carbon accounting

What Is Carbon Accounting?

Carbon accounting involves the measuring and management of carbon emissions in the fight against climate change. 

As part of a climate change career, carbon accounting has emerged as an essential skill in the battle against global warming… As a carbon accountant, you play a vital role in quantifying, tracking, and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. 

The job of a carbon accountant job involves articulating and presenting carbon emissions findings within an organization and or a government so that informed decisions may be made to implement effective strategies for reducing carbon footprints.

What Is Carbon Accounting?

As the world grapples with decarbonization, the field of carbon accounting has emerged as a crucial tool in the battle against global warming… 

This is because both voluntary and mandatory carbon reporting is increasingly common practice. 

By learning carbon accounting, you can play a vital role in quantifying, tracking, and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

What Does a Carbon Accountant Do?

A carbon accountant’s primary responsibility is to capture, measure and analyze carbon emissions data across different “scopes”. Scopes are broken down into three types and represent the breadth of where carbon emissions come from:

  • Scope 1 emissions: Direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by the organization, such as company vehicles or on-site fuel combustion. Other examples of scope 1 emissions include emissions from fuel combustion for heating or manufacturing processes, emissions from processes like cement or chemical production and emissions from “fugitive” releases, such as methane leaks.
  • Scope 2 emissions: Indirect emissions from purchased electricity, heat, or steam to run offices or factories, or emissions from any purchased, non-zero emissions energy.
  • Scope 3 emissions: Other indirect emissions from sources not owned by the organization, such as employee commuting, waste disposal, or emissions from suppliers and customers. Other examples of scope 3 emissions include emissions from business travel, emissions from the transport of purchased goods and/or raw materials, waste generated in operations and emissions from leased assets. Scope 3 emissions can also include emissions from third party transportation and distribution of products and even the emissions from recycling at the end of a product’s life.

Accounting for scope 1 emissions is a starting point, however, accounting for all three scopes is important for getting an accurate picture of an organization’s total carbon footprint across its value chain. This involves meticulously collecting data from various sources, using specialized software and methodologies to calculate the emissions in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e).

Beyond quantification, a carbon accountant may use data and graphical presentations to tell the story of carbon emissions… As a carbon accountant, you may also assist in developing emission reduction strategies across all three scopes, identifying opportunities for energy efficiency, purchasing carbon credits, sustainable procurement, and assessing the potential impact of various mitigation measures. 

They collaborate with teams across the organization to ensure emissions are effectively managed.

Are Greenhouse Gas Accounting Jobs In Demand Today?

Governments, businesses, and individuals alike are recognizing the need to take immediate action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. 

While carbon dioxide is only one of many greenhouse gases, carbon accounting plays a crucial role in this endeavor by providing the data and insights necessary to make informed decisions and measure progress towards sustainability goals.

Moreover, as regulatory frameworks and carbon pricing mechanisms continue to evolve, accurate carbon accounting has become essential for organizations to comply with reporting requirements and participate in carbon markets effectively. 

Companies that fail to accurately measure and manage their emissions risk facing financial penalties, reputational damage, and potential operational disruptions.

Is Carbon Emissions Accounting Mandatory?

In addition to voluntary carbon accounting efforts by organizations, an increasing number of mandatory regulations and laws requiring emissions measurement, reporting, and reduction are being implemented.

This is further fueling demand for carbon accounting expertise:

  • Carbon Pricing and Trading Schemes: Many jurisdictions have implemented carbon pricing mechanisms like cap-and-trade systems or carbon taxes. This creates a compliance need for accurate emissions data. Examples include the EU Emissions Trading System, California’s Cap-and-Trade Program, and China’s national Emissions Trading Scheme.
  • Corporate Disclosure Requirements: Laws are emerging that require large companies to disclose their climate risks and greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, in the U.S., the state of California recently enacted SB 253 and SB 261 which require disclosure of Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and public reporting by companies that generate revenue above a certain threshold.1 The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also recently adopted new climate disclosure rules for public companies under SEC jurisdiction. The United Kingdom has mandated climate risk reporting aligned with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).
  • National/Regional Carbon Accounting: The Paris Agreement requires countries to report their overall emissions inventories. This has prompted development of robust national carbon accounting systems in cooperation with the UNFCCC. The EU also has binding emissions reporting requirements for member states.
  • Sector-Specific Regulations: Certain carbon-intensive industries like aviation, shipping, oil/gas, and manufacturing face tailored emissions reporting rules. For example, EU companies must monitor and report emissions from aviation activities.

As these mandatory carbon accounting needs expand, they are driving demand for corporate carbon accountants, government emissions experts, auditors, consultants and other climate disclosure professionals. Carbon accounting skills are becoming essential for environmental compliance, risk management and participation in carbon markets across the private and public sectors.

Carbon Accounting Jobs

The field of carbon accounting offers a diverse range of career opportunities for those interested in contributing to the fight against climate change. 

Here are some examples of jobs in this field:

  1. Corporate Carbon Accountant: Large corporations and multinationals often employ dedicated carbon accountants to quantify their emissions, develop reduction strategies, and ensure compliance with environmental regulations.
  2. Sustainability Consultant: Consulting firms specializing in sustainability and environmental management frequently hire carbon accounting experts to advise clients on emission measurement, reporting, and mitigation strategies.
  3. Government Carbon Analyst: Local, state, and national governments employ carbon analysts to track and report on jurisdictional emissions, develop climate action plans, and evaluate the impact of policies and programs.
  4. Carbon Auditor: Independent auditors are responsible for verifying the accuracy and completeness of carbon accounting data, ensuring transparency and credibility in emissions reporting.
  5. Carbon Project Developer: These professionals work on developing and implementing carbon offset projects, such as reforestation initiatives or renewable energy projects, which generate carbon credits that can be traded in carbon markets.

As the global transition towards a low-carbon economy continues to accelerate, the demand for skilled carbon accounting professionals is expected to rise. By pursuing a career in this field, individuals can play a direct role in shaping a more sustainable future while contributing to the development of effective climate change mitigation strategies.

Footnotes

  1. A lawsuit has been filed against the California Air Resources Board (aka "CARB"), the organization that pushed for SB 253 and SB 261 to be passed. The lawsuit claims that the climate disclosure rules violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.