The past two days, my former colleagues at the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative (GHG Protocol) at the World Resources Institute (WRI)  invited me back to participate in the First International Workshop of GHG Programs.  This workshop convened representatives from voluntary GHG accounting and reporting programs from all over the world, from both developed countries like the U.S., Europe, and Japan and developing countries, including China, India, Brazil, and Mexico.  For the first time, program managers, government representatives, consultants, and NGOs had an opportunity to exchange experiences and lessons learned, while providing recommendations for where WRI and its long-time partner, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), should take the GHG Protocol next.

Having worked at WRI during the very early stages of the GHG Protocol’s developing country programs, when the Mexico GHG Program was just finishing its pilot phase and we were initiating programs in the Philippines, India, China and Brazil (yes, I got to do loads of traveling, despite our commitment to climate change mitigation), the workshop was an exciting opportunity to finally bring everyone together in one room and to see how far these programs have come.

For most people who have no idea what GHG accounting is or why these registry programs are significant, trust me, you are not alone (I could be entirely self-aggrandizing and point you to a publication my colleagues and I wrote about such a topic).  Despite multiple attempts to describe this work to my parents, I think they still refer to the years I worked at WRI as “the lost years” when they simply told their friends I worked for Al Gore (only a half-truth, as Al Gore indeed sits on WRI’s Board of Directors). But I digress.

First, sound climate policy relies on sound knowledge and information. As the oft-quoted mantra suggests, you can’t manage what you don’t measure; and you can’t manage well what you don’t measure well.  Through multi-stakeholder processes and partnerships over the last decade, the GHG Protocol has provided standards and tools for companies and organizations to measure (e.g. account) their greenhouse gas emissions.  As a result, most GHG accounting and reporting programs (or registries), emissions trading schemes, and offset programs use it. It is absolutely critical that these methods are standardized and harmonized, so we know that one ton of carbon measured from one company or organization means the same thing as another ton of carbon from another, even if it’s located in another country.

Second, many of these programs occur in non-Annex I countries, which have no reduction obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.  In some cases, these programs occur in countries that lack national climate policies (such as The Climate Registry, in the U.S.).  Business participation in these programs means that companies are realizing that eventual regulation is imminent, and getting an early start will allow for baseline protection and bolster their CSR image amongst stakeholders.  The information reported through these registries can then act as ground-truths for national government inventories, and perhaps also help developing countries demonstrate measurable, reportable, and verifiable (MRV) actions toward climate change mitigation.  In some cases, as in the Mexico GHG Program, the voluntary program has been so successful, that the Mexican government announced in 2007 that it would adopt it as the basis for its climate mitigation strategy.

Some of the recommendations and themes that emerged from the two-day discussion:
There is a need for more information, particularly regarding emission factors in developing countries.  With supply chains becoming increasingly globalized, a company’s operations are seldom geographically isolated.  A centralized source or database of emissions factors (other than those provided by the IPCC) would be hugely beneficial for programs, particularly in developing countries.

More capacity on GHG accounting is needed, across the board.  GHG accounting is very specialized and limited to a very small segment of professionals (most of whom were at WRI the last two days).  Although there is a push to increase this population (check out the GHG Management Institute), it’s still costly to train people within a company or to hire an outside consultant to do the work.  Particularly in developing countries that are home to many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), capacity is a huge obstacle to multinational companies like Wal-mart who are now asking their suppliers to provide GHG information (good luck in that endeavor, Wal-mart).

I‘ve counted my carbon, now what? This is what companies are now asking after they’ve established their baseline emissions and gone through the process of identifying their emission sources.  But this is where the GHG Protocol currently stops. There aren’t enough guidelines or recommendations to assist companies who want to reduce their carbon footprints and actually take the next step in managing their emissions.  Toward this aim, the GHG Protocol has developed new standards that allow for companies to more fully measure GHG emissions throughout their supply chains (from cradle to grave) and within product life-cycles.  However, perhaps more general guidelines for management (e.g. renewable alternatives, offset projects, etc.) can be made.

I’ve probably succeeded in providing you with way more information than you ever wanted to know about GHG accounting and reporting programs.  But, because they were so nice to invite me and pay for my travel, I thought the least I could do was to write a blog entry to share what I learned and what my take-away from it is.  In the end, I think the most valuable aspect of the workshop was the chance for people to just meet and to talk to people (in my case, catching up with partners I haven’t seen in a few years, since I was last in their respective countries), but isn’t this true of most workshops?