How do we move beyond just accounting for carbon?

February 9, 2011, by Michael Gillenwater

At the Institute, we are constructing the intellectual and other infrastructure needed to grow a global professional community of climate change professionals. Later this month we are proudly introducing the latest component of this infrastructure: a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. The title of this new journal, as you have hopefully heard by now (if not from us, then perhaps on the BBC), is Greenhouse Gas Measurement & Management. This title is our way of simplifying down to two concise terms the scope of our professional field.

I think we all understand the meaning of the first term: measurement. We refer to this work by a variety of names, including greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting, or monitoring, or inventorying, along with its concomitant auditing, validation, and verification. Most of us have a sense of what this kind of work looks like. Fundamentally, it is about developing the metrics upon which policies and measures at all levels (e.g., corporate, governmental, and international) are based. And so the scope also includes metrics beyond just emissions data, such as financial metrics, climate change impact metrics, etc. Policies without hard metrics are little more than unverifiable aspirations. When we at the Institute make reference to “GHG professionals,” we are referring to the people that policymakers and other stakeholders will trust to generate these metrics.

But what about management? Admittedly, this term is ambiguous. By it, we mean the work related to using metrics to manage the problem of both greenhouse gas emissions and the broader issue of climate change. Again, you cannot manage what you do not measure. A key aspect of managing this problem will be emissions mitigation. How do you decide what to manage and how to manage it? This is the topic of mitigation analysis.

As you probably know, the Institute is the global leader in training curriculum on GHG measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) issues. We have many courses available, and more on the way. We also support many of the most important GHG programs in the world such as the Kyoto Protocol. But what about training on GHG management, or more specifically on mitigation analysis? At this point in time, the Institute does not have any courses focused on management, versus measurement. However, it has been the focus of the Institute’s strategic plan from its founding to develop curriculum on mitigation analysis and implementation. It’s what we call Phase 2.

Over the last couple of years, we have done some research in preparation for Phase 2. In doing so we have been shaken to find that no rigorous guidance or educational materials appear to exist in the public domain on GHG mitigation analysis at the sub-national level. Apparently, we have all spent years talking about emissions accounting, while mostly ignoring what you then do with the emissions data we collect.

Well, it is our intention to be a trailblazer once again and take an important step towards getting serious about carbon management. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. EPA, the Institute will be developing a new general course on GHG emissions mitigation analysis. The unique attributes of this course are that: 1) it will be applicable to facility and organization managers; and 2) it will provide a framework for analysis that is explicitly driven by GHG accounting data.

We are excited about this new path-breaking course: Our first GHG management focused course. The planned launch for the course is the end of 2011. We see it as just the first step of a broader initiative to expand the focus of the entire expert community beyond measurement issues. To do so, though, we need more established and rigorous frameworks and guidance on what it means to actively manage GHG emissions.

We welcome your input to this initiative and will be engaging in a stakeholder outreach process as part of our work under the grant. Please contact us at if you are interested.

2 responses to “How do we move beyond just accounting for carbon?”

  1. Gail Hamel-Smith says:

    I totally agree with the direction that the institute is taking because I have been into many government agencies and private companies and after completing an inventory, there seems to be a “lull” so to speak, as both client and myself wonder…… where do we go from here and what do we do with the inventory, especially when there are no policies or regulations in place to guide them. I also think that GHG professionals will be better equipped to deal with government and large corporations if they are trained in mitigation analysis. I look forward to phase 2 of GHG management.

  2. Michael Gillenwater says:

    Thanks Gail. Yes the inventory should be seen as a means to an end. Not an end itself. We all need to think more about what metrics we need and how to use them.

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