This article is part of our special report Playing the emissions counting game.
Climate targets only function if countries, cities and companies report their emissions accurately. A new project hopes to show how this reporting should be done, but building trust looks set to play a huge part in overcoming the challenge.
In order to gauge emissions reduction progress, emitters have to declare how much greenhouse gas they are pumping out. At the international level, that process has provoked disagreement, particularly at the UN’s annual climate summits.
At company and sectoral level, emissions accounting is patchy due to a lack of harmonised practices and standards, as well as lack of experience in actually doing it. Logistics experts maintain though that there is huge untapped potential.
A new scheme, the LEARN project, hopes to improve how things are done by offering support to participating companies, developing training courses and engaging a network where best practices can be shared.
During a stocktake last week of the first two years of the project’s operation, research scientist Igor Davydenko said one of its aims is to convince people that “what you are monitoring and reporting is actually correct”.
Accuracy is one thing but it is a challenging task because of the difficulty of reporting emissions, which often involves complex datasets. Davydenko added that this creates a very steep learning curve that can be off-putting.
International Road Transport Union (IRU) adviser Marc Billet warned though that “building trust within the logistics chain” will be needed and sharing data will be impossible without it.
He explained that data-sharing cooperation is still in its infancy and that information like vehicle weight and volume, crucial to calculating emissions, often has to come directly from shippers and that the margins of error are sometimes significant.
Billet added that drivers will have to be trained on how to access the “magnificent data vaults” that they pilot, as currently there is generally no way to use the information directly.
He concluded that the largest challenge will be to change mindsets and make processes like carbon footprinting standard practice by convincing carriers that it is a benefit to their businesses, not a burden or just a cost.
Expert speakers at the event were keen to show that proper emissions counting creates an opportunity to cut those very emissions, by clearly identifying where losses are made and where there is room for improvement.
One case study based around better planning in road and maritime shipping showed that nearly all alternative routes chosen yielded fewer emissions, by increasing efficiency.
Logistics expert Professor Alan McKinnon warned that predicted massive growth in freight and lack of progress in cutting emissions to date means that there is real urgency about bringing the sector to heel.
He cited an OECD report which estimates that, even if all global transport cuts are implemented, sector CO2 levels in 2030 would still be the same as in 2015, despite the need to drastically decrease them.
The Scottish academic explained that there is an over-reliance on technological and energy supply changes, which means potential in tweaks to management systems, eco-driver training and design changes remain largely untapped.
Professor McKinnon also suggested that because of current emission trends and lack of willingness from the sector to take carbon budgeting seriously, consideration should be given to restricting the growth of freight movement.
Accountancy in action
Shipping remains one of the most difficult sectors from which to collect emissions data, given its large-scale and international dimension. However, the European Commission announced on 2 February that it will revise EU rules on monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV).
It is a reaction to the International Maritime Organisation’s own system and the Commission aims to make the EU’s MRV harmonised with the UN agency’s.
Magda Kopczynska, a top official at the EU executive’s transport directorate, told the LEARN event that reporting systems “have to be recognised by everyone. There doesn’t necessarily have to be just one scheme but there must be interoperability and comparability.”
She added that global emissions reporting is better than regional systems, partly because it prevents the relocation of emitting industries outside of a system’s jurisdiction, which is known as carbon leakage.
The updated MRV is meant to show shippers which vessels are the cleanest, but also give port operators the option to see which ships are producing the most air pollution.
Faig Abbasov, a shipping expert with clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment, said that “without accurate data collection, reduction measures won’t be worth the paper they are written on”.
The EU MRV, together with the IMO’s global system, will help the UN agency identify how an ambitious pledge to cut emissions by 50% by 2050 can actually be delivered.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]