What is carbon accounting?

Carbon accounting is looking at
quantifying emissions to the atmosphere and it can take a number of different
forms. Physical carbon accounting is looking at methods for quantifying physical quantities of greenhouse gases and the unit of measurement is normally
a mass term like tons of carbon dioxide or kilograms of methane. Distinct from that is financial carbon accounting which is looking at the financial value
of carbon-based assets and liabilities. For national level greenhouse gas
inventories, typically countries look at all of the emissions that occur within
their geographical boundary, and then they can then set targets for how they would like to reduce those emissions over time. We have methods called
consequential methods, and they can be used to appraise or evaluate how effective
a climate change mitigation action has been in reducing greenhouse gas
emissions. So for example if a if a business or a
government is introducing some kind of measure to reduce its emissions, it can use that form of consequential
carbon accounting to calculate the size of the reduction that it’s achieving
through the decisional or intervention that it’s taken. There are examples or circumstances in which seemingly beneficial actions have unintended consequences. And so one prime example of that is
bioenergy. On the face of it, it looks like an option that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But if you look at the system-wide consequences of
incentivising bioenergy, there are good reasons for thinking that actually it might increase system-wide emissions. So if we increase demand for bioenergy
and biomass, that increases the price of the commodities that are used in
delivering that bio energy and what we expect to see is that producers and
farmers around the world respond to commodity prices… if they see those
prices go up they’ll produce more. And one of the ways in which people produce
more is by converting potentially high carbon stock land to agricultural use. So if you include the emissions from the
land conversion in the assessment of the change caused by the bioenergy decision
or policy, then we can end up with circumstances in which bioenergy
actually increases rather than decreases system-wide emissions. And carbon
accounting is very important for identifying exactly those kinds of cases
so that we put our efforts into mitigation actions that do actually
achieve reductions. Government policies like the EU renewable energy directive is based on inventory type greenhouse gas accounting. And those types of methods don’t tell you about these system-wide
consequences. So the kind of research that we do looks at these issues and tries to make recommendations on how this carbon accounting practice can be
improved so that that misleading information doesn’t continue.

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