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What are Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions for agricultural and food systems?


Scope 1,2, and 3 emissions refer to categories of greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with the activities of a company or organisation. The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol defined these terms. The GHG Protocol is a widely-used international accounting tool for government and business leaders to understand, quantify, and manage greenhouse gas emissions.

Scope 1 Emissions

These are direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by the organisation. For example, in the context of a farm, these would include emissions from sources like:

  • Combustion of fuel in owned or controlled vehicles or machinery, such as tractors or trucks;
  • Direct emissions from livestock, such as methane from enteric fermentation in ruminant animals; and
  • Direct emissions from agricultural soils, such as nitrous oxide, from applying nitrogenous fertilisers.

Scope 2 Emissions

These are indirect emissions resulting from the generation of purchased or acquired electricity, steam, heat, or cooling consumed by the organisation. For a farm, these could include emissions from:

  • The electricity that is utilised to power buildings, irrigation systems, or electric machinery; and
  • Purchased heat for use in farm buildings.

It’s important to note that Scope 1 and 2 emissions do not include all the emissions associated with an organisation or business’s activities.

Scope 3 Emissions

These refer to all indirect greenhouse gas emissions that occur in a company’s value chain and are not owned or controlled by the company. Consider the food system context, which includes all processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population. For example, growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items. In the food system, on-farm emissions would typically be considered Scope 1 or 2 emissions for the farm itself, as they occur directly from the activities controlled by the farm.

However, when considering the broader food system, on-farm emissions can be considered as part of the Scope 3 emissions for other parties in the food system, such as food processors, retailers, and consumers.

For example:

  • Food Processors: Companies that buy raw agricultural products and process them into food items have Scope 3 emissions. These include the on-farm emissions from growing the raw produce and products. Furthermore, these could include emissions from livestock production (like methane from enteric fermentation), emissions from soil (like nitrous oxide from synthetic fertiliser use), and emissions from farm machinery.
  • Retailers: Grocery stores and other food retailers also have Scope 3 emissions, including on-farm emissions. They are considered Scope 3 emissions because the products they sell originate from farms, and the greenhouse gases emitted during the production of these items are part of the retailers’ indirect emissions.
  • Consumers: When consumers buy and consume food, the emissions associated with producing that food (including on-farm emissions) are part of the consumers’ Scope 3 emissions.

For these reasons, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the food system often involve working with farmers to reduce on-farm emissions, as this can lead to significant reductions in the Scope 3 emissions of other parts of the food system. For example, on-farm interventions could include improving soil management to increase carbon sequestration, optimising fertiliser use to reduce nitrous oxide emissions, and improving animal health and diet to reduce methane emissions.

The Western Australian Department of Agriculture’s Carbon-Neutral Grain Pilot Project is an example of calculating and researching the GHG emissions across Scope 1, 2 and 3. 

Carbon Sync – working with farmers to reduce their greenhouse emissions

At Carbon Sync, we are committed to working with farmers to reduce their on-farm emissions. We help farmers to measure and monitor their carbon emissions and provide education on interventions and management changes that can assist in reducing a farm’s overall carbon footprint. 

By reducing on-farm emissions, farmers can contribute to the carbon neutrality of businesses further up the food business chain. This can then lead, in turn, to farmers potentially being rewarded in the form of insetting payments. These insetting payments may be accrued on top of any carbon credit income that the farm may earn as a result of soil carbon sequestration. 

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