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Verifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Report in Brief

Verifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Report in Brief

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Published by earthandlife
Agreements to limit emissions of greenhouse gases are currently the focus of international negotiations, and with such accords will come the need to accurately estimate these emissions, monitor their changes over time, and verify them with independent data. In that context, the National Research Council convened a committee of experts to assess current capabilities for estimating and verifying greenhouse gas emissions and to identify ways to improve these capabilities. The committee examined the greenhouse gases that result from human activities and that are long-lived in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, which is the single largest contributor to global climate change. It found that countries can estimate their carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel use accurately enough to support monitoring, but currently there is no sufficiently accurate way to verify countries' self-reported estimates using independent data, such as atmospheric measurements. Strategic investments could be made that within five years would both improve self-reporting and yield a capability to verify these estimates, reducing uncertainties about emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel use and deforestation -- responsible for three-quarters of emissions of gases likely covered by an international agreement -- to less than 10 percent.



Agreements to limit emissions of greenhouse gases are currently the focus of international negotiations, and with such accords will come the need to accurately estimate these emissions, monitor their changes over time, and verify them with independent data. In that context, the National Research Council convened a committee of experts to assess current capabilities for estimating and verifying greenhouse gas emissions and to identify ways to improve these capabilities. The committee examined the greenhouse gases that result from human activities and that are long-lived in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, which is the single largest contributor to global climate change. It found that countries can estimate their carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel use accurately enough to support monitoring, but currently there is no sufficiently accurate way to verify countries' self-reported estimates using independent data, such as atmospheric measurements. Strategic investments could be made that within five years would both improve self-reporting and yield a capability to verify these estimates, reducing uncertainties about emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel use and deforestation -- responsible for three-quarters of emissions of gases likely covered by an international agreement -- to less than 10 percent.



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Published by: earthandlife on Dec 08, 2010
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Trust in international agreements to limit future greenhouse gas emissions will dependon the ability of each nation to make accurate estimates of its own emissions, monitortheir changes over time, and verify one another’s estimates with independent informa-tion. Countries have the capability to estimate their carbon dioxide emissions fromfossil-fuel use with sufcient accuracy to support monitoring of an international treaty,but accurate methods are not universally applied and the estimates cannot now bechecked against independent data. Deployment of existing methods and technologiescould, within ve years, yield a capability to both estimate and verify carbon dioxideemissions from fossil-fuel use and deforestation—which comprise approximatelythree-quarters of greenhouse emissions likely covered by a treaty.
Verifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions
millennia to come: carbondioxide (CO
2
), methane(CH
4
), nitrous oxide(N
2
O), hydrouorocarbons(HFCs), peruorinatedhydrocarbons (PFCs),and sulfur hexauoride(SF
6
)—all of which arecovered by the United Nations Framework Convention on ClimateChange (UNFCCC)— and chlorouorocarbons(CFCs), which are covered by the Montreal Protocol.Particular focus was givento CO
2
because thisgreenhouse gas is thelargest single contributor to global climate changes. Only data in the public domain were considered because public access and transparency are necessaryto build trust in a climate treaty.
A
greements to limitfuture emissions ogreenhouse gasesare the focus of interna-tional negotiations, andwith such accords willcome the need to accu-rately estimate emissionsand monitor their changesover time. In this context,the National ResearchCouncil convened acommittee of expertsto assess current capabili-ties for estimating andverifying greenhouse gasemissions and identifyways to improve thesecapabilities.The committee focused on human-madeemissions of six greenhouse gases that havelong lifetimes in the atmosphere and thereforewill affect global climate for decades or even
Methods to Support InternationalClimate Agreements
 
2The committee examined three categoriesof methods for estimating greenhouse gas emis-sions: national inventories, atmospheric andoceanic measurements and models, and land-usemeasurements and models (Box 1). The rstmethod is used by countries to estimate andreport their emissions to the internationalcommunity under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); thesecond and third are research methods that couldhelp verify self-reported estimates. Thecommittee found that deploying existingmethods and technologies could, within veyears, yield a capability to estimate and verifycarbon dioxide emissions from fossil-use anddeforestation. As these types of emissionscomprise about three-quarters of the greenhouseemissions likely to be covered by a treaty, theseimproved capa bilities could provide usefulsupport to international negotiations.Current methods produce emissions esti-mates with unacceptably high uncertainties; insome cases the uncertainties are larger than theexpected emissions reductions over a treaty’slifetime (Table 1). However, it may not be neces-sary to accurately measure all greenhouse gasesto support treaty monitoring and verication.Approximately 90 percent of global emissionscovered by the UNFCCC are from energy andagriculture, forestry, and other land use, makingthese activities an obvious focus for monitoring.The majority of emissions are in the form of CO
2
 from fossil-fuel use (Figure 1), which can be esti-mated accurately.
Recommendations
Strategic investments focused on the mostimportant sources of greenhouse gases in eachcountry and the highest emitting countries(Figure 2), could yield an improved ability tomonitor and verify an international climate agree-ment within ve years. The required investmentsare in three categories: strengthening nationalgreenhouse gas inventories, improving indepen-dent estimates of fossil-fuel CO
2
emissions, andimproving independent estimates of uxes fromland use.
 Strengthening National Greenhouse Gas Inventories
The UNFCCC framework will likely formthe basis for a future climate agreement becauseit has broad international support and offersestablished mechanisms for preparing nationalinventories of emissions and incorporating newinformation and methods. However, the frame-work also has several shortcomings. For example,developing countries do not measure or reporttheir emissions regularly, even though rapidlyindustrializing countries are among the worldshighest emitters of greenhouse gases. Under theUNFCCC, developed countries produce detailedannual estimates of sources and sinks of sixgreenhouse gases using complex methods andcountry-specic data on emissions generatingactivities, and the resulting national inventoriesare subject to international review of methods anddata sources. If applied, these rigorous methodsallow countries to estimate CO
2
emissions from
Box 1.
Current Methods for Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions
UNFCCC national inventories
Countries calculate emissions by multiplying levelsof greenhouse gas-emitting activities—such asenergy production and use; industrial processes and product use; agriculture, forestry, and other land use;and waste—by the corresponding rate of emission per unit of activity.
Atmospheric and oceanic measurements (tracer-transport inversion)
Emissions of total human-made and natural sourcesand sinks of greenhouse gases are estimated usingatmospheric and oceanic measurements of greenhouse gases and models of air and water ow.
Land-use measurements and models
Satellite information on land-surface characteristicsand change is converted into CO
2
, CH
4
and N
2
Oemissions estimates using biogeochemical modelsconstrained by measurements of greenhouse gasexchange between the land and the atmosphere.
 
3
Figure 2.
Greenhouse gas emissions of the 20 highest-emitting countries in 2000. China has since overtaken the UnitedStates as the largest emitter. Note that one-quarter of countries are responsible for 80 percent of global emissions.
SOURCE: Data from the World Resources Institute.
Figure 1.
Global human-causedgreenhouse gas emissions for 2004,categorized by the activity that generatedthem, covered by the United NationsFramework Convention on ClimateChange (UNFCCC). The gases areweighted by their potential to contributeto global warming over 100 years.
SOURCE: Figure 1.1b from IPCC (2007b),Cambridge University Press.
Emissions of CH
4
and N
2
O are primarily produced by agricultural activities.Uncertainties for these gases are high andare likely to remain so for several years.Emissions of CO
2
from fossil-fuel use anddeforestation account for the majority of greenhouse gases covered by theUNFCCC. If the recommendations in thisreport are implemented, both emissionsources could be estimated and veriedaccurately enough to support aninternational treaty within ve years.

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