Webinar blog: The Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool updates and scope 3 emissions

Over 180 people attended a webinar by Local Partnerships and the LGA to introduce some new guidance on Scope 3 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and the latest updates to the free-to-use Local Partnerships/LGA Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool.

Introducing the session was Councillor Andrew Cooper, who is a member of the LGA Improvement and Innovation Board’s Climate Change Working Group and a member at Kirklees Council. Andrew noted how popular the Tool had been with local authorities since its launch in 2020, and said that user feedback had led to updates that were going to be discussed today.

Jo Wall was next to speak. Jo is a Strategic Director at Local Partnerships, and she started by saying how pleased she was that over 250 councils have now downloaded the free-to-use Tool. At least 25 per cent of councils now adopt it as their standard, and that statistic was recorded before London Councils backed the tool (more from them later). Jo finished her section by reminding attendees that Local Partnerships had recently published a free-to-use Climate Adaptation toolkit which helps councils in considering how they will adapt to climate change.

The best way for attendees to understand how the GHG Accounting Tool works was to hear from someone who has used it in practice. Mark Bramah is the Climate Change and Sustainability Project Manager at Rochdale Borough Council, one of ten unitary authorities in the Greater Manchester region. Rochdale’s climate change strategy was signed off in March 2022, aligning their targets with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to be carbon neutral by 2038. The council uses the Local Partnerships/LGA Tool to report on GHG emissions on an annual basis. They need to reduce the borough’s emissions of 8.22MtCO2 by 13.1% per year to get to net zero by 2038. Mark said that the Tool is very straightforward and easy to use and provides helpful guidance to local authorities on how to complete the returns.  Councils can set what is in scope, and what is excluded and why. The most problematic issue is compiling and collecting the data. Rochdale has been focused on Scope 1 and 2 emissions so far which are estimated at roughly 7 per cent of their emissions. They are now starting to look at Scope 3 emissions which is a significantly larger task.

Mark said that one of the advantages of the Tool is that data can be backdated. Another one is that councils can benchmark against other submissions through LG Inform and learn from best practice within the local government family. The Tool provides a coherent and reliable basis for reporting that is consistent with the GHG Protocol. Mark shared a summary of the data for Rochdale for 2019/20 and 2020/21 which showed that most of their emissions were from heating and electricity usage.

The Council has received a number of FOI requests linked to this topic, so it pays to be on top of this information. They have created a reporting dashboard which helps them identify what they need to focus on. Rochdale did not include their leisure centres in the first two years returns despite the fact that they represent a significant proportion of the overall energy used by the council. This is because the centres are operated by a Leisure Trust who have separate arrangements for utility contracts and were unable to provide data for the first returns. Council members now want to include the energy usage in these leisure centres in future GHG reporting.

Another result of using the Tool is that the council found that in relation to staff business travel, the council only collects data by engine size. They are now looking to change their staff expenses form to enable them to find more information on the type of vehicle used.

Rochdale decided not to include highways maintenance in their scope 3 outsourced services reporting as they are in the final year of a contract with an outsourced service provider. They will start to account for this again when the service comes back in-house from April 2022. 

Rachel Toresen-Owuor, a Programme Director at Local Partnerships, was next to speak.  She started by noting that the Tool was originally launched with the aim of trying to standardise GHG reporting in the local government sector, and to provide for some meaningful benchmarking of data. Rachel said that Local Partnerships engaged with CDP and BEIS in producing the Tool. User feedback for the Tool has been very useful, and councils are asked to keep letting Local Partnerships know how it could be improved, in order that it stays relevant and useful. The GHG Frequently Asked Questions supporting the Tool have had an overhaul, and are now aligned to the reporting scopes. 

Rachel said that it is very useful when councils submit completed spreadsheets to LG Inform for benchmarking. It is not about producing a league table of councils or knowing who is doing best or worst, it is about understanding reporting boundaries, the aspects that people are finding difficult, and areas that need updating. There will be another update to the Tool in July when the latest emissions factors are published by BEIS.

The new Scope 3 guidance is for councils just starting their Scope 3 reporting and for those further along on the journey. It is primarily for carbon/sustainability officers, procurement officers and commissioners, although a wider group of colleagues will need to be consulted.  So why should local authorities report on Scope 3? Firstly, councils can provide leadership in this area. Emissions “hot spots” can be identified, and reduction opportunities can be found in outsourcing options, procurements, etc. Rachel noted that there is an increasing demand for Scope 3 emissions to be reported. She mentioned the PPN that was published in June 2021.  This requires central government departments to require that bidders for contracts over £5m per annum have a carbon reduction plan in place committing to achieve net zero by 2050 at the earliest.

Councils should approach the task of Scope 3 reporting in a focused manner. They should take a wide but shallow approach to reporting, identifying what is most relevant. If a huge list is created, councils will not be able to act on everything. Important issues to consider are the size of the emissions, and how much influence the council has over the source of the emissions. The Tool only deals with “own operations” of the councils, i.e. “area wide” emissions are not covered. The SCATTER tool can be used to report on these emissions.

Over the last 12 months Local Partnerships has worked with a number of local authorities to help them focus on what they should be reporting on with Scope 3. Local Partnerships has also worked with London Councils regarding waste emissions and the specific issues to consider in this field.  

This provided a good link to introduce Katharina Winbeck, the Strategic Lead for Transport and Environment at London Councils. Katharina summarised the London Councils approach to GHG accounting. There are seven strands to their climate change programme:

  1. Retrofit programme
  2. Low Carbon Development
  3. Low Carbon Transport
  4. Renewable Power for London
  5. One World Living
  6. Building the Green Economy
  7. Resilient and Green London

London Councils recently published action plans for all but one of the above programmes.  They put together an Emissions Accounting Task and Finish Group established in March 2021 to develop new methodologies for GHG accounting. They split the accounting into borough-wide emissions and council operations emissions. For the former they use London Energy Greenhouse Gas Inventory for Scopes 1 and 2 and also look at consumption-based emissions accounting. For council operations emissions, the London Councils use the Local Partnerships/LGA tool. 

The session then moved into Question and Answer, and a number of interesting discussions took place regarding issues such as the best way to account for emissions when staff are working from home, and the best way of gathering data from suppliers. Local Partnerships will update the FAQ to include answers to the questions asked in this session which could not be answered on the day.