The Climate Change Conference, COP26, kicks off today and is focusing most of its attention on scope 3 emissions. All 197 nations attending will spend most of their time on that, having not achieved their goals in Scopes 1 and 2.
The irony of segmentation of system behaviour into silos like this, is not lost on me.
And like I did last year, I facepalmed again as the epitome of school-kid error continues to play out as the house burns down around us.
I can see how it comes about. Harking back to the experience of myself and others close to me from our respective time working with UN teams, the organisation has some very solid scientific advisors but also highly diverse political voices. Many not particularly scientific. We just have to look at the backgrounds of the UK’s own elected representatives and their performance during the pandemic, to understand how poor their ability to understand hard science is or worse, examine the behaviour of Brazil. Going all out to top that with 600,000 deaths and a third of the Amazon.
Greenhouse Gas Protocol: Emission Scopes
If you're not familiar with them, scope 3 emissions are the emissions caused by related activities associated with “arms length” activities in a value chain. For example, using products once you have bought them, employee transport to work, transportation and distribution, investments etc. They don’t include the fossil fuels used or wholesale gas energy that’s purchased, as that’s regarded as direct emissions.
While such a segmentation works well for communication, it's also a barrier to solving the problem. The reason why is that there is almost nothing we create or service, that doesn’t touch all 3.
The problem will be familiar to those who have been through Six Sigma green and black belts certification's. If you carry out a six-sigma green belt exercise you optimise within each scope and if you carry out the black-belt activity, you optimise across the scopes.
This creates a necessity for further focus to ensure that suboptimality doesn't creep into the organisation. Often, this can mean that "sixsig" green belt work must be followed by black belt work to ensure it finds a global optimum. The trouble is, that approach is flawed, because it assumes the existence of one or more most optimal solutions in the black-belt system, which encompass all the optimisations in the green belt system. That is not always the case and it falls on the skill of the transformation architect to identify the most optimal.
The below infographic explains one such example, using identical organisations and then maps them to scope emissions to show what's happened. The natural consequence of the focus on scope emissions and the funding of them, is being completely blind to the potential for larger systemic optimisations and even net-negative technologies. Something policymakers must make themselves aware of.
The earth and its climate are an ecosystem. Thinking about one thing will never be good enough for it.