Friday, 21 September 2012

Mandatory Carbon Reporting: What's the Big Deal?

There are just 26 days left before the 17 October  close of Defra's Mandatory Carbon Reporting consultation.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the formal requirements are not particularly detailed. Many of the biggest companies are already reporting their greenhouse gas emissions via the Carbon Disclosure Project and what is more, Mandatory Carbon Reporting, unlike the EU ETS and CRC, does not attempt to put a price on carbon or mandate reductions.

So why would Defra go through all the trouble?

In a phrase, climate change. The British Government made history with its 5-year carbon budgets, which established a path to an 80% emissions reduction target by 2050.

The most powerful tool in the Government's current arsenal is the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Participating installations are responsible for approximately 48% of the country's emissions, but the low carbon price reduces incentives to invest in longer term reduction measures.  Similarly, the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC-EE) targets firms responsible for 10% of the country's emissions but energy represents on average 3% of these company's costs.  For these companies, the £12 carbon price in the CRC is rarely enough to justify massive energy reduction investments.

Note that the EU ETS and CRC schemes combined do not cover 58% of the UK footprint due to double counting. Most of the large companies covered by the CRC purchase energy from ETS compliant utilities. The ETS works to drive supply side reductions while the CRC drives demand side reductions.  The problem is that those reductions aren't coming fast enough.

Mandatory Carbon Reporting gives the Government a third arrow for its quiver. According to the latest CDP report, the subset of FTSE 350 companies that voluntarily report their emissions had a combined Scope 1 and 2 footprint of over 487 million tonnes CO2e for their worldwide operations. This is remarkably close to the UK's national carbon footprint total of 470 million tonnes CO2e.  Broadening this to the 1,000 or more firms covered under Mandatory Carbon Reporting would give a combined footprint considerably larger than the entire country. The emissions covered under Mandatory Carbon Reporting, then, are potentially several times larger than any other carbon reporting measure in the Government's arsenal.

Here's where it gets interesting. Defra's Impact Assessment for the draft Mandatory Carbon Reporting consultation estimates that firms will achieve a 4% emissions reduction simply by improving their footprint reporting.  In other words, they assume that forcing the Board and investors to pay attention to the company's footprint will lead to carbon savings, without requiring carbon caps, taxes, or mandated technology measures.  Of course, not all of those global emission reductions can be counted against the UK's carbon budget, but with so many of the largest emitters covered under Mandatory Carbon Reporting, these "easy" reductions will make a material contribution to Government carbon saving efforts.

In addition, the current reporting proposal is only the first step. In 2015 Defra will review the programme with an eye to broadening it to cover every large company in the UK, public and private.
 And should the need arise for a cap and trade system or carbon tax covering these companies at some point in the future, Defra will already have their emissions data at the ready.

Even though Mandatory Carbon Reporting looks like business as usual at first blush, its wide net makes it a very big deal indeed.