How good is data for tracking countries' agricultural greenhouse gas emissions?
In a recent study published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, researchers have highlighted significant barriers to effective climate action posed by the limited accuracy and transparency of national greenhouse gas (GHG) emission inventories, particularly in the agriculture sector and land use.
Challenges in GHG Inventory Reporting
The study emphasizes the critical role of GHG inventories in accounting for and tracking progress toward mitigation goals. However, inconsistent and inadequate reporting practices by low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), coupled with uncertainties in reported data and a lack of robust activity data and locally specific emission factors, have hampered the adoption of effective policy measures.
To gain deeper insight into the reporting challenges affecting national GHG inventories, the researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis of agricultural GHG data reported by UNFCCC countries, as well as three independent global databases. The goal was to identify and inventory reporting issues that impede progress in tracking emissions and achieving climate change mitigation goals.
The analysis revealed a significant gap in LMIC reporting within the UNFCCC data, underscoring the need for more consistent reporting methodologies, particularly in food security management and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
The study suggests that policy and decision-makers should consider using separate emissions databases alongside UNFCCC data to triangulate information for emissions-related decisions.
Kyle Dittmer, the study's lead author, highlighted the lack of quality in UNFCCC reporting, despite its official status. He explained: "Other analyzes show a general lack of quality in UNFCCC reporting. The data reported by the UNFCCC should be the most official, but it is often the most incomplete and sometimes unreadable. We identified specific areas to improve the coherence".
He added, "Examples of issues affecting the quality of country reporting included errors and omissions in reporting numbers, inconsistencies in global warming potentials, and legibility difficulties".
Discrepancies and recommendations for improvement
The study used various methods to collect and compare emissions data. National emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) were collected from UNFCCC, FAOSTAT, WRI-CAIT and EDGAR reports. Absolute differences in agricultural non-CO2 emissions between UNFCCC data and independent inventories were calculated. The analysis revealed significant discrepancies between data sources.
The researchers also looked at the quality and methodologies of the UNFCCC inventory. They identified issues such as inconsistent global warming potential (GWP) standards, reporting formats, and reporting errors. Some countries provided emissions data only in graphs, making it difficult to get accurate numbers.
The study found the FAOSTAT and WRI-CAIT databases to be more user-friendly and interactive, while EDGAR allowed data to be exported for further analysis. However, these databases also differed in terms of country coverage, GWPs, data sources, and levels of emission factor levels. Interdependencies between databases made it difficult to triangulate data from different sources.
The researchers emphasized the need to improve reporting consistency and data quality. They recommended that countries use the most recent IPCC guidelines and GWPs to ensure accurate and comparable emissions data. They also called for more transparent reporting on agricultural emissions, including data broken down by emission source.
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