Calculating and measuring land-based emissions: 12 questions to help you set a FLAG SBT

Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) sectors generate roughly 22% of annual GHG emissions globally. As the need for climate action becomes increasingly urgent, it is critical that these emissions be addressed. EcoAct experts, Zander Dale and Arnaud Ripoll answer some commonly asked questions on FLAG emissions. FLAG is terminology used by the Science-Based Targets initiative ...

Zander Dale & Arnaud Ripoll

13 Nov 2023 9 mins read time

Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) sectors generate roughly 22% of annual GHG emissions globally. As the need for climate action becomes increasingly urgent, it is critical that these emissions be addressed. EcoAct experts, Zander Dale and Arnaud Ripoll answer some commonly asked questions on FLAG emissions.

FLAG is terminology used by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to represent emissions associated with Forestry, Land, and Agriculture use. The SBTi recently developed guidance for the FLAG sector, allowing organisations to translate their land use actions into ambitious science-based climate action. FLAG science-based targets (SBTs) are a significant step for corporate climate action but they are not just relevant for land-intensive companies. Companies whose emissions from land use account for more than 20% of their overall emissions are also required to set FLAG SBT’s. If you’re unsure on how to get started with calculating your FLAG emissions, we have you covered with some commonly asked questions on FLAG.


1. Is there any guidance for companies looking to calculate and report on FLAG emissions?

 The GHG Protocol is working to develop final guidance for companies to account for and report emissions from land use and related activities, this is expected to be published in 2024. In the meantime, the SBTi still recommends using the draft guidance from the GHG Protocol to make a FLAG inventory. The final guidance is not expected to change significantly, apart from in very specific sections, for example biomethane certification.

2. If a business sets FLAG targets before the finalised Greenhouse Gas Protocol guidance is issued in 2024, will it need to review them?

If there are substantial changes to the finalised guidance, it’s advisable to revisit your targets. The SBTi typically offers a grace period, which will be determined when the updated guidance becomes available. SBTi generally suggests that organisations proceed by establishing a FLAG SBT based on the draft Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

3. What are the calculation methodologies of FLAG emissions?

The calculation of FLAG emissions relies highly on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) rationale. For example, with an agricultural product we try to extract from the full LCA the emissions linked to the agricultural production (e.g., fertilizer input) and upstream emissions (e.g., production of fertilizers). The rest of the emissions are all considered non-FLAG emissions.

At EcoAct, we mainly use the SimaPro LCA tool and also some online tools depending on the database we want to use (e.g., Ecobalyse, Higgs, Agribalyse). We use multiple Emission Factor databases: Agri-footprint, Agribalyse, WFLDB, Higgs, Ecobalyse, Ecoinvent, and more.

4. How can you calculate FLAG emissions using non-supplier specific data?

 FLAG emissions can be initially calculated using generic emissions factors (EFs), which typically encompass all FLAG emissions. To differentiate between FLAG and non-FLAG emissions within a specific EF, more specific analysis is needed to be conducted, akin to that utilised within Life Cycle Analyses’. There are currently several prominent databases for evaluating sources of FLAG emissions:

The Agri-footprint database, created by Blonk
WFLDB, developed by Quantis
Agribalyse, developed by INRAE, ADEME, ACTA, and ACTIA
Ecoinvent, developed by Ecoinvent

5. How can you avoid double counting emissions that would be considered FLAG from the farm and Scope 3 purchased goods?

FLAG emissions are cut off at the farm gate and are only associated with the land use change and land management activities. For example, if an organisation rears cattle on a farm, all the land management emissions would be attributed to Scope 1. Emissions associated with Scope 3 would be the emissions associated with the purchase of feed for the cows in Category 1, but there would be no further FLAG related emissions associated with the sale of meat within Scope 3.

6. How do you calculate land use change in an organisation’s supply chain?

To achieve accurate Land Use Change calculations, obtaining data directly from suppliers or customers is the ideal approach. Establishing effective engagement strategies with these stakeholders is crucial to tap into an organisation’s value chain and identify available data. The analysis for land use change is categorised into three tiers, each with specific characteristics:

Tier 1:
– Accounting method: Activity-based
– Spatial resolution: Global
– Level of traceability: Limited to none

Tier 2:
– Accounting method: Activity- or remote-sensing based
– Spatial resolution: Regional or country level
– Level of traceability: Some (e.g., known sourcing regions)

Tier 3:
– Accounting method: Remote sensing, modelling, or measurement-based
– Spatial resolution: Farm or plot level
– Level of traceability: High (e.g., direct relationships with suppliers/farmers)

In practice, many organisations begin by using general land use change emission factors found in databases like Ecoinvent and Agrifootprint. Later, they can conduct more detailed analyses using specialised tools after gathering preliminary insights and primary data such as knowing when the land conversion happened, where it occurred and what was the land type before and the use change. The carbon stock of the land and agricultural-related land use change national trends are also crucial data points to collect when refining calculation methodologies and can be publicly accessed through scientific papers from sources such as the FAO.

7. What would be an example of farm-level data collected for removals?

To assess soil carbon removal, you need information on your type of soil (organic matter rate, density, mineralization rate, pH, etc.), the climate of your region and the type of agricultural practices engaged (e.g., removal practices such as organic matter input, agroforestry, hedgerows).

To assess biomass carbon removal, you need information on the type of vegetation (trees, variety of trees, hedgerows, etc.), the age of this vegetation and the agricultural practices engaged (e.g., pruning).

8. Do biogenic emissions need to be included within a FLAG emissions inventory?

Biogenic emissions are a crucial component of a FLAG inventory, and they must be considered for all activities related to land management and land use change. These activities encompass land use change, biomass burning (onsite), enteric emissions, manure management, managed soils, liming, urea application, fertilizer use, rice cultivation, and crop residue.

When evaluating these activities, the emissions of N2O (nitrous oxide) and CH4 (methane) are taken into account, with the understanding that CO2 (carbon dioxide) is generally sequestered during the biomass’s growth phase. However, it’s important to emphasise that CO2 emissions are required to be calculated specifically for land use change since biomass is assumed to be removed and not regrown during these activities.

9. Is it possible for agricultural companies that manage and grow crops to sell carbon credits?

It is possible to account for carbon credits in your emissions quantification, provided that certified methodologies from recognised bodies such as VERRA or Gold Standard are followed.

It’s important to note that the eligibility of claims by organisations may change when carbon credits are generated. If the removals on an organisation’s land within their operations are accurately accounted for, they can be used within their FLAG-related inventory for that specific year to provide a net emissions line within their inventory. However, if these removals are treated as carbon credits, they can only be applied to offset an organisation’s residual emissions, as per the SBTi guidelines.

It’s also crucial to avoid double counting; for instance, if agricultural companies create credits on their land and then sell them to third parties, they cannot count those same removals within their own inventory, as this would be considered double counting and not permissible. Organisations should consider what best suits their operations and adhere to accredited methodologies to generate high-quality carbon credits or removals.

10. Why would crops be allowed to count as removals if they are not permanent?

 Emissions and removals from aboveground biomass are seen to be neutral due to the CO2 absorbed being the same as the CO2 emitted during its use phase.

Carbon removals linked to crops are primarily sequestered within the soil, rather than the aboveground biomass. Soils typically store approximately 75% to 80% more carbon than crop biomass, although this can vary based on local conditions, agricultural practices, and other factors. Enhancing carbon storage in soils, specifically Soil Organic Carbon, is achieved through regenerative farming techniques, including organic matter inputs, reduced tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, agroforestry, livestock integration, avoiding overgrazing, improved nutrient management, and soil erosion prevention.

It’s important to note that while we can include the removals resulting from these practices in the FLAG inventory, the GHG Protocol Removals guidance incorporates the concept of ‘Reversals Accounting.’ This means that if you lose the ability to monitor carbon stocks associated with previously reported removals, you must assume that those removals have been emitted and report them as reversals in the year they occur.

11. What is the definition of an offsetting project?

 An offsetting project, in the context of carbon or greenhouse gas emissions, is a purposeful undertaking aimed at reducing, capturing, or sequestering an equivalent amount of emissions to counterbalance emissions generated elsewhere. These projects come in various forms, including reforestation, afforestation, renewable energy installations, methane capture from landfills, and energy efficiency enhancements, among others. The objective is to alleviate the impact of emissions by either removing or diminishing a corresponding volume of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, thereby contributing to the fight against climate change. Offsetting projects undergo calculation and certification processes alongside carbon offset certificates issued by authorised bodies such as Verra, Gold Standard, Plan Vivo, and The Woodland Carbon Code. These certificates quantify and validate the emissions reductions accomplished by the project.

12. What recommendations would you give to an apparel company who wants to start looking to set FLAG targets?

1. Collect purchase data for the main FLAG products, i.e. the ones most likely to have entailed FLAG emissions, like agriculture-based textiles (e.g., cotton, linen, leather).
2. Specifically focus on the products purchased in large quantities.
3. Develop broad categories of product (e.g., “t-shirts”, “trousers”, “jackets”).
4. Identify average percentages of FLAG emissions on these broad categories comparing various emission factors and identifying those most relevant to your products.
5. Calculate FLAG emissions for these products. This will provide you a first estimate in order of magnitude of your FLAG emissions.
6. If FLAG emissions are negligible, don’t go further in the FLAG assessment. Otherwise, try to collect more data to improve the accuracy of the assessment. This will be necessary for the global GHG inventory.

How EcoAct can help you with FLAG emissions

EcoAct have a dedicated team of FLAG experts who can support you with the calculation and reporting of your organisation’s FLAG emissions. EcoAct’s FLAG offerings can be tailored to any budget, project or data availability, with options for high level estimations, detailed calculations or a precise farm-level assessment of FLAG emissions and removals. Get in contact with our experts here to learn how we can support you.

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