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GHG Protocol: The Gold Standard for Accounting for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

By Pankaj Bhatia and Janet Ranganathan - October 04, 2011

This article was originally posted on the WRI blog, Insights.

Today the GHG Protocol launches two new global greenhouse gas accounting standards - for corporate value chains (scope 3) and product life cycle emissions. Janet Ranganathan, WRI's Vice-president for Science & Research, and Pankaj Bhatia, WRI’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol Director since 2004, describe the 12-year program's critical role in business and government efforts to address climate impacts.

Q: What is the GHG Protocol (GHGP) and who uses it?

Pankaj: GHG Protocol refers to a family of greenhouse gas accounting and reporting standards and guidelines. It launched in 2001 with the groundbreaking Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard. Each is rigorously developed by global multi-stakeholder partnerships of businesses, NGOs, governments and others, convened by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Janet: The short answer to who uses the GHG Protocol is almost everyone. Over 85 percent of 2487 companies who took part in a 2010 Carbon Disclosure Project survey either directly used GHGP or did so through participation in a climate change program. Other notable users include the Climate Registry, Mexico's GHG Program, Brazil's GHG Protocol Program, and UK DEFRA's Voluntary Reporting Guidelines. We have also set the bar for others. For example, the International Standards Organization's GHG emissions reporting standard (ISO 14064-1) is consistent with the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard.

Q: Why did you start GHG Protocol? What was your original vision?

Janet: Ten years ago, it was crystal clear that we weren't going to make much progress reducing business emissions until we could measure them.

WRI's efforts in the late 1990s to create a common framework for tracking corporate environmental performance had led to the launch of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and I saw the opportunity for a specific GHG emissions protocol. WRI was also working with General Motors, Monsanto, and British Petroleum to persuade companies to measure, track, and openly report greenhouse gas emissions. But to do this, they needed a methodology.

This confluence of factors spurred WRI to create the GHG Protocol as a means to help businesses start to address their climate impacts.

Q: What is unique about GHG Protocol?

Janet: Two characteristics in particular make GHGP both unique and successful: the multi-stakeholder process and rigorous road-testing of the draft standards. Together, these ensure that our standards are both robust and user-friendly. We also partner with leading industry associations such as IPIECA (oil and gas), the WBCSD Sustainable Cement Initiative, and the International Aluminum Institute, on sector-specific calculation tools and guidance.

Pankaj: Not every company or government agency is equipped to apply GHG Protocol standards from day one. So we also help build organizations' measurement and reporting capacity, and provide support for design and implementation of national or local GHG programs, especially in developing countries.

Q: How was GHGP adopted in developing and emerging economies?

Pankaj: Emerging world emissions are growing fast. WRI has therefore invested in major outreach efforts in China, Brazil, India, Philippines and Mexico. This has required patience and perseverance. In Brazil, for example, officials initially questioned the need to measure corporate-level greenhouse gases, while in China the word "protocol" triggered alarm as it translates in Mandarin into mandatory action. Being responsive to developing country concerns, however, paid off. Initiatives are now underway in all five target countries.

Q: What surprised you most about GHG Protocol?

Pankaj: I am both surprised and inspired to see how much businesses are committed to the GHG Protocol and what a difference it makes when they are involved in finding solutions. Our partnership with WBCSD brings access to the world’s leading companies, many of whom contribute to, road test, and use the standards. I have also been surprised at the strength and influence of our stakeholder process.

Janet: The generosity of so many people that freely contributed time and resources. While WRI's and WBCSD's logos may be on the cover, the contributors listed inside the standards are ultimately what make them successful.

Q. What led to the development of the two new standards?

Pankaj: The new standards were a response to demand from our partners around the world. In New Zealand, exporters of dairy products were being asked to account for food miles. In Kenya, flower exporters were being asked to report on transportation miles. And in the United States the Wall Street Journal highlighted the difficulties facing a multinational company in claiming progress toward carbon-neutrality without accounting for its supply chain impacts. Demand was growing from both the market and stakeholders for GHG information across a company or product’s value chain.

It has taken three years to develop the two new standards that meet this demand. Close to 2,500 partners worldwide participated, and 60 companies from 17 countries road-tested the standards. The Consumer Goods Forum has endorsed both standards and The Sustainability Consortium has adopted the product standard.

Janet: I have always viewed scope 3 (value chain) emissions as the buried treasure of corporate GHG management. It is where the surprises and biggest reduction opportunities are often found. The new standard provides a treasure map for companies to locate opportunities for emission reductions with significant business benefits.

Q: With two new standard just launched what would you ideally like to achieve in the next 10 years?

Janet: The GHG Protocol is a means and not an end. The new standards will only be successful if they drive stronger management, and reduction, of emissions. My hope is that companies will soon routinely factor GHG emissions into all product design and procurement decisions.

Pankaj: We have a lot of important work ahead of us. First, developing sector specific guidance and training programs to support use of the new standards. Second, developing a new protocol for the agriculture and food products sector, which lacks an internationally consistent method to account for GHG emissions. Third, working on an international GHG accounting standard for cities. Fourth, developing an internationally consistent methodology for GHG accounting of countries' climate mitigation policies.

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