GHG accounting news you can use

Released in June, it was a summer splash, full of energy, lavish attention to detail, and thought-provoking insights. No, not the Barbie movie. We’re talking about the UK Government greenhouse gas reporting: conversion factors 2023.

The conversion factors are published in handy spreadsheet form by the UK Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, formerly known as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Still known as the ‘Defra factors’ — which perhaps rolls more easily off the tongue than the ‘DefESaNZ factors’ — these are the conversion factors widely used by organisations in the UK to calculate carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions associated with various business activities.

The factors are updated annually to reflect the latest available research, statistical and survey data and methods for estimating greenhouse gas emissions. So what’s new in 2023? Here are some of the more interesting and significant changes in this year’s factors.

Electricity emissions are up

Emissions from electricity have increased seven per cent over the previous year due to an increase in natural gas usage and a decrease in renewable energy sourcing for the national grid. Hopefully this is a temporary blip in what has generally been steady progress to a cleaner UK grid thanks to strong adoption of wind farm energy and other renewables.

Refrigerant emissions are up too

The global warming potentials (GWPs) of the six greenhouse gases have been updated, aligning to figures from the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) where available. Most values have increased, underlining the importance of improving research into these high-impact gases, phasing out the most harmful, switching to lower or zero GWP cooling alternatives and, on a practical level, improving maintenance to contain leakages, also known as fugitive emissions.

Road transport emissions are mixed

The emissions factors for road transport have been updated to reflect the latest data from the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI), which shows a modest decrease in the average fuel consumption and emission rates of vehicles due to improved load efficiency and newer vehicles with lower emissions. (ULEZ, anyone?) Reduced road transport emissions are in turn reflected through a range of other emissions categories from freight to waste to well-to-tank (WTT) as all are based to a degree on road transport. Short version: cleaner vehicles and efficient loading are making a welcome difference.

Emissions from electric vehicles are, unfortunately, up due in part to more fossil fuel energy in the electric grid mix and in part from the impact of some newly registered electric vans and large vehicles that are heavier and more energy-intensive than previously. This suggests that swapping internal combustion for electric engines is good, but without considering overall impacts of the vehicle and how the energy is produced, it’s not necessarily moving the needle down on overall emissions.  

Air transport emissions are up, but perhaps not for the reason you think

The emission factors for air travel have been updated to reflect the latest data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which indicates significantly reduced passenger loads due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s true that fewer planes were flying, but more importantly they were flying half empty. If you’ve been to the airport recently, you may have gathered this is no longer the case in 2023. While the air transport industry has some of the most difficult challenges ahead to reach net zero, maximising passenger numbers helps. So, if you must fly, a cramped seat in economy with minimal luggage is probably the best way to go.  

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