Friday, July 10, 2009

Big Four Accounting Firms Prepare for Cap-and-Trade; Will U.S. Legal Practitioners be Ready?

If there was ever any doubt about the legal and consulting opportunities associated with a cap-and-trade system in the U.S. those doubts can likely be put to rest -- the Big Four accounting and auditing firms are rapidly gearing up for some type of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions regulatory system.

About 10 days ago, I posted a piece "Accounting and Sustainability" that pointed out how accounting firms have been quite aggressive in seeking out new market niches.  A story in ClimateWire ("Accounting: The Big Four Will be Among the Big Winners if U.S. Adopts Climate Law," July 6, 2009) predicts that accountants are poised to benefit in a huge way if the U.S. limits greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Jan Babiak, who directs Ernst & Young's sustainability and climate change practice, "I don't think it's understood universally by our clients or by the profession.  What we all know is that at some point this is going to be absolutely transformational."

Similarly, Deloitte's Eric Hespenheide, a leader in its sustainability practice, says, "We're clearly leveraging our experience in Europe [which has limited greenhouse gas emissions since 2005] build out and anticipate as best we can what impacts [a cap on greenhouse gas emissions] will have on U.S. businesses."

It is difficult to predict for sure what the cap-and-trade landscape (if any) will look like in the U.S. in a few years or what the business landscape will look like for that matter.  However, what does seem probable is that those who are well prepared to deal -- from a multitude of perspectives -- with these issues will clearly have a first mover's advantage over firms and individuals who don't.  In a partial response to this, the graduate program will introduce a second renewable energy course in Spring 2010 and we are considering other new offerings as well.

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