched at a joint ACCA, ECIIA, Deloitte and AccountancyEurope thought-provoking event called Working Together for the Planet: Audit & assurance of sustainability information on 29 April 2021.
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Notes to editors
Professional accountants changing business for the planet: A simple guide to natural capital management for internal and external auditors is available here (look for Audit Assurance Guide)
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Cecile Bonino, ACCA Head of EU Affairs
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