Carbon Accounting. Net Zero. Baselines.

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30 Apr 2021 Reading Time: 3

Carbon accounting. Net zero. Baselines. The lexicon of measuring and managing greenhouse gas emissions might not come naturally to most of us. But these issues matter; they really, really matter. And they don’t just matter to governments and campaigners. They matter to companies and increasingly to consumers too. Land managers are also coming to realise that they don’t just affect how individuals and society talk about farming. They are also going to influence how society invests in farming and land management. They will soon have a significant bearing on the finances of farming families and business.

Whilst management consultants may no longer hold sacred the maxim that “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”, this remains a cornerstone of climate policy. That is why understanding as accurately as possible what starting (baseline) emissions are, and measuring again later to quantify progress, is fundamental to the effort to tackle climate change. The farmer, processor or retailer understands the footprint of their own activities and produce and is then incentivised, encouraged or required to improve. The climate scientists understand the sectoral, regional, national or global picture better and can improve their projections. And governments and global institutions can be more confident in making political and financial investments.

Of course, if the rules and means of measurement aren’t robust, then this entire process loses credibility and value. That is why there are globally agreed rules on how emissions are apportioned, and a raft of standards (some old, many emerging) on how calculations should be made. The point at which all this abstract complexity meets reality is often in a carbon calculator. These tools need to capture data about the real world – perhaps the operations of a farm – and find a means to translate this into kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent and other such measures. It is no easy task, with the crux often being the tension between creating a tool that is easy to use, and one which generates credible results and useful recommendations.

In the early days of farm carbon calculators, the focus was on simple ‘tick box’ tools to fulfil marketing requirements. They were certainly easy to use: their value however was deeply questionable. In 2007, SAC Consulting and SRUC were prompted to start developing an independent and evidence-based carbon calculator after questioning the climate friendly credentials of imported lamb. It was decided that a priority for this new tool, eventually named Agrecalc, be that it provide data that was robust enough it could be used for research and government purposes, but at the same time be user-friendly enough that consultants and farmers – with a bit of practice – could get to grips with it and get value from it.

In the years since, it has gone through various iterations and facelifts, but 2021 will see perhaps the biggest changes of all, with an entirely new and intuitive user interface, and the ability to create and compare scenarios and test the effect of proposals. Able to identify and measure the main sources of carbon emissions, monitor improvements, and benchmark key performance indicators for agricultural production systems, it has been built from the ground up to capture whole farm, enterprise, product performance, and carbon emissions for all main UK farm enterprises. No other tool does this, which is one of the reasons why some 8,000 businesses now use Agrecalc.

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