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Many companies have made ‘net-zero’ and similar climate-related commitments. Users of the financial statements, regulators and the public are raising questions about the financial reporting impacts of such commitments – in particular when they trigger a liability. Stakeholders are focused on whether companies are telling a connected net-zero story across different forums and reports, including their financial statements.

Companies need to assess their plans to meet such commitments and determine the financial reporting impacts for each action under IFRS® Accounting Standards. When determining whether to recognise a liability they apply a two-test approach. 

Setting and announcing your net-zero target, on its own, does not trigger a liability. You need to consider how you plan to achieve this target and assess the financial reporting impact of each planned action separately. You also need to tell a clear story to users, by connecting the targets in the front of the report to the disclosures made in the financial statements.

Irina Ipatova
Associate Partner, International Standards Group

Defining a net-zero commitment

When a company makes a commitment to be net zero – e.g. by 2050 – this usually means that by 2050 it plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible and offset its remaining emissions. Offsets are verified removals of carbon (e.g. through growing new forests).

Net-zero commitments typically include all value chain emissions (defined in the GHG Protocol as Scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions), but sometimes may only include emissions from direct operations (i.e. Scope 1 and 2).

Companies can make many other similar commitments, including the following.

  • Carbon neutral: Often used as an interim target towards net zero. This is primarily a commitment to acquire and retire carbon offsets.
  • Carbon negative: A commitment to remove more carbon than a company emits in a given year.
  • Climate positive: A commitment to achieve carbon-negative emissions for a company’s total emissions across its entire value chain, similar to net zero.

Determining the potential financial reporting impacts

To determine the financial reporting impacts at each reporting date, companies need to assess their detailed net-zero plan – including specific actions and timelines – which may evolve over time. The potential financial reporting impacts of a company’s planned actions include the following.

 Planned action Potential financial reporting impact
Replace existing machinery with a green alternative Measuring existing assets – e.g. impact on remaining useful life and/or impairment analysis
Change to more expensive green inputs in the production process Net realisable value of inventory
Accelerate the planned closure of a facility

Measuring existing assets – e.g. impact on remaining useful life and/or impairment analysis

Remeasuring an existing decommissioning liability

Purchase carbon credits to offset emissions after a specific date No liability until the company emits pollutants that it has committed to offset

Assessing when to recognise a related liability

Setting and announcing a net-zero target, on its own, does not automatically trigger a liability. A company needs to consider the nature of its commitment and how it will deliver it.

There are specific requirements in IAS 37 Provisions, Contingent Liabilities and Contingent Assets for determining if a liability exists at the reporting date and if it needs to be recognised in the financial statements. As a company cannot recognise a liability for future operating losses, its commitment needs to create a present obligation at the reporting date as a result of a past event (e.g. ‘damage done’).

The IFRS Interpretations Committee has discussed climate-related commitments based on a specific scenario and published an agenda decision. The Committee highlighted two tests that must be met to recognise a liability. This assessment may require significant judgement based on the specific facts and circumstances.


Read our talkbook for further details, including our insights on how to perform an analysis of whether a company’s public statement has created a valid expectation.

The International Accounting Standards Board is also reviewing its guidance on liabilities and may consider adding new examples illustrating how to apply IAS 37 to net-zero commitments. 

Telling a connected story

Investors and regulators expect a company’s financial statements, management discussion and analysis (MD&A) and sustainability-related disclosures to provide a coherent, connected and integrated picture. To achieve this, companies need to provide enhanced disclosures on the impact of net-zero commitments in their reporting.

  • Specific disclosures in the financial statements: Once companies have assessed the financial reporting impacts of the individual actions in their net-zero plan, they need to consider the disclosures required by the specific IFRS accounting standards. In some cases, a disclosure may be required even though there is no current-period financial statement impact.
  • Overarching disclosures in the financial statements: Companies also need to consider the requirements of IAS 1 Presentation of Financial Statements. This includes disclosing additional information that is necessary for investors to understand the impact of net-zero commitments on the company’s financial position and performance, and information that could influence their decisions.
  • Other disclosures outside the financial statements: If a planned action does not impact the company’s financial position and performance at the reporting date and is not subject to the specific or overarching disclosures – e.g. a commitment to offset emissions after 2030 by purchasing carbon credits – then the company may explain that there is ‘no financial reporting impact’ as part of the net-zero disclosures outside the financial statements. Disclosing 'no impact' may be specifically required by some sustainability reporting frameworks.

Read our talkbook and use our illustrative example to help you tell a connected story.

Key actions

Companies that have made net-zero or similar climate-related commitments need to:
  • review their net-zero action plan;
  • understand the financial reporting impacts of net-zero commitments, which often depend on the detail in the supporting action plan;
  • tell a connected story and explain which planned actions do and do not trigger a liability at the reporting date; and
  • monitor standard-setting developments.

Read our talkbook, listen to our podcast and watch our video for further insights.

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