There is no doubt that since the 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement the need to reduce carbon emissions has been taken far more seriously than was previously the case. At the
conference, there was a consensus that rises in temperature had to be limited to well below 2 degrees Celsius (preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius) in order to mitigate the worse impacts of a more hostile climate, including rises in sea level and severe meteorological events.

To meet this ambition of limiting global warming, it might be assumed that there would be some consistency in the carbon emissions targets being set by governments and corporations. However, this is not the case. Not only do the targets vary, but so do the ‘baselines’ against which progress is measured.

In addition to this, although some companies set their targets based on the reduction of absolute emissions, others use indices to measure the ‘carbon intensity’ of their operations. The latter can hide the real impact which operations are having on the environment as, whilst businesses may be taking successful steps to become more efficient, a growth in volumes may still mean that emissions increase in absolute terms. Key to the COP21 agreement is the overall reduction of carbon emissions, not just their reduction relative to the level of business activity.

This paper examines some of the key targets and baselines set by inter-governmental and industry organizations, governments and businesses. It also includes a survey which identifies the dearth of carbon emissions measurement currently being undertaken in the industry, even by the largest players. Finally, it suggests some policy recommendations for increasing the level of emissions measurement, without which government targets are far less likely to be met.