AMONG my tasks in the last week, I moderated a session at a conference organised by local authority pension funds, including some in Scotland. The discussion was on how information can be supplied to those pension funds that want to know that they are investing in ways that ensure that there is a sustainable planet for their members to live on.

This seems like a pretty fundamental issue for those with responsibility for pension funds to be engaged with.

It so happens that I have been advising these pension funds for more than a decade. Working on accounting for sustainability is also a focus of my work as a professor of accounting at the University of Sheffield. But why, you might ask, do I want to talk about something that seems so mundane in my column here? And what has this got to do with Scotland?

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My answer is that, apart from the fact that the conference was held to discuss the future well-being of some specific Scots, what we were really discussing should be of interest to everyone in Scotland.

One-third of all the climate emissions that are strangling our planet by increasing its temperature are directly created by large companies, and most of the rest result from using the products that they sell to us.

In that case, holding companies to account for the climate emissions that they make is vital. Unless we change how companies behave we quite literally cannot save the planet. And that is most definitely an issue for Scotland.

However, it is not just an issue for Scotland as just another country, but it is also vital for Scotland if it is to be independent. The reason why is that whilst in the short term we need to hold companies to account for their climate emissions, what we really need is accounting data that helps us identify which companies can successfully make the transition to being net-zero, and which ones cannot.

The National:

Let’s be clear why this is important. The simple fact is that accounts are what investors use to decide where they will allocate their money. As we get better at accounting for climate change what will become apparent is that there are many existing companies that have no idea how they can survive into the net-zero era as they have literally no idea how they can decarbonise their business processes.

To put it another way, these companies are carbon insolvent. They are not going to make it to the era of sustainability. The result is that the jobs these companies now supply are going to be lost, like it or not. Scotland needs to know how many of these companies are located in the country, because that will suggest the number of new, sustainable jobs that it needs.

More than that though, Scotland can be a leader on sustainability reporting. One of its leading companies, SSE, is already seen by many is being at the forefront of this trend. Importantly, if other companies follow their lead then what they will do will make the case for investors to trust them with the money that their companies need to create this sustainable future.

Whether independent or not, the Scottish Government can encourage this trend for Scottish companies to put themselves on the line with proper carbon accounting that provides investors with the information that they need. And we all know Scotland needs investment.

I know Scotland has plans for a just transition, but this issue is at the forefront of thinking on how companies, and the countries that host their activities, must adapt right now. Scotland could claim a first-mover advantage by helping its companies, both public and private to produce the information needed to show that they can manage the process of change that will eventually deliver Scotland’s future.

Innovation, research and, quite critically, support might be needed to these companies to create this advantage for Scotland. And what I really hope is that this can attract support right across the political spectrum. That’s the sort of unanimity climate change demands.