In the air, a new generation of tools for GHG accounting

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Photo: Transmission towersLast week, I helped put together and participated in a workshop hosted by the World Bank on GHG accounting and analysis. To me, it was a very valuable opportunity to take stock of the progress the World Bank and other institutions are making on GHG analysis, focusing on new tools and methodologies in specific sectors – namely transport, energy and urban.

While determining the impact of project related GHG emissions is not new, understanding which approaches to take given the variety of projects, sectors and countries we work in is becoming increasingly important. As there are costs associated with implementing GHG accounting across large variety of sectors, a good dose of pragmatism is required to ensure that scarce resources are devoted to activities where emissions reductions can have a potentially higher long-term impact on the global challenge of low carbon growth.  This of course is no small feat.


My presentation aimed at demonstrating how improving electricity services provide a significant contribution to the global challenge of reducing green house gas emissions. Transmission and distribution investments have a small GHG foot print compared to other investments in the electricity chain. These investments are fundamental to improve the reliability of the system, connect renewable energy, and reduce electricity losses, all of which can lead to lower GHG emissions in the power sector. Overall, there is a double positive impact, increasing the quality of electricity services and tackling the global climate challenge. In Brazil for example, the World Bank is supporting investments in the distribution networks to improve the quality of the electricity services to homes and businesses. At the same time, the project also reduces emissions.


The GHG impact of transmission and distribution projects is a very relevant question to us as an institution. Nearly a quarter of World Bank Group financing for energy has gone towards transmission and distribution projects in the past five years, and yet little attention has been paid in the GHG accounting literature to the implications of transmission and distribution investments in the electricity sector. The new analytical model I presented at the workshop can be used to understand the GHG implications of these types of interventions.


The Bank does not work in isolation on the development of GHG analytical tools. Learning from what other institutions are doing is vital, especially among the Multilateral Development Banks, as these institutions often provide advice to the same clients, and work together on climate financing. But there is real need for harmonization because approaches can vary significantly.

Some of the technical aspects debated include, for example, whether the World Bank Group should be doing sector-wide GHG analysis and accounting, whether our ongoing project-level approach is a better option, or whether net GHG accounting makes more sense than gross GHG accounting. Toward the end of the day the debate on these sorts of questions became very lively.


We have come a long way in the past year with this new generation of GHG analysis and accounting, and the informed debate that took place at the workshop was proof of that. We disagreed on some things, and agreed on others, but there is one thing that no one present disagreed with: It’s important to do greenhouse gas accounting, but what’s most important is to do it well.   

You can find the agenda and presentations from the workshop at



Marcelino Madrigal

Senior Energy Specialist, Energy Unit, World Bank

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