The government has today published its long-awaited new guidance on how organisations should measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions.
The guidelines are meant to clarify how the government expects businesses and public sector bodies to report their carbon footprint in accordance with forthcoming carbon regulations, while also tackling the confusion created by a proliferation of competing carbon reporting standards.
According to a report issued in by the CBI, there are currently six different voluntary standards that businesses can use to report their greenhouse gas emissions, making worthwhile comparisons between different organisations extremely difficult.
Environment minister Joan Ruddock said that the new guidelines would help firms take the first step towards delivering cuts in emissions. "Measuring emissions is fundamental to our understanding of climate change and a vital first step towards managing carbon impacts," she said. "This guidance will enable organisations to identify their emissions and work towards reducing them saving energy and money."
The guidance also provides an official definition of "carbon neutral" and provides recommendations on how to set and meet reduction targets through a three stage process of calculating, reducing and offsetting emissions.
The government guidelines are largely based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, an international standard for corporate accounting and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Under the new guidance businesses should measure all their direct emissions from electricity and vehicle use as well as purchased fuels, staff commuting and waste disposal.
Businesses are currently not required to report on their total carbon footprint, however a significant number will have to report some part of their emissions under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) or the UK's forthcoming Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), while the government is currently considering making reporting mandatory for all businesses from 2012.
Neil Bentley, CBI director of business environment, welcomed the attempt to end the confusion created by numerous different reporting standards, but argued that more clarification was needed on the extent to which the guidance will have to be followed under the ETS and the CRC.
"To avoid confusion, the Government needs to ensure businesses understand how this latest guidance will fit in with other low-carbon reporting regulations," he said.
His comments were echoed by Gareth Stace, head of climate & environment policy at manufacturers' trade group EEF who warned that organisations may not take the guidelines seriously until it is clear whether or not they will form the basis of mandatory regulations.
"We are concerned that organisations may remain dissuaded from taking action until government clarifies its position on whether it will introduce mandatory company reporting of GHG by 2012," he said. "Until firms see clear benefits from taking action now rather than later, this guidance will be lost in the myriad of the over crowded, over complex and over lapping climate change policy landscape. "
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