Over the last 150 years, human activities have increased the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. We look at the issues surrounding GHGs and consider how businesses could approach reducing their emissions.
Greenhouse gases absorb and emit radiant energy within the thermal infrared range. In simple terms, they trap heat and make the planet warmer, thereby making the Earth an inhabitable place. Without GHGs, the average temperature on the surface of the planet would be around −18 °C, rather than the current 15 °C.
Several different gases, both naturally occurring and human-made, are characterized as GHGs. These include water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and ozone (O3).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an independent group consisting of roughly 1,300 scientific experts under the auspices of the United Nations, has concluded with 95% certainty that human activities are the cause of rising temperatures on the planet over the last 50 years. They determined that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide were the primary cause. Looking over a longer time period, since the Industrial Revolution (c1750), the planet has experienced a 45% increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – from 280 ppm in 1750 to 415 ppm in 2019.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) states that the primary sources of this pollution are transportation (28.2%), electricity production (26.9%), industry (22%), commercial and residential (12.3%), agriculture 9.9%), and land-use and forestry (11.6%). The last category is interesting because it also acts as a carbon sink, removing more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits.
Fueled by human-made GHG emissions, global warming is altering the planet’s climate systems in multiple ways. It is causing more frequent and/or more intense extreme weather events – heatwaves, hurricanes, droughts, and floods. It is also exacerbating precipitation extremes, leaving wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.
The Earth is also experiencing rising sea levels, as glaciers and sea ice melts and ocean temperatures increase (warm water expansion). It has altered ecosystems and natural habitats, shifted geographical ranges, changed seasonal activities and migration patterns, and impacted the abundance of land, freshwater and marine species.
In December 2015, 196 countries agreed to the Paris Agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There are currently 187 states and the EU, representing about 79% of GHG emissions, have ratified or acceded to the Agreement. The Paris Agreement aims at reducing global GHG emissions by enough to prevent the planet warming by more than two degrees Celsius.
One of the main problems in terms of the proliferation of GHG emissions is the increasing length and complexity of supply chains. The supply chain for a typical consumer packaged goods (CPG) company creates far greater social and environmental costs than its own operations. It is estimated that supply chains account for over 80% of GHG emissions and more than 90% of the impact on air, land, water, biodiversity, and geological resources.
To meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, while still increasing sales at the projected rate of 5.3% per year, CPG companies need to lower their carbon intensity – the amount of GHG emitted per unit of output – by more than 90% between 2015 and 2050.
There can be no single answer to achieving this goal. To successfully meet this goal, CPG companies must adopt multiple strategies, including greater energy efficiency, more consumption of renewable energy, better supply chain efficiency, waste reductions and diversion strategies, reductions in methane emissions, and increased fuel efficiency throughout the value chain.
On a global scale, these approaches must be adopted by companies in all industrial sectors; and the challenge is being accepted. For example, one U.S. oil company has recently set a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. In addition, it has significantly strengthened its GHG intensity targets between 5% and 15% to between 35% and 45% in the next decade.
Global industry is rising to the challenge of reducing GHG emissions and one area where this can be achieved is by improving efficiency in their supply chains. The complexity of international trade means there can be no single route to success but, with the right will, there are proven strategies and standards that can help companies achieve their goal.
SGS offers a comprehensive range of services to help businesses in all industries reduce their GHG emissions and improve their carbon footprint. Services include compliance verification under our ISO 14064 accreditation and GHG emissions inventories and product verification against a variety of internationally accepted standards. In addition, we can also help businesses verify and reduce their carbon footprint.
Our global network of industry experts can also help with compliance against ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems, and we can provide auditor training in relation to ISO 14064 Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Verification.
Learn more about SGS Greenhouse Gas Emissions Solutions.
Learn about SGS ISO 14001 services.
Learn about SGS ISO 14064 Auditor Training.