Debunking seven myths about scope 3 emissions

clock • 6 min read
Debunking seven myths about scope 3 emissions

Thomas Höhne-Sparborth describes seven key misconceptions he believes may have confused the market

In the same way that firms' financial reports are subject to strict accounting rules and procedures, so too are companies' greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, there is only one global standard for GHG emissions reporting (The Greenhouse Gas Protocol)1

Misconception 1: Scope 1 and 2 emissions are comprehensive enough

Many investors still focus primarily on scope 1 and 2 emissions, believing this provides a reasonable insight into most firms' carbon footprints. However, for key industries (e.g. oil, gas and automotive sectors) and all major sectors, excluding utilities, scope 3 are the dominant type of emissions. Therefore, if investors do not take scope 3 emissions into account, they fail to capture a firm's full GHG profile.

Misconception 2: Scope 1 and 2 emissions are more important due to corporate control

This view can be challenged on three accounts: 

• First, firms have significant influence over their supply chains and can engage suppliers to reduce emissions. 

• Second, companies can directly reduce their supply-chain emissions by transitioning to less carbon-intensive business models. 

• Third, even where a firm's ability to influence scope 3 emissions may be limited, the company's exposure to these emissions still creates significant transitional risks - driven by regulatory and market forces. 

Misconception 3: There is insufficient data to meaningfully assess scope 3 emissions

In 2010, less than 3,000 companies disclosed information to the Carbon Disclosure Project, but as of 2020 this had grown to over 9,500. While a smaller number of these disclose scope 3 data, this proportion has also grown. Furthermore, what is often overlooked is that scope 3 emissions can often be assessed even if they are not reported. 

Misconception 4: Emissions double-counting occurs within portfolios

If an investor holds an oil and gas and a transport company in the same portfolio, would the oil and gas company not be reporting emissions that are also already counted by the transport company? We believe not - these issues are often misrepresented in overly stylised examples that fail to recognise that it would be unusual for more than a small share of a company's suppliers to feature in the same portfolio.

Misconception 5: Double-counting is undesirable and should be adjusted for 

While addressing misconception #4, we recognise that a significant amount of double counting does occur. But, the question frequently forgotten is: whether such double counting is in fact undesirable? We argue that although emissions are double-counted across a value chain, carbon risks also reverberate through supply chains.  

Misconception 6: As data are still improving, it makes sense to defer scope 3 analysis

Given the misunderstandings about scope 3 analysis, some investors are taking a cautious approach. At best, they are investigating indirect emissions in a handful of sectors only. We believe that delaying scope 3 analysis across the economy will result in significant turnover in investors' portfolios.

Misconception 7: High scope 3 emissions disqualify companies from a climate-aligned portfolio

Including scope 3 emissions in investment analysis improves the accuracy of carbon-risk assessments in portfolios, but does not mean that high-emitting companies should necessarily be excluded. Carbon-intensive industrial sectors are often not only essential to the economy, but are also among the most important in the net-zero transition. 

The right question is therefore not whether a company is emissions intensive today, but whether it is transitioning quickly enough to meet Paris Agreement-aligned decarbonisation objectives. 

This forward-looking assessment requires genuine carbon expertise, including new assessment capabilities such as implied temperature rise (ITR) metrics, which Lombard Odier already offers.

Thomas Höhne-Sparborth, PhD, is head of Sustainability Research at Lombard Odier Investment Managers

 

1 We set the standards to measure and manage emissions / https://ghgprotocol.org/ 

 

Disclaimer: This forward-looking assessment requires genuine carbon expertise, including new assessment capabilities such as implied temperature rise (ITR) metrics, which Lombard Odier already offers.

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