The Carbon Call: Creating a Legacy for Digital, Discoverable, and Comparable Climate Disclosures

By Jean-Charles Seghers

We must get to net zero emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And if we’re to get to net zero, we must be able to reliably measure, monitor, and report our emissions. This is not an easy feat! 

To date, companies have often struggled to fully discover, understand, and share the data needed to paint a complete and accurate picture of emissions due to four common constraints:

To address these data challenges and improve interoperability — or the ability to compare, share, and use information across different GHG accounting and reporting systems — as well as to create renewed motivation for more comprehensive and transparent measurement and reporting, the Carbon Call, an initiative hosted by ClimateWorks Foundation, was launched in February 2022.

At the time, our Carbon Call co-chairs Marian Van Pelt and Liv Watson wrote:

“We can move from the limiting constraints facing corporations, such as ‘You don’t have exactly what I need’ and ‘I don’t trust you,’ to metadata requirements that do wonders to increase transparency and accurate interpretation. We can shift the flawed narrative from ‘I can’t find you’ to discoverable data that is digital, searchable, and accessible within corporations and supply chains and between organizations. We can leave behind the ‘I don’t understand you’ complaint with a smart digital dictionary to ensure that terms are clearly understood and unambiguous.”

Nearly two years on, the world has changed drastically. 

GHG accounting is experiencing an unprecedented expansion, driven by greater and more concerted ambition to address the climate crisis. Despite an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) backlash in some regions, mandatory climate reporting is becoming the norm in many parts of the world, with regulators in more than 30 countries already looking to make GHG reporting mandatory, more uniform, and more akin to financial accounting and reporting. However, counting money and counting emissions are two very different things. 

For example, to establish the carbon footprint of one single tomato, one has to consider the emissions associated with the plowing, harrowing, fertilization, fertigation, and planting processes. One has to account for the water, electricity, and types of equipment used throughout the process. One also has to know the yield of the crop and the means of transport and preservation. It’s not a simple process.

Rising ambitions

While regulations might be tweaked over time, for better or for worse, the demand for reliable GHG data — be that from regulators, investors, or civil society — is here to stay.

The growing interest in and commitment to GHG accounting can be seen in how quickly the Carbon Call membership base has grown from 20 organizations to more than 80 within 18 months. Current members include leading private sector, scientific, philanthropic, non-governmental, and intergovernmental organizations, demonstrating how much a solution is needed and wanted.

Since its inception, the group has created a roadmap to interoperable carbon emissions reporting, which was launched at an event at COP27 in November 2022. The roadmap is a living document that has been produced with the expectation that it will be updated in line with new developments and consensus.

Following the launch of the roadmap, the Carbon Call and its expert advisors began to sketch out the blueprint for addressing common constraints associated with GHG accounting and supporting companies to better respond to the rapidly growing demand for accurate reporting.

At Climate Week NYC 2023, the collective presented the blueprints of three possible solutions to 250 invited members and key partners. While each blueprint provides one unique solution to the challenges of GHG emission data reporting, collectively, they could accelerate efforts toward achieving net zero ambitions.

To ensure meaningful progress and impact, we paired these solution blueprints with tangible calls to action, which we encourage Carbon Call members and corporations to adopt and promote. Calls to action include software developers creating more standardized accounting programs based on the Carbon Call technical specifications, companies sharing their metadata and registering their voluntary reports, and stakeholders advocating for a globally accepted dictionary.

By committing to these actions, it will become easier for users to recognize, find, and export GHG data, which is crucial to respond to growing demands for voluntary and mandatory climate reporting.

A full list of our calls to action can be found below.

Leaving a legacy for ongoing impact

Philanthropy has many roles to play in global climate mitigation efforts, one being to leverage the power of collective action by establishing an ecosystem of resources and partners that can urgently scale and implement solutions. The climate emergency isn’t slowing down, and we need solutions today.

This was exactly ClimateWorks Foundation’s intention when it took on the role of the Secretariat of the Carbon Call, with support from the Carbon Call’s founding member organizations.

What is needed now is a comprehensive, inclusive, and global public-private dialogue to drive mandatory and voluntary carbon disclosures that are digital, discoverable, and comparable. It is not enough to simply develop a solution that lives in a vacuum, we need a master-of-all conversation to ensure it will be adopted at scale.

ClimateWorks Foundation, together with key partners, will transition the Carbon Call into such a dialogue over the coming months. We will continue to celebrate the Carbon Call’s achievements and receive feedback on the blueprints of our proposed solutions blueprints, before the Carbon Call initiative concludes in February 2024. 

More information will follow in December when we will dive deeper into the need for this public-private dialogue. In January, we will host a webinar for Carbon Call members to discuss future plans and opportunities for engagement.

It is worth noting that I will continue to be the voice of and point of contact for Carbon Call organizations (and corporations more broadly) to ensure we have comparable, discoverable, and digital-first data underpinning climate disclosures.

Together, we will continue to make change — at pace!

Carbon Call calls to action
1. Metadata framework
1.1. We call on Carbon Call members and companies all around to collect and share all metadata that will complement GHG emissions data reporting, both as required by the regulations in the jurisdiction of the company’s operations and any additional voluntary emissions data disclosure, in line with the Carbon Call metadata framework and as specified in the Carbon Call technical specification.
1.2. We call on carbon accounting and decarbonization software providers to build software to edit, exchange, or store data in the format defined by the Carbon Call technical specification.
1.3. We seek continued input on validating and completing the metadata categorization framework and key objectives. 
1.4. We seek input on the framework’s mechanism for identifying mandatory and optional metadata fields or properties as well as validating the support for adding both typed extensions, I.e., pre-defined extensions for an industry or sector, and untyped extensions that can be loosely defined in context with other metadata without a formal definition.
2. Discoverability mechanism   
2.1. We call on Carbon Call members to advocate for creating a Global Reporting Identifier (GR-ID), a new piece of digital public infrastructure addressing overlapping and duplicative reporting requests permitting regulators to make reports discoverable, no matter where they are located. Equally, such infrastructure would permit companies to make their voluntary reports easily discoverable facilitating decision-making around climate investments and disclosures.  
2.2. We call on Carbon Call members and companies all around to help demonstrate the effectiveness of this proposal by registering their voluntary reports with sufficient metadata to ensure that their reports are easily discovered.  
3. Smart dictionary mapping  
3.1. We call on Carbon Call members to advocate for a globally accepted digital dictionary delineating each reporting term precisely and consistently. Leading carbon and climate-related standards boards should back such a resource. 
3.2. We note that a joint venture between, for example, the ISSB, EFRAG Standards Boards, and pertinent regulatory bodies is vital in crafting an online smart dictionary, ensuring it reflects a diverse array of insights and expertise. 
3.3. We reflect that given the worldwide operations of various stakeholders, the online smart dictionary should feature comprehensive multilingual translations, promoting uniform understanding across different locales. We recommend periodic assessments and revisions as standards evolve are essential to safeguard the dictionary’s relevance and accuracy enhancement of established and new definitions.