The attributional-consequential distinction and its applicability to corporate carbon accounting

Matthew Brander, Francisco Ascui

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

Methods of carbon accounting have developed in a number of semi-isolated fields of practice, such as national inventory accounting, corporate carbon accounting, project level accounting, and product life cycle assessment, and there appears to be considerable potential for learning across these different fields. One methodological distinction that has emerged within the field of life cycle assessment (LCA), and which has been highly useful there, is that between attributional and consequential methods. However, this distinction has not been fully developed or explored within the field of corporate carbon accounting. Attributional methods provide static inventories of emissions allocated or attributed to a defined scope of responsibility, while consequential methods attempt to measure the total system-wide change in emissions that occurs as the result of a decision or action, such as the decision to produce one extra unit of a given product. Numerous LCA studies show that attributional inventories can ignore important indirect or market-mediated effects that occur outside the scope of the analysis, and thus decisions based on attributional information can result in unintended consequences. Given that the most widely recognised form of corporate carbon accounting (the organisation-level greenhouse gas inventory) is attributional in nature, it is probable that decisions based on such inventories may also result in unintended consequences. This paper explores the nature of the attributional-consequential distinction and its applicability to corporate carbon accounting. In addition, the concept of framing is used to help explain how the distinction developed within the field of LCA, and to highlight the conceptual work required to achieve a degree of consensus around the distinction within that community, which in turn may be helpful when considering its applicability beyond the field of life cycle assessment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCorporate Carbon and Climate Accounting
EditorsS. Schaltegger
PublisherDordrecht: Springer
Pages99-120
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783319277189
ISBN (Print)9783319277165
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2015

Keywords

  • attributional-consequential distinction
  • carbon accounting
  • comparison of methods
  • data sources
  • LCA
  • system expansion
  • use of modelling

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