4.4 Carbon: What are emission scopes?

Author: Dannan Yan

ABSTRACT: A city’s ability to mitigate climate change and take action depends on whether the city has accurate data on greenhouse gas emissions. The first thing to determine in urban greenhouse gas accounting is the urban greenhouse gas accounting boundary, which is divided into direct emissions, indirect emissions and “scope.” Direct emissions refer to emissions that occur within the geographic boundaries of a city. Indirect emissions refer to emissions that are caused by activities at the geographic boundary of a city but occur outside the geographic boundary of the city. To better distinguish between direct emissions and indirect emissions, and to avoid double counting, greenhouse gas emissions are divided into three “scopes.”

Image 1. Example of the three scopes.


To define how a company controls the emissions it is responsible for it needs to understand the source of its emissions. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is the global standard framework for measuring and managing greenhouse gasses from both public and private organizations. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol has established three scopes to help entities understand, quantify and measure greenhouse gas emissions.

Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions and refer to emissions that occur within the geographic boundaries of a city such as the burning of coal in the production process, the burning of natural gas in the heating process in the city, and the emissions caused by traffic in the city.

Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, and heating/cooling which are related to the transfer of electricity and heat (including hot water and steam) consumed by activities within the geographic boundaries of the city. Under normal circumstances, the heat produced in a city is for local use, and it is rarely transferred in or out. However, it does not rule out that a city transmits heat to neighboring cities for a short distance, or that a larger city is adjacent to each other. There is heat transfer in the two zones.

Scope 3 emissions are all other indirect emissions not included in Scope 2 emissions. Scope 3 emissions account for the biggest amount of GHG emissions. Upstream Scope 3 emissions includes emissions from off-site production of raw materials, cross-border transportation, and purchased products and services. Downstream Scope 3 emissions includes emissions from cross-border transportation, cross-border waste treatment, and product use.

The significance of distinguishing Scope 2 emissions is to prevent double counting emissions. Electricity and heat which are secondary energy sources, and the primary energy consumed in the production process has been calculated once as Scope 1 emissions. If the emissions related to the consumption of secondary energy such as electricity and heat are calculated once, adding to the emissions from primary energy sources may lead to double counting on the same accounting entity. In addition, in energy consumption fields such as buildings, electricity and heat account for a relatively high proportion of overall energy consumption and are important emission sources that cannot be ignored. Therefore, it is very important to deal with the accounting of Scope 2 emissions.


Will. (2018, November 02). What is the difference between scope 1, 2 and 3 Emissions? Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.compareyourfootprint.com/difference-scope-1-2-3-emissions/

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