Importance of the GHG protocol and carbon footprint

By Priya Chetty on November 30, 2020

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol), launched in 1998, is a multi-stakeholder partnership of businesses, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), governments, and other regulatory bodies. The concept of carbon footprint although gaining a lot of popularity across the globe is still loosely defined. In simple words, it is the total amount of carbon emissions of an individual, organization, product or event during a given time period (Zheng et al., 2012).

The urgency to measure and control one’s carbon footprint can be understood by the fact that as per the estimates of climate scientists, the carbon dioxide emissions around the globe need to be cut by as much as 85 per cent below 2000 levels by the year 2050 for restricting global mean temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (Green and Jolin, 2009). Studies claim that every degree rise in temperature can bring unpredictable and severely harmful results for life on the earth. The number of manufacturing units, vehicles, and factories is on the rise, raising concerns regarding an increasing and uncontrollable amount of greenhouse gasses being emitted into the atmosphere. This makes it critical to manage approaches linked to combating GHG.

Human carbon production

With the global population now above 7 billion and counting, there is an increasing pressure to produce more goods to meet the growing demand for essential commodities. This results in increased emissions of greenhouse gasses that adds pressure on the ozone layer, thus making it critical to control the carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere and slow down the effects of global warming and global climate change (Lyutse & Eisenson, 2010, Shi, 2001).

Nature’s carbon production

It is believed that humans are responsible for large volumes of carbon emissions. However, animals and even nature in itself are also responsible for carbon production (Withgott & Brennan 2009; Bloom 2010). As far as animals are concerned, every human-sized animal produces up to 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide per day. When animals and plants die, bacteria and fungi and other kinds of decomposers break down their parts and release carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Thus, carbon is moving all the time between animals, plants, land, oceans and the atmosphere where it takes the form of carbon dioxide. According to the carbon cycle phenomenon, the complex chemicals found in animals, plants and other organisms contain strings of a carbon atom and as such carbon dioxide is continuously entering and leaving the atmosphere. Natural processes such as volcanic eruptions release a considerably large amount of carbon gases into the atmosphere (Cole-Dai 2010).

 The Carbon Cycle (Oxlade, 2002) in a GHG protocol
Figure 1: The Carbon Cycle (Oxlade, 2002)

Understanding the GHG protocol

The GHG Protocol was initiated with convention by the World Resources Institute (WRI) which is a U.S.-based environmental NGO and the Geneva-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The GHG Protocol Initiative is said to be the most prominent initiative related to climate change and is internationally accepted. The GHG Protocol Initiative establishes the following standards which cater to different aspects of GHG emissions (World Resources Institute, 2013):

  • GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard (2004): This standard provides a step-by-step guide to the companies about their GHG emissions and control and requires the companies, manufacturers and all stakeholders to report their current carbon footprint and take corrective measures if required.
  • GHG Protocol for Project Accounting (2005): This is a quantitative approach and plans to reduce carbon emission production. The purpose here is to quantify reductions from Greenhouse Gas mitigation projects. This standard is also known as ‘Project Protocol.’
  • GHG Protocol Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry Guidance for GHG Project Accounting (2006): This standard is used in conjunction with the Project Protocol and provides a guide to quantify and report reductions from land use, forestry and land use change.
  • GHG Protocol Guidelines for Quantifying GHG Reductions from Grid-Connected Electricity Projects (2007): This standard is again used in conjunction with the Project Protocol and provides guidelines to quantify reductions in emissions that either generate consumption of electricity transmitted over power grids or reduce it.
  • Measuring to Manage: A Guide to Designing GHG Accounting and Reporting Program (2007): The purpose of this standard is to provide a guide to the program developers relating to designing and implementing effective GHG programs that are based upon accepted standards and methodologies.
  • GHG Protocol for the U.S. Public Sector (2010): This protocol was designed to provide a detailed guideline to the public sector organizations to measure and report emissions, complementary to the Corporate Standard.
  • GHG Protocol Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard (2011): This GHG standard is also known as the Scope 3 Standard because it is aimed at providing a standardized methodology to companies with which they cab quantify and report their corporate value chain (scope 3) GHG emissions. This standard is used in conjunction with the Corporate Standard.
  • GHG Protocol Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard (2011): This standard is related to quantifying and reporting GHG emissions of individual products during their entire life cycle and is therefore also known as the Product Standard.
  • GHG Protocol Mitigation Goals Accounting and Reporting Standard (2014): The aim of this standard is to keep a track on the progress made in the direction of national and sub national mitigation goals.

There are several environmental organizations which collect data linked to GHG and global warming. The collective analysis of each organization’s finding helps to get much more accurate results to report. However, many do not find GHG Protocol to be useful as they deny releasing any carbon emissions; but this is wrong. The carbon print calculator takes measurements using most items one consumes or uses and determines the number of emissions proceeds while manufacturing the products. Even electricity and water consumed contributes towards carbon footprint. Therefore learning to control their use will greatly help reduce one’s carbon footprint (Rendel 2009).

With the concerns linked to GHG production on the rise, many innovators, researchers and scientists are also performing experiments linked to the purification and capture of the carbon gases which will help filter the atmosphere and help reduce the amount of GHG. Research is underway but there are logistics which require to be cleared before any headway can be made for the carbon scrubber project proposals (Figueroa 2008).


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