CSRD Directive – Part IV
Attestation of sustainability reporting
In the fourth article of our series on issues related to the entry into force of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (the so-called CSRD), we will take a closer look at the attestation of ESG reports. It should be noted that the CSRD also modified the provisions of Directive 2006/43/EC regulating statutory audits of annual and consolidated financial statements. As a result of these changes, Directive 2006/43/EC now also sets out rules for attestation of annual and consolidated sustainability reporting. The introduction of consistent rules for attestation of reporting will be key to ensuring the reliability of information disclosed by obligated entities.
New challenges for auditors and audit firms
As a reminder, in accordance with the CSRD, entities obliged to report on sustainability will prepare reports on their activities (including ESG) in the electronic reporting format specified in the relevant delegated regulation of the European Commission. As a general rule, under Directive 2013/34/EU, the current form of which was given by the CSRD, auditors and audit firms will issue an opinion (based on an attestation service providing limited assurance and, later, providing reasonable assurance) on the compliance of the aforementioned entities' sustainability reporting with the requirements of the CSRD.
The examination, as part of the attestation service, will include amongst others verification by auditors:
- sustainability reporting compliance with ESG reporting standards, as discussed in our previous article,
- the process carried out by the obligated entity to identify the information presented in accordance with the aforementioned standards,
- compliance with the marking up requirement for sustainability reporting, as well as
- compliance with the reporting requirements of the EU Taxonomy .
National regulations will additionally be able to stipulate that an attestation opinion may be issued by an auditor or audit firm other than the entity that audited the entity's annual or consolidated financial statements.
Changes awaiting auditors and audit firms
As a result of the changes introduced by the CSRD, the material scope of the terms "auditor" and "audit firm" was expanded in Directive 2006/43/EC to include persons approved to perform attestation of sustainability reporting, where applicable. The new tasks for the aforementioned persons and entities are, of course, combined with new educational requirements for such attestation. The deadlines for auditors to acquire or supplement their knowledge are detailed in the CSRD.
For example, we point out that according to the revised Directive 2006/43/EC, an auditor can be approved to perform attestation of sustainability reporting as long as he or she has knowledge of the following subjects:
- legal requirements and standards for the preparation of annual and consolidated sustainability reporting,
- sustainability analysis,
- due diligence process regarding sustainability issues,
- legal requirements and attestation standards for sustainability reporting.
The fact whether a given auditor is also approved (authorized) to perform attestation of ESG reporting should be disclosed in the relevant national registers.
It is worth noting that the current requirements regarding, amongst others, professional ethics, independence and objectivity, confidentiality and professional secrecy, as well as internal organization regarding the audit of annual or consolidated financial statements will apply accordingly to the attestation of sustainability reporting. In addition, Directive 2006/43/EC also identifies the services that auditors and audit firms will be prohibited from providing in cases where the auditor or audit firm in question is attesting to the sustainability reporting of a public interest entity.
Attestation of sustainability reporting will be carried out in accordance with attestation standards to be adopted by the European Commission in the form of delegated acts by October 1, 2026. The standards are intended to complement Directive 2006/43/EC by introducing regulations on attestation standards that provide so-called "limited assurance". These procedures include, in particular, the planning of the assignment, the consideration and response to risks, and the type of conclusions to be included in the attestation report for ESG reporting. In addition, the European Commission should adopt delegated acts by October 1, 2028, to establish standards for attestation that provides so-called "reasonable assurance".
Until these standards are adopted by the European Commission, European Union member states will be able to apply national standards, procedures or attestation requirements.
From the attestation of sustainability reporting, auditors and auditing firms will prepare relevant reports indicating the results of the attestation. The reports will be prepared in accordance with the mentioned attestation standards. If attestation has been carried out by more than one auditor or audit firm for an entity, they will have to jointly determine the attestation result and submit a joint report. If the auditors or audit firms do not agree on a certain issue, in the report each of them will be able to present their own opinion with the reasons for the difference of opinion.
Directive 2006/43/EC, as amended by the CSRD, stipulates that it will be on the shoulders of European Union member states to ensure that effective systems of investigation and penalties exist in national law to: (i) detect instances of inadequate performance of sustainability reporting attestations, (ii) correct them, and (iii) prevent them. In addition, effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties against auditors and audit firms should be provided under national legal orders if sustainability reporting attestations are not performed in accordance with the regulations. This means that as part of the implementation of the CSRD, we should expect to see legislation regulating the liability of auditors and audit firms in connection with attestation of ESG reporting (or updating existing regulations currently applicable to auditing).
As we have indicated in previous articles, the CSRD should be implemented by European Union member states, including Poland, into national legal orders within 18 months of its entry into force (i.e. counting from January 5, 2023). This also applies to the changes introduced by the provisions of the CSRD to Directive 2006/43/EC related to the attestation of sustainability reporting. New challenges await auditors and audit firms, the preparation for which will undoubtedly be time-consuming and demanding. Nevertheless, we will have to wait for detailed solutions in the field of ESG attestation until the CSRD is implemented into Polish law.
In addition, we emphasize that not only audit entities, but also entities required to report on sustainability under the CSRD, should use the coming months to take the first steps to adapt their procedures and business model to the requirements under the new EU ESG regulations.
We invite you to read the rest of the articles in the series on the CSRD:
- CSRD - Part I. Who will face changes concerning sustainability reporting? in which we identify the range of entities covered by sustainability reporting,
- CSRD - Part II. The subject matter scope of sustainability reporting - what will actually need to be disclosed?, in which we look at what information mandatory entities will report, and
- CSRD - Part III. Sustainability Reporting Standards - the devil is in the details, which takes a closer look at the issue of reporting standards and presents draft standards developed by the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG).
 Directive 2006/43/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of May 17, 2006 on statutory audits of annual accounts and consolidated accounts, amending Council Directives 78/660/EEC and 83/349/EEC and repealing Council Directive 84/253/EEC (OJ EU. L. 2006 No. 157, p. 87 as amended).
 Directive 2013/34/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of June 26, 2013 on the annual financial statements, consolidated financial statements and related reports of certain types of undertakings, amending Directive 2006/43/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Council Directives 78/660/EEC and 83/349/EEC (OJ 2013 L. No. 182, p. 19 as amended).
 In accordance with the reporting requirements of Article 8 of Regulation (EU) 2020/852 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 June 2020 on establishing a framework to facilitate sustainable investment, amending Regulation (EU) 2019/2088 (OJ EU. L. of 2020 No. 198, p. 13, as amended).