What are scope 3 emissions? And why do consumer products have embodied carbon?
Let’s start with the second question, which will help us answer the first one.
For every item that is brought into the ACT, greenhouse gas emissions are produced. This is because of the extensive number of steps in production chains.
As an example, this infographic follows the hypothetical production journey of a t-shirt bought online by a Canberran. Here you can see that the associated greenhouse gas emissions are all ‘scope 3 emissions’, apart from the small proportion involved once the t-shirt enters the ACT.
Even if most of the production steps occurred in a single country, every step would occur in a different location, requiring emission-producing transportation and warehouse storage between destinations. Every time a machine is involved energy is required, and this energy is typically produced from fossil fuels.
But what are scope 3 emissions? Let’s break it down.
When we talk about emissions, we mean the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) released in association with an activity. UNFCCC defines greenhouse gases as:
The atmospheric gases responsible for causing global warming and climate change. The major GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). Less prevalent –but very powerful — greenhouse gases are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).
The different scopes classify where these emissions are coming from.
Scope 1: Emissions released inside the city as a result of activities occurring in it.
Scope 2: Any emissions released in the city from the use of grid-supplied electricity and energy purchased to be used inside the city.
Scope 3: Emissions released outside the city as a result of activities occurring inside its boundaries.
This infographic gives examples of the activities and products associated with each scope.
Why is the ACT looking at scope 3 at all?
In May 2019 the ACT government declared a climate emergency, recognising the importance of government leadership and the urgency of action required to limit the severe effects of climate change.
The ACT Government is a global leader on climate action, committed to ambitious emissions reductions targets, such as net zero emissions by 2045, as well as being the first jurisdiction in Australia to reach 100% renewable energy in 2020. This means we’ve reduced scope 2 emissions to zero.
Since this turning point in 2020, emissions reduction strategies have focused on scope 1 emissions, but as our Investigation shows, scope 3 emissions are equal to almost 94%. We now need to address scope 3, as well as scope 1.
The ACT Government now has the opportunity to continue its leadership on climate action by setting new ambitions, and starting to measure and reduce its scope 3 emissions.