How does the Carbon Call relate to other standards-setting and harmonization initiatives?
In recent years there have been different GHG accounting standards established, such as GHG Protocol, GRI, SASB, TCFD, etc. – the Carbon Call intends to support, build on, and complement these other standard-setting and reporting initiatives.
These standards are working to create a certain level of consistency in GHG measurement and reporting. The Carbon Call will work with standard-setting and reporting initiatives so that GHG ledgers are increasingly interoperable and better contribute over time to a reliable global system of GHG accounting. The particular focus will be in four areas identified as weak links to interoperability and reliability: the land sector, indirect emissions, removals, and methane – critical in the pathway to and beyond net zero.
You mention carbon removals and land sector, methane, and indirect emissions as “weak links” in carbon accounting systems. Why?
These four sectors are characterized by more limited data, scientific uncertainties, and less specificity in currently established standards. For example, the land sector is challenged in carbon accounting because land is both a source and a sink for carbon emissions and because natural and human emissions are difficult to separate out. Although new data and science are improving, it is often still difficult to measure the net emissions, removal, and changes in carbon stock from the land sector at the spatial and temporal resolution needed for accurate accounting.
Are you building a central GHG reporting or accounting system?
No. Multiple GHG reporting systems are in place through platforms such as CDP for corporate disclosure and other non-state actors and through the UNFCCC for national reporting. The Carbon Call seeks to strengthen existing platforms, not to replace them or to build a centralized system. The focus is on building interoperability among GHG accounting reporting and accounting systems (or ledgers) and helping to advance the reliability of measurement and reporting in four weak links of GHG accounting: the land sector, indirect emissions, removals, and methane.
The goal is to enable GHG accounting ledgers to use the most reliable data that can be compared, combined, and shared, even when they have been developed in isolation.
Why do you use the word “ledger”, does this refer to technology-based distributed ledger systems such as blockchain?
No, the word ledger in this initiative does not refer to distributed ledger technologies like blockchain. We use ledger in contrast to what is often referred to as GHG inventories because carbon accounting today needs to track a range of transactions on a balance sheet – a process that extends beyond inventorying of gases.
You use the terms “carbon accounting” and “GHG accounting”, how are they different? How are they related?
Climate change is caused by the accumulation of different gases that trap heat in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and others. Collectively these are known as greenhouse gases or GHG for short. Because carbon dioxide and methane both contain carbon and are the two main GHGs, it has become customary in some sectors to use “carbon” as a stand-in for GHG. Here we use carbon accounting and GHG accounting as synonymous.
What is meant by reliability?
Reliability refers to the availability, accuracy and consistency of the information compiled and shared in GHG accounting. To understand progress in reducing emissions and moving to and beyond net zero, it is necessary for companies to account for what is emitted, reduced and removed. For example, the uncertainty around data collection and interpretation makes it difficult to assess how fast GHG emissions are reducing even if the number of net zero commitments are increasing.
Thanks to decades of work, advances in data collection, and newer and better standards and protocols, the process for how emissions are measured, verified, and accounted for is improving, but big gaps remain.
A key part of the Carbon Call will be to identify where greater accuracy and precision in GHG data is necessary and possible to enable an accounting system that is sufficiently reliable to steer action, make data more available, and inform how resources should be applied.
What is meant by interoperability?
Interoperability refers to the ability to compare, share and use information across GHG accounting ledgers and the supporting data ecosystem.
Interoperability is critical for GHG accounting systems that transfers information across the globe. Today there is a proliferation of GHG accounting ledgers that use different methodologies and data, even when following similar standards. This proliferation will increase exponentially over time. There is a need for consistency in standards, common principles, taxonomies, and definitions in how emissions data are collected, classified and reported within various accounting systems – and many important and longstanding initiatives are working toward this end.
Interoperability does not require uniformity. It requires standard protocols that can compare and translate information among different systems. As an example, interoperability protocols allow a person to use their bank card in a bank in one country to get money from a bank based in another country. Every bank has different currencies, banking infrastructure and policies, but global financial system protocols ensure sharing and processing information happens in a common way.
Participating organizations include leading private sector, scientific, philanthropic, NGOs, and inter-governmental organizations currently working to:
- Advance the development of more universal accounting methodology standards for companies, including links to national transparency reporting;
- Enable the expansion of access to reliable GHG emissions and removal data; and
- Strengthen the interoperability of digital carbon accounting infrastructures.
Signatories are organizations who have committed to support the enabling conditions needed for a more reliable and interoperable global system of carbon accounting ledgers. To that end, signatories to the Carbon Call commit to report greenhouse gas emissions and offset information:
- Comprehensively: report GHG emissions across all Scopes of Emissions (Scope 1,2,3) and all classes of GHGs in line with available methodologies and best practices.
- Annually: report each year to ensure progress is measured.
- Transparently: make GHG emissions information available to the public to track progress.
Why do we need a more reliable and interoperable global system of GHG accounting?
For climate accountability, we need a mechanism to reliably measure and account for GHG emissions so that action can be taken. The ultimate source of truth is, of course, the planet’s atmosphere, where scientists can track the accumulation of GHG emissions, and as a result how much closer we are to the 1.5° C warming threshold.
The current global system of GHG accounting ledgers is not connected in any formal way to the planetary GHG ledger. In fact, as highlighted recently in the Washington Post, the UN accounts of nationals GHG reporting are significantly misaligned with the planetary ledger as reported by the Global Carbon Project. As reported in the article: “The gap ranges from at least 8.5 billion to as high as 13.3 billion tons a year of underreported emissions — big enough to move the needle on how much the Earth will warm”
There are currently multiple independent GHG accounting systems: the national system, the United Nations system, and corporate/non-state actor systems. Although voluntary reports from some non-state actors are loosely captured in the UNFCCC accounting system (such as through the Global Climate Action Portal), this portal does not connect to the national accounting system. Furthermore, we lack a mechanism to reliably link GHG accounts among corporate and non-state systems to the extent needed to hold actors accountable for their climate actions.
To build accountability we need a more reliable global system of interoperable GHG accounting reports (or ledgers) that connects across multiple ledgers, from the local to corporate to national to planetary scale.
The Carbon Call will furthermore seek collaboration with the UNFCCC Global Climate Action Portal and related efforts to track voluntary NSA climate action.
If I have already signed on to a similar pledge or initiative or report for example, through CDP or the Race to Zero, is that enough?
We view the Carbon Call as complementary to existing pledges. The Carbon Call is seeking to create renewed impetus for more comprehensive, annual, and transparent measurement and reporting. Recognizing that there are multiple transparency initiatives, platforms, and registries, the Carbon Call invites signatories to use those existing efforts to fulfill the Carbon Call commitment. We need more climate action, fast.
The Carbon Call has two components: (1) the call to corporations to commit to regular, transparent, and comprehensive reporting; and (2) workstreams among science, technology, companies, philanthropy, and intergovernmental groups to accelerate and integrate efforts to enable the development of a reliable global system of interoperable accounting reports (or ledgers).
Taking the additional step of working together with others in the data science, accounting and technological communities allows opportunities to share experiences and issues with reporting on GHG emission pledges and identifying barriers and common challenges to facilitate faster development of reliable global system of interoperable accounting ledgers. Collaboration is key as we work toward this important goal.
How will the Carbon Call work with governments? Are governments allowed to join the Carbon Call?
The initial focus of the Carbon Call is to strengthen GHG reporting and accounting by corporates and other non-state actors. As the Carbon Call advances, government input and engagement will be critical whether through expert consultations or more direct participation.
Indirect emissions refer to emissions that result from activities that take place outside of an organization’s direct operations. These include GHG emissions from the external purchase of energy and from a company’s entire value chain. These are known as Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions, according to the standards defined by the GHG Protocol. These are difficult to account for without accurate information from supplier companies and users of company products and services. Currently, such data is often difficult to acquire and thus needs to be estimated using statistical estimates, which often can have large error bars at first and can and must improve over time.
Is the Carbon Call a profit-making consortium or ecosystem?
No. The Carbon Call is an initiative comprised of interested and committed parties seeking to assess alternatives and to make recommendations for the development of a more reliable global system of interoperable GHG accounting ledgers with a view to steadily reducing carbon emissions. It is not a commercial enterprise or undertaking.
Who is funding the Carbon Call?
Initial funding for the Carbon Call was provided by Microsoft Philanthropies and ClimateWorks Foundation.