Call for Papers – Corporate GHG Emissions’ Estimation, Reporting, Accountability and Integrity

Posted by GIOVANNA MICHELON - Dec 18, 2019

Journal of Business Ethics

Submission deadline: November 30, 2020

Climate change mitigation and adaptation is not exclusively an issue of natural science and policy making, it is also very much an ethical issue with its significant implications for aspects such as human livelihoods, equal development opportunities of emerging nations and intergenerational fairness (Knutti & Rogelj 2015; Stern & Taylor 2007; McKinnon 2015). With this call for papers, we invite research that advances a discussion regarding the availability, accuracy, accountability, honesty, integrity, deceptiveness, prudence, relevance, and ‘investability’ of self-reported and/or third-party curated corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data, as well as any ethical dilemmas, underlying conflicts and unintended consequences that are inherent in the process of estimating and reporting GHG emissions. In doing so, we follow Greenwood and Freeman (2018) in encouraging researchers to display epistemic awareness and reflect on the paradigm from which they study corporate GHG emissions instead of assuming paradigm singularity. Furthermore, we welcome interdisciplinary approaches with regards to theoretical frameworks or research methods.

The urgency of this call is grounded in the important role financial markets can play in the climate change context in general (Busch 2019; Busch, Bauer, & Orlitzky 2016) as well as in the reports issued by the European Union’s Technical Expert Group for Sustainable Finance on June 18th 2019, which require any index provider inside or outside the EU who intend to sell an index in any listed asset class to European asset owners to report the weighted average GHG intensity of all their constituents (Hoepner et al., 2019). While European asset owners much like CalPERS or Ontario Teachers in North America have a long tradition of integrating environmental aspects in their investment decision making (Hoepner & Schopohl 2018; forthcoming), there is a substantial risk that they end up being commodified and shaped by the practices of business and finance (King & Gish 2015, Michelon, Rodrigue & Trevisan, forthcoming), or captured by corporate actors (O’Dwyer 2003), contributing little to the social and environmental betterment of the planet. Therefore, such mandatory reporting will require scientists, investors, activists and other stakeholders alike to establish a much deeper understanding of the factors that drive quality criteria of GHG data as those listed above, and the underlying ethical challenges affecting the process of reporting. Only with such an understanding, estimation procedures can be developed to estimate accurate GHG emissions for those firms that either underreport or avoid reporting.

Even though information about corporate GHG emissions has become increasingly important in the political, academic, and business sphere, the challenges associated with data quality and comparability remain widely unresolved (Busch 2011; Busch, Johnson, Pioch, & Kopp 2018) and have been one of the key challenges for the work of the European Commission's Technical Expert Group (TEG) for Sustainable Finance, on which one of the co-editors serves as academic member. Concepts such as honesty, integrity and prudence are very prominently featured in the Code of Ethics of the Chartered Financial Analysts Association. However, it appears that – in practice – financial conflicts of interest of those paid directly or indirectly by corporations may prevail over ethical standards in determining a polluting firm’s approach to GHG reporting (Hoepner & Yu 2018; Liesen et al. 2015). Despite an already 2013 published report from the United Nations Environment Programme – Finance Initiative (UNEP FI, 2013) highlighting severe shortcomings in the quality, access, and comparability of corporate GHG data and despite attempts to harmonize corporate carbon emissions accounting and reporting practices through standard accounting methods (e.g., the GHG Protocol), there is little evidence that corporate GHG reporting even just at Scope 1 level has significantly improved. In fact, the pro bono academic initiative only trusts 21 firms worldwide to have reported 100% of their Scope 1 GHG emissions.
Given the just introduced mandatory GHG reporting for index providers and institutional investors, the prevalence of inconsistent carbon data as well as finding of meaningful climate risks indicators have become very big concerns for investors (Bonetti et al. 2018; Busch et al. 2018; Liesen et al. 2017). This very strong emphasis on climate risk transparency has its roots in the 2015 Paris Agreement and is also reflected in the 2017 Taskforce for Climate Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) and the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk report, whose top 3 most likely risks are all directly associated to the global climate crisis. Similarly, the United Nations’ supported Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI) – the world’s largest association of investors – has made the climate crisis and the EU’s Technical Expert Group for Sustainable Finance a central part of its current work (Hoepner et al. forthcoming).
These insights serve as the motivation for the proposed Special Issue. The overall objective is to derive academically sound suggestions that will grant investors, policymakers and regulators a more informed appraisal of emission data and related carbon risks, regardless if these are self-reported by corporations or curated by third parties. These suggestions can be rooted in empirical investigations and observations as well as focus in conceptual thought-provoking analyses.
I am very glad to be co-editing the Special Issue with Timo Busch (School of Business, Economics and Social Science, University of Hamburg), Charles H. Cho (Schulich School of Business, York University; Charles is our corresponding Editor); Andreas G. F. Hoepner (Smurfit Graduate Business School, University College Dublin) and Joeri Rogelj (Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London)
I invite you to read more about our special issue here:
Bonetti, P. Cho, C. H., & Michelon, G. (2018). Environmental disclosure and the cost of capital: Evidence from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Working Paper. Available at SSRN:
Busch, T. (2019). Markets must back climate mitigation. Nature, 571, 36.
Busch, T. (2011). Which emissions do we need to account for in corporate carbon performance? Journal of Industrial Ecology, 15(1), 160-163
Busch, T., Bauer, R., & Orlitzky, M. (2016). Sustainable development and financial markets – old paths and new avenues. Business & Society, 55(3), 303-329
Busch, T., Johnson, M., Pioch, T., & Kopp, M. (2018). Consistency of corporate carbon emission data. University of Hamburg/WWF Deutschland, Hamburg. Available at:
Greenwood, M., & Freeman, R. E. (2018). Deepening ethical analysis in business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 147(1), 1-4.
Hoepner, A. G. F., Majoch, A. A. A., & Zhou, X. (forthcoming). Does an asset owner's institutional setting influence its decision to sign the Principles for Responsible Investment? Journal of Business Ethics. 
Hoepner, A. G. F.; Masoni, P.; Kramer, B.; Slevin, D.; Hoerter, S; Ravanel, C.; Viñes Fiestas, H.; Lovisolo, S.; Wilmotte, J.-Y.; Latini, P.; Fettes, N.; Kidney, S.; Dixson-Decleve, S.; Claquin, T.; Blasco, J. L.; Kusterer, T.;  Martínez Pérez, J.; Suttor Sorel, L.; Löffler, K.; Vitorino, E.; Pfaff, N.; Brockmann, K. L.; Micilotta, F.; Coeslier, M.; Menou, V.; Aho, A.; Fabian, N.; Philipova, E.; Hartenberger, U.; Lacroix, M.; Baumgarts, M.; Bolli, C.; Pinto, M.; Bukowski, M. & Krimphoff, J.  (2019) ‘TEG Final Report on Climate Benchmarks and Benchmarks’ ESG Disclosure’ Brussels: European Commission. 
Hoepner, A. G. F., & Schopohl, L. (2018). On the price of morals in markets: An empirical study of the Swedish AP-funds and the Norwegian government pension fund. Journal of Business Ethics, 151(3), 665-692.
Hoepner, A. G. F., & Yu, P. S. (2018). Responsible investors and company standards: Follow the money to rate the raters.  In Deborah C.  Poff and Alex C. Michalos (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Business and Professional Ethics. Springer: Heidelberg
King, L., & Gish, E. (2015). Marketizing social change: Social shareholder activism and responsible investing. Sociological Perspectives, 58(4), 711-730.
Knutti, R., & Rogelj, J. (2015). The legacy of our CO2 emissions: A clash of scientific facts, politics and ethics. Climatic Change, 133(3), 361–373
Liesen, A., Hoepner, A. G. F., Patten, D. M., & Figge, F. (2015). Does stakeholder pressure influence corporate GHG emissions reporting? Empirical evidence from Europe. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 28(7): 1047-1074.
Liesen, A., Figge, F. Hoepner, A. G. F., & Patten, D. M. (2017). Climate change and asset prices: Are corporate carbon disclosure and performance priced appropriately? Journal of Business Finance & Accounting, 44(1&2), 35-62.
McKinnon, C. (2015). Climate justice in a carbon budget. Climatic Change, 133(3), 375-384.
Michelon, G. Rodrigue, M., & Trevisan E. (forthcoming). The marketization of a social movement: Activists, shareholders and CSR disclosure. Accounting Organizations & Society.
O,’Dwyer, B. (2003). Conceptions of corporate social responsibility: The nature of managerial capture. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 16(4), 523-557.
Stern, N., & Taylor, C. (2007). Climate change: risk, ethics and the Stern review. Science, 317(5835), 203-204.