Learn: Net Zero

Baseline Emissions: What Are They & How To Calculate

Baseline emissions provide an essential benchmark for measuring the success of emissions reduction activity. Let’s take a closer look at baseline emissions and how to calculate them.

What are baseline emissions?

An emissions baseline is the reference point against which a business or country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be measured going forward. Baseline emissions are calculated by looking at a 'baseline emissions period', usually the past 1 - 5 years of an organisation’s activity. If no action is taken to reduce emissions, this is the level at which they can be expected to remain.

All countries that followed the emission reduction guidelines set out by the Kyoto Protocol were required to provide details of their national greenhouse gas emissions from 1990. This data provided a baseline for evaluating the success of future efforts to reduce emissions over designated periods.

Why are baseline emissions so important?

Baseline emissions are critical to measuring the success of a project to reduce GHG emissions and determine whether emission reduction targets are being met. Any change in the volume of greenhouse gases produced compared to the baseline during a specified reporting period can be used to calculate the net reduction in emissions for that period.

Measuring baseline emissions is an essential first step on the journey to becoming carbon neutral and, eventually, achieving net zero – which is critical to avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Only when you know your current emissions can you set accurate targets and create credible strategies for reducing them.

Baseline information is also necessary when countries or organisations collaborate to trade emissions to meet overall targets. For example, Canada’s Pilot Emission Reduction Trading (PERT) scheme requires baseline emissions data to be provided from the previous 5 years.

What about Australia?

The Australian government uses baseline emissions in its Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) as part of its ‘safeguard mechanism’, introduced in 2016. This mechanism ensures that emission reductions are not displaced by a rise in emissions elsewhere.  This applies to Australia’s largest emitters, all businesses with direct (scope 1) baseline emissions of 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalence (CO2e) a year are designated as ‘large facilities’.

Under the safeguard mechanism, the person or entity in control of the large facility must ensure that its net emissions do not exceed baseline levels during a monitored period. This is called an ‘excess emissions situation’ and must be avoided to ensure that carbon reductions purchased through the ERF are not cancelled out by rising emissions elsewhere.

To stay below baseline emissions, a business may use Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) to offset its emissions. Companies can also seek to amend their baseline emissions if they have made significant changes to their business – for example, expanded their facility – or apply for an exemption due to exceptional circumstances, such as a natural disaster.

If none of these applications are granted, and the facility fails to reduce its average emissions to below the baseline during a specified monitoring period, they face fines. However, some studies have found that industrial emissions have increased under the safeguard mechanism. Revamping this policy is central to the current Australian government’s plan to tackle climate change.

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Calculating baseline emissions

To calculate a business’s baseline emissions, you need to collect data from several sources and enter this into a sequence of equations. The emissions of interest are primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) but may also include carbon dioxide equivalent gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide.

You will need to provide accurate data for all aspects of the business, including electricity use, transport, staff work from home energy, supplier spend and waste processes for the previous 12 months. You may need to contact your energy provider and suppliers to collate historical information.

At Trace we have made this process seamless & delightful - we do all the hard work for you! If you don’t have some of this information to hand we have models and benchmarks to help you fill any gaps.

To give you some idea of how emissions are calculated, use the Trace carbon footprint calculator to work out your personal carbon footprint in just 30 seconds! If you are interested to learn more about calculating your business emissions, reach out to one of the Trace team.

Reducing your emissions

Once you’ve calculated your baseline emissions, you can put a plan in place for emissions reduction. Trace can help with this too! Depending on your industry, activities to reduce your emissions could include the following:

-   Switching to a renewable energy provider

-   Installing renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, on your buildings

-   Turning off lights and equipment at your premises overnight and on weekends

-   Upgrading your fleet of vehicles to electric

-   Holding meetings virtually to reduce travel emissions

Some of these activities require significant investment and will form part of a long-term strategy to reach net zero. However, in the short-term, Trace can help you achieve carbon-neutral status by purchasing and retiring carbon credits on your behalf to compensate for your baseline emissions.


What is baseline CO2?

Baseline CO2 is the amount of carbon dioxide a business or country emits before any activity to reduce its emissions. In other words, it is an inventory of all the business’s sources of CO2 emissions or their carbon footprint. This baseline is the level of CO2 against which future emissions will be compared to see whether an organisation is successfully reducing its CO2 emissions over time.

What is a baseline year?

A baseline year is a year in which an organisation or nation’s past greenhouse gas emissions are measured. The purpose is to provide a benchmark against which to judge the success of future emission-reduction projects. For example, the baseline year for participants in the Kyoto Protocol was 1990.

How do I calculate my baseline carbon emissions?

The easiest way to calculate your baseline carbon emissions is to partner with a credible organisation such as Trace to help you. Our experts have years of experience calculating emissions for small and medium-sized businesses and can make the process quicker and easier. Contact us today to get started on your emissions reduction journey!

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