Climate change science is well established, with experts across the world aligned on the need to act now, to adapt and enhance resilience to the worst impacts. To truly shift the dial, decarbonisation programmes must go beyond a simple ‘better than BAU’ approach. Instead, we must all relentlessly test our thinking and delivery, in pursuit of the goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. 

At Beca, one of the ways we’re responding is by aligning our actions and advice to clients through a clear methodology and approach we’re calling ‘Project Handprint’.

Project Handprint enables our clients to understand the performance of their project and project options against a 1.5°C emissions trajectory. Our approach also helps clients take a long-term, intergenerational view of their business’ decarbonisation decisions and align project specific emissions reduction targets to their overarching organisational targets. This can assist with future capital works or maintenance planning, particularly when considering options with different embodied and operational emissions.

How does the 'Project Handprint' methodology work?

The Handprint assessment is carried out through the following steps:

  1. Establish an emissions benchmark which is representative of that type of project, asset, or system in 2020.
  2. Apply the decarbonisation trajectory from the baseline. Project Handprint uses the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) trajectory of 7.6% year-on-year reductions starting from a 2020 baseline year to 2040. It is then linear from 2040 to 2050 in order to achieve net-zero.
  3. Individual projects can then be assessed relative to the science-based 1.5°C decarbonisation trajectory for that project type, through plotting the results of a project-specific greenhouse gas emissions assessment on the decarbonisation curve.

Which science-basis are we using in ‘Project Handprint’?

There isn’t just one “1.5°C aligned emissions trajectory” and there are many ways to apply a global budget to a project scale. Our approach is to guide our clients to set targets using the appropriate scientific basis for their specific scenario.

We have adopted a singular trajectory as it is simple, consistent, and immediately implementable. We have selected the UNEP 7.6% year-on-year reduction trajectory for now, as it provides a robust correlation with our industry baseline year – 2020.
One of the limitations of the UNEP trajectory is that it doesn't specify what should happen after 2030. We have continued aiming for 7.6% reduction year-on-year to 2040 and then a linear reduction to 2050 in order to achieve net-zero.

How is Project Handprint different to the carbon assessment tools we already use?

There are many carbon assessment tools available which we use to quantify the associated carbon emissions of a project. Examples of such tools include: PEET, CostX, OneClickLCA, Moata Portal, BRANZ LCA-Quick and Carbonator. The Project Handprint methodology takes the outputs from each of these tools and provides visibility of the project’s carbon performance against a 1.5°C trajectory.

The “Project Handprint” methodology may also be used at any stage of project or asset design:

  • Business case and project conception decision making
    • Estimating carbon reduction performance against the 1.5°C trajectory for long-term asset planning decisions to identify where carbon interventions are needed. 
    • Quantifying the project’s carbon budget.
  • Optioneering and design stages
    • Supporting decision making within the 1.5°C context by comparing the different carbon emission outcomes of a project.
  • Design or construction completion and reporting
    • Presenting the carbon emission impact of the completed design or project against the 1.5°C trajectory.&

Which carbon allocation method has Beca adopted for 'Project Handprint'?

There are many ways of dividing global carbon budgets between countries, sectors and businesses such as grandfathering (which maintains that prior emissions increase future emission entitlements) or per capita emissions. For our 'Project Handprint' methodology we considered two approaches:

  • Absolute contraction: assumes every project, sector, client reduces at the average global pace
  • Sector-based: assumes the rate of decarbonisation and total remaining carbon budget varies between sectors.

Adopting a sector-based approach would be ideal – as this is how decarbonisation will likely play out (i.e., some sectors will decarbonise faster than others). However, it is difficult to do this defensibly as there are few externally developed sectorial trajectories that would be robust enough to use, and a lot of value judgement would be needed to do this internally.

As such Beca’s methodology is currently based on the absolute contraction approach. This is a pragmatic approach that enables immediate action and encourages the right magnitude of decarbonisation effort. 

As our teams learn more about different sectors, geographies and decarbonisation technologies we may shift to a sector-based approach over time.

Why have we not adopted a sector-based approach? 

There are some industry benchmarks available, however there is a risk that they are not always robust.

As part of 'Project Handprint', our project working group is developing an approach to determine when and how to adopt these sector-based benchmarks.

We have also considered different methodologies depending on our client’s requirements: 

  • Asset-level - Defined as the need/business case for the asset (or upgrade) has been established and Beca is supporting the client to minimise the impact of the asset.
  • Advisory-level - Referring to projects where we are providing systems-level advice, such as investigating future transport options or building use for different scenarios.

What could have been vs what needs to be – why we don’t use a counterfactual approach.

Counterfactual thinking is one approach to impact assessment. In this approach, two scenarios may be considered – one in which an action is taken, and one where an alternative action, or no action is taken. 

The two scenarios are then compared to understand the difference in impacts. For example, using an emissions baseline from an historic business as usual (BAU) point in time and then targeting some reduction in emissions, usually as a percentage of this BAU baseline – commonly referred to as ‘avoided emissions’. This means there are a lot of projects claiming carbon reductions based on a comparison to ‘what could have been’.  For example, ‘20% less carbon emissions based on 2015 levels’. However, this begs the question – ‘Is 20% ambitious enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C?’ and ‘Why 2015?’

Further, where there is no external basis against which to substantiate a counterfactual (such as an industry code) - reporting against these scenarios introduces reporting / disclosure risk. To support our clients to communicate their carbon successes, and to report on our own, a robust and transparent method is essential.

We think it is critical to understand how far and how fast decarbonisation needs to occur, to limit warming to within 1.5°C – but applying this thinking at a project or programme scale is a complex challenge. Scaling global to local applications is complex; some sectors and geographies can and need to decarbonise faster than others - not all projects are created equal. 

But if we are to shift the dial on climate change the conversation needs to move from comparing projects from "what could have been" to "what needs to be". 

This is how Project Handprint is different. This is how Project Handprint is helping Beca and our clients make everyday better.

What’s next?

We know decarbonisation needs to happen faster in some sectors and geographies than others, which is why we are working with industry and academic experts to understand sectoral-based targets for the sectors we work in, and how far and how fast we need to go.

We also know upskilling of our people and technical rigour are important, which is why we have qualified and trained carbon assessors in place to undertake and verify this work, providing further confidence to our clients that the decarbonisation statements they make are genuine and defensible.

As we take Project Handprint forward, we have commenced a wider investigation to establish a methodology considering sectoral, geographical, and technical decarbonisation opportunities and limitations. And, we expect to share sector-wide decarbonisation trajectories in the coming months, alongside clear targets for the number and value of projects we work on.

By providing a long-term, intergenerational view of decarbonisation decisions, Project Handprint is helping clients make smart choices for the long-term, aligned with their own overarching organisational targets, and goals for a more sustainable future.
About the Author
Tom Kelly

Director - Sustainability (Handprint)

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