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Why This Matters: Nearly every nation in the world has presented a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for the Paris Climate Agreement–and many have made commitments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Experts say that meeting these goals is crucial to preventing catastrophic temperature rise. But even as nations rally, deforestation and ocean acidification have increased, destroying essential carbon sinks. Accurately counting emissions while tracking carbon sequestration is complex and may not always provide the best optics for governments. But if countries fail to measure emissions, the world risks painfully undershooting its emissions targets.
Counting Trees: Christopher Williams, a forest expert at Clark University, says that this study “draws attention to something that has concerned many of us for quite a while — that our national greenhouse gas inventory reporting is not designed to measure and monitor true mitigation.”
Williams explains that this discrepancy can be traced back to some U.N. reporting rules surrounding “managed land” like national parks and regions with intensive forestry. These rules require countries to report how human activity impacts carbon emissions or sequestration from this land. But indirect factors, like atmospheric carbon stimulating forest growth, can be difficult to measure and separate from direct impacts. This challenge has led countries to create their own individual measurements, and emissions impacts of “managed land” can be very inconsistent from country to country. Giacomo Grassi, a forest expert at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and lead author of the study, explains that independent energy system modelers use one technique to measure emissions. Still, a country’s own scientist may use another.
Additionally, by reporting these indirect impacts, countries can take credit for indirect improvements rather than intentional policy or action. “There will be some policy and management in there, but a lot of it is going to be a free lunch,” said Glen Peters, research director of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo. By counting carbon sinks, some countries can claim net-zero without implementing policies to prevent accelerating emissions which could harm their carbon sinks and lead to an emissions crisis in the future. But Grassi says there is an easy fix. Simply adjusting and standardizing measurement methods could help countries more accurately measure their direct emissions and reductions. “In the absence of these adjustments,” the study states, “collective progress would appear to be more on track than it actually is.”
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer There’s been a three-fold increase in climate targets by Fortune Global 500 companies over the past three years, but more than 60% still don’t have any commitments on the books. That’s according to numbers from Natural Capital Partners, who led a discussion with leaders from some of the companies […]
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor Just a month and a half after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported a “code red” for the world to combat climate, the UN announced on Friday that recent climate action plans submitted by 191 countries won’t come close to limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees […]
This week is Climate Week NYC, an annual event hosted by The Climate Group and the United Nations, in partnership with the COP26 and the City of New York. For one week, from September 20-26, experts will be hosting panels and conversations about all things climate, and you can follow along at home via Facebook […]
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