What is the GHG Protocol?

The accumulation of high quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is triggering the negative effects of climate change: more recurrent droughts, extreme heat, devastating floods, acidification of the oceans… It is increasingly clear that the “rapid transformation of societies” is the only option to limit these impacts. Currently, the GHG Protocol is the most widely used standard to account for and manage these harmful emissions.

What are greenhouse gases and what are their consequences?

During the last few years, the concept of GHG (greenhouse gases) has gained popularity. Since the declaration of a “climate emergency”, it has become the subject of social and business debate. The IPCC report Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis is accurate. Human activities cause serious damage to the atmosphere and ecosystems.

Uncontrolled emissions of greenhouse gases are one of the main threats to the planet. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency , they are those that trap heat from the atmosphere. In this sense, they cause the so-called greenhouse effect, which results in an increase in the global average temperature.

Greenhouse gases

Generally, certain types of GHG are distinguished:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO₂) : It is emitted into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, chemical reactions or the processing of solid waste. According to the International Energy Agency , CO₂ emissions are slowing thanks to renewable energy.
  • Methane (CH₄): Its accumulation in the atmosphere is due to the production of coal, oil and natural gas. The same happens with intensive and uncontrolled livestock and agriculture. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office reported that 2021 broke another record for methane releases.
  • Nitrous Oxide (N₂O ) – Agricultural and livestock activities are responsible for its emissions. Other causes are unsustainable solid waste management or wastewater treatment. According to the World Bank, the sum total of countries emitted three million metric tons in 2019.
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs): They are made up of fluorine, carbon and hydrogen atoms. They have a high chemical stability, which translates into a greater permanence in the atmosphere. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has launched a program to reduce their expulsions at the federal level.
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFC): Of human generation, they are composed of fluorine and carbon atoms. The burning of plastics and ceramics, as well as the manufacture of aluminum, are responsible for the emissions. According to the International Aluminum Institute, China is the largest emitter.
  • Sulfur hexafluoride (SF₆): It is heavier than air and is extremely harmful to the atmosphere. It is often used in electrical insulation equipment. According to a study by the State of Massachusetts, it is 24,000 times more damaging to the atmosphere than CO₂ .

Greenhouse Gas Impact

Without a doubt, GHG accumulations can be very harmful for the planet. Certain types, such as sulfur hexafluoride, remain in the atmosphere for up to 3,000 years. However, there are certain consequences that can seriously affect life on the planet:

  • Ocean acidification – CO₂ from the atmosphere causes chemical reactions in water bodies. Consequently, the concentration of certain minerals, such as calcium carbonate, decreases. This poses a major threat to marine life and a long-term loss of biodiversity.
  • Respiratory diseases: the World Health Organisation constantly warns of the consequences of pollution for health. These include lung cancer, heart attacks, heart problems or chronic respiratory diseases.
  • Increase in extreme weather events : The World Meteorological Organisation launched a shocking alert last year. In his report, he claims that GHG concentrations have pushed the planet closer to “uncharted territory.”

One of the solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is the GHG Protocol. This initiative is part of one of the most promising strategies to combat climate change.

What is the GHG protocol?

The Spanish Association for Quality defines it as “the most used international tool for the calculation and communication of the Emissions Inventory”. Its main objective is to determine, measure, recognise and reduce GHG emissions into the atmosphere. To do this, they have developed a methodology in collaboration with institutions, companies and entities from all over the planet.

Definition of the GHG protocol

The GHG Protocol is a methodology that deepens the knowledge of GHG emissions. In this way, both direct and indirect emissions are recorded, in a comprehensive and highly detailed analysis. It should be noted that, in 2019, it signed an agreement with the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF).

What exactly is the GHG Protocol?

This method was developed by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. It allows to measure the emissions of all greenhouse gases (CO₂, CH₄, N2O, HFCs, PFCs and SF₆). It pursues five principles that enable its use in companies of all countries and sectors:

  • Integrity
  • Consistency
  • Transparency
  • Relevance
  • Precision

Who uses the GHG Protocol?

Currently, 92% of Fortune 500 companies directly or indirectly use GHG Protocol metrics.

Regarding companies, there are four standards that must be met:

  • Corporate standard: related to the preparation of a GHG emissions inventory.
  • Value chain standard: recognise the impact of production and identify potential decreases.
  • Production Standard: Optimising product lifespans and cycles to advance sustainability.
  • Project standard: propose new projects that allow climate neutrality to be achieved.

For its part, it is also applicable to cities and countries. Among them, the signatories of the 2015 Paris Agreement stand out, who must abide by these standards:

  • Mitigation objectives standard : reduce gas expulsions from the local and national levels.
  • Policy and Action Standard – Creating and advocating for public policy that actually enables action.
  • Protocol standard for cities : encourage the participation of local and regional entities.
  • Project Standard – Create innovative projects to mitigate air pollution.

Interestingly, it is worth highlighting the latest update of this methodology. According to the organisation, cities must take into account the effect of trees and vegetation in their analysis. Biologically, they emit CO2 as part of their natural growth and development process.

GHG Protocol Scopes

In order to guarantee that the analysis adjusts to reality, a scope system is defined. This corresponds to the operational limits of the study (i.e. the type of emissions). It must be remembered that this method is characterised by considering the indirect ones, not only the direct ones.

Scope 1, 2 and 3 of the GHG Protocol

This classification is divided into three scopes. Companies must quantify, at a minimum, the first two. For its part, the third is left to the choice of each company. The accuracy and relevance of the final report will largely depend on this. Therefore, it can be vital to guarantee the principles that govern this methodology.

  • Scope 1 : corresponds to direct GHG emissions – caused by sources belonging to the business. Also included are those that, although not owned by him, are controlled by him. For example, combustion, the use of vehicles or the manufacture of products.
  • Scope 2 : related to indirect GHG emissions associated with electricity – caused by the generation of electricity for energy purposes. Likewise, it covers the consumption of this by non-renewable sources, as well as the low efficiency of the devices.
  • Scope 3 : the rest of indirect GHG emissions. These are those sources that are not owned or controlled by the company. As examples, collaborating entities or distributors stand out. These can represent between 80 and 97% of an organisation’s emissions .
Access this webinar: Net zero and tackling scope 3 emissions

How to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published guidance in 2009. This document, titled Guidance on how to measure and report your greenhouse gas emissions, continues to be of large importance.

In this way, the following points are based on the guidelines that the British Government exposed.

Key points to implement the GHG Protocol

The regulation consists of seven key points :

  • Identify the activities responsible for emitting GHG.
  • Separate them according to their scope (1, 2 and 3, according to the GHG Protocol).
  • Quantify scope 1 and 2 emissions (mandatory ones).
  • Collect data analogous to the activities that cause those emissions.
  • Obtain and collect data for 12 consecutive months.
  • Process the information by multiplying the activity data by the emission factor.
  • Structure emissions according to the 6 greenhouse gases.

In short, the GHG Protocol has become an essential tool for the future. In the medium term, a positive impact can be observed in the atmospheric concentrations of gases. Measure the impact of your company and take climate action. Start by measuring your company’s GHG emissions with us. Contact us!   

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