When a company pledges to cut its carbon emissions, how big a deal is it? That depends on what’s being counted. An oil company’s direct emissions – those from its trucks, drills and facilities – are only a sliver of the carbon released when the fuel it sells is burned. When Chevron Corp.’s shareholders bucked management and passed a proposal to reduce emissions broadly, the nub of the conflict was what “scope” to apply.
Counting emissions isn’t as simple as tracking what comes out of a smokestack. Under what’s known as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Standard, emissions are classed as Scope 1, 2 or 3. Scope 1 covers “direct emissions” – those from sources that are owned or controlled by a company, like those oil company trucks. Scope 2 covers emissions from the generation of energy the company buys, such as electricity or heat. Scope 3 is everything else: the emissions that come from the entire value chain.