Zero carbon energy - accounting, auditing and accountability debates and controversies


Guest Editors:

Professor Samanthi Dijkstra-Silva, Faculty of Business and Economics, TU Dresden, Germany.

Professor Martina Linnenluecke, Centre for Corporate Sustainability and Environmental Finance, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

Dr Katherine Christ, University of South Australia Business, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia.

Professor Stefan Schaltegger, Centre for Sustainability Management, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany.


In recent years and set against debates about carbon emissions and climate change, there have been growing calls for increased investment and a shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable and 'zero carbon' energy sources. This AAAJ SI call for papers seeks to promote new ideas and understand how accounting can contribute toward a future where zero-carbon energy is the norm and not the exception. Thus, this call seeks research articles that can guide accounting, auditing, and accountability toward a zero-carbon energy society. This AAAJ special issue aims to become an essential resource for accounting and interdisciplinary researchers interested in renewable energy's ongoing societal and economic transition.

Essential information about the call is as follows:

  • The closing date for the submission of research papers is 31 December 2022.
  • Academic papers will undergo the same rigorous review process as AAAJ research papers.
  • The planned hard-copy publication date is 2024 but will be available online once accepted.

The context behind the AAAJ Special Issue:

Zero carbon energy debates and controversies over risks and opportunities are of critical environmental, social and economic importance for communities, businesses and states (Burritt et al., 2021; Milne and Grubnic, 2011; Schaltegger et al., 2015). The COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference has brought these issues to the fore, but what can, should and do accounting, auditing and accountability contribute?

Through well-informed academic research, expression in this special issue is encouraged by the growing tensions between long- and short-term concerns over the threat of climate change and the need to transition away from fossil fuel energy supplies to renewable energy sources (Santika et al., 2019). Research indicates that the development and use of renewable energy sources, powering industrial development to improve the quality of life on Earth, is critical to putting the brakes on climate change and planetary boundaries overreach (Antonini and Larrinaga, 2017; Ding et al., 2020). This raises the issue of how the accounting profession (see Laughlin, 2011 – policymakers, practitioners and academics) can best contribute to the transition.

Relative cost reductions and the rising scale of renewable energy sources transform perspectives on the viability of zero-carbon energy in reducing carbon equivalent emissions. However, substantial difficulties are associated with transforming hard-to-abate sectors, such as heavy industry (e.g., cement, iron, steel and aluminium, see van Renssen, 2020). Demand for industrial products from these sectors is forecast to increase in many countries, and the jobs from carbon-intensive industries are the backbones of many communities. Seriously cutting greenhouse gas emissions - climate mitigation- is bitterly contested with much wealth at stake, as evident in the substantial debate around stranded assets (e.g., Linnenluecke et al., 2015; Shimbar, 2021). Many roadblocks are evident through current geo-political, entrenched and legacy issues, such as the power of big oil and gas (Downie, 2017; Wilkinson, 2021), the complicity of accounting firms (Lucas, 2021), and users of fossil fuels (Dodd et al., 2018). Roadblocks also exist regarding the clean energy transition in developing countries, with communities relying on wood, dung or kerosene (Openshaw, 2010). How can the various arms of the accounting profession assist with finding ways for the renewable energy transition and encourage the removal of these roadblocks?

Developing and implementing a large-scale renewable energy transition would require substantial multi-disciplinary involvement across the public and private sectors (Beelitz and Merkl-Davies, 2019; Linnenluecke et al., 2019). Entrepreneurs and their ideas are critical to building the necessary scale for transformation, whatever the renewable energy source, be it solar, wind, hydro, hydrogen, biomass, or zero-carbon nuclear (Burritt and Schaltegger, 2012; Ramana and Suchitra, 2009); or the type of innovation – environmental, energy-utilisation, social or financial (Barman et al., 2021; Eitan et al., 2020). Accounting in the broad sustainability sense encouraged by Carnegie et al. (2020) should support entrepreneurial decision making concerning renewable energy opportunities, but accounting can also present roadblocks to change. How can research help address these issues?

Once developed and implemented at scale, hydrogen has been touted as one key technological solution to the climate change effects of heavy industry and transport. Although developing a new hydrogen industry is gaining support from international agencies, governments, and existing and new energy businesses, validating the greenness of hydrogen is a challenge (van Renssen, 2020). However, not all hydrogen is 'green' hydrogen – oil and gas producers develop blue hydrogen along with carbon capture, use and storage technologies (or mix blue and green hydrogen), which is seen as supporting the continuation of the use of fossil fuel (McCormick and Chu, 2021; Wilkinson, 2021). Assurance through certification is needed to enable consumers to know the difference and avoid/calibrate potential greenwash (Delmas and Burbano, 2011; Kurpierz and Smith, 2020). What tools can the accounting profession bring to support a technological transition to zero-carbon energy?

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and keeping within planetary boundaries are necessary to avoid global warming with its downsides for the environment and society (Steffen et al., 2015). Furthermore, considering already created emissions with significant carbon levels in the atmosphere, little discussion has focused on efforts to go beyond zero emissions. Steps can include, for example, increasing the natural capturing capacity for carbon (incl. nature-based solutions). Conceptually, this might require rethinking our current narrative and going beyond the goal of zero (Kuehnen et al. 2019; 2022), e.g., by considering the business equivalent of an energy-positive building (Cole & Fedoruk, 2015). Businesses can make a solid contribution to such achievement but account for decarbonisation through renewable energy and offsets, such as carbon capture in soil, support for international offsets, and the energy footprints and intensity of electric cars, biodiesel for aircraft, and embodiment in supply chains (Pan et al., 2021), remain controversial. What should be the role of accounting in theoretical and pragmatic debates over the credibility of deep decarbonisation and offsets in current moves to net-zero and potential future transformation to gross zero (Ang et al., 2010)?  

Purpose of the AAAJ Special Issue:

This AAAJ Special Issue focuses on research papers on accounting, auditing and accountability issues associated with zero-carbon energy. Some suggestions for potential research topics on renewable energy accounting, auditing, and accountability are listed below. While these are only indicative of a few of the debates and controversies, other debates and controversies may be equally relevant for inclusion:

  • Accounting roadblocks to renewable energy transformation.
    • Vested state and corporate interests (e.g., the political power of fuel suppliers from and demands of nation-states such as natural gas (Russia and the European Union); coal (Australian and Indonesian sources for China); state-based technological monopolies (photovoltaics and China); carbon capture, use and storage.
    • The legacy issues include locked-in costs, sunk costs and stranded assets associated with fossil fuel energy (e.g., coal, oil and gas, shipping, airlines, rail, trucking, steel mills, aluminium).
    • The certification and calibration of potential greenwash in renewable energy (e.g., green hydrogen; biofuel; nuclear).
    • Lack of unified sustainability accounting standards for energy costs and opportunities (e.g., GRI new energy sector standard, GRI 11: Oil and Gas Sector standard 2021 and proposed GRI Coal Sector standard 2022; ISO 50001 Energy Management Systems; SASB Renewable Resources & Alternative Energy sector standards; IFRS and SASB and value accounting).
  • Accounting opportunities to support the transformation to renewable energy
    • Accounting and green hydrogen (e.g., cost projections, certification processes) for the retrofitting and green development of global industry, especially heavy industries such as steel, aluminium and transport.
    • The accounting and the financing of renewable energy investment (e.g., taxes, subsidies, rehabilitation funds; offsets, public-private relationships and accountability for renewable energy technologies; accounting, auditing and accountability for externalities in renewable energy financing contracts).
    • Accounting for embodied carbon in industrial products and processes, primarily along supply chains.    
    • Accounting and nuclear power (e.g., public-private relationships and accountability; plutonium accounting).
    • Sustainability accounting and development of energy storage (e.g., batteries and battery value in supply chains).
    • Accounting for renewable energy in a circular economy.
    • Accounting for fossil fuel and renewable energy subsidies.
    • Entrepreneurial innovation in renewable energy – accountants are working across disciplines and functions.
    • Accounting for efforts going beyond zero carbon
    • Accounting for scope 3 emissions – defining responsibilities and boundaries.
  • Accounting and achieving sustainable development
    • The role of stakeholders and collaboration in adapting to renewable energy accounting (e.g., international bodies, state regulators, industry and professional associations, employees, non-government organisations, suppliers, customers).
    • Cross-environmental and cross-social SDG and planetary boundary accounting issues such as energy and water, energy and materials, energy and poverty, energy and modern slavery, energy and the informal economy, environmental risk and cyber-security risk of new green energy technologies, etc.
    • Affordability of renewable energy in sustainable development.
    • Supply chain and value chain accounting issues with renewable energy distribution and use.

Research articles are welcome:

  • …from different theoretical research perspectives;
  • …with various types of methodological choices and approaches;
  • …considering different spheres of influence on accounting, auditing and accountability (e.g., socio-political, technological, economic, environmental, legal, institutional, informational, etc.)


In the first instance, if you wish to discuss the AAJ special issue and potential contribution, please contact Samanthi Dijkstra-Silva by email: [email protected]


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